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Making a Difference Award Winners

Monday, 13 July 2020 04:00

Educator Award Winners

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Rico Frese
Rico Frese established Maple Hill School’s Pat Wood BackPack Program five years ago because of his concern about food insecurity among students who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs. Each Friday during the school year, students in need leave with backpacks filled with food for the weekend. The program is named after the school’s longtime social worker, a “dynamo in the community,” Mr. Frese said.

“It’s heartwarming and gut wrenching at the same time,” he said. “Not many people are aware this problem exists. Our community, teachers, and administration are all supportive. At the end of the day, it’s all about helping the kids.”

Mr. Frese, who has been a social studies teacher at Maple Hill High School since 1993, is one of nine winners of the Making a Difference Awards. The CAP COM Cares Foundation recently announced its three educator and six student winners. Each person was awarded $1,000, plus CAP COM donated $100 to the charity of their choice.

Mr. Frese said that the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York helps supply food for BackPack programs in dozens of school districts. Hannaford has also been a local partner.

One of his colleagues, Teresa Hebert, nominated him and wrote that “Rico teaches his students the importance of responsibility, tolerance, being civic-minded and giving back to the community.”

The veteran teacher has also coached the high school baseball team for 25 years. During the pandemic, he set up a weekly video meeting to help his players and coaches stay connected.

“Even though they’re young men, they’re still kids in a way who are looking for reassurance during an uncertain time,” he said.

Mr. Frese’s charity: Pat Wood BackPack Program


Kristen Church

Kristen Church
Ms. Church is a teacher at Albany Leadership Charter High School for Girls, where she also teaches special education and coaches the varsity soccer team.

As the junior class lead, Ms. Church met with juniors daily to guide them on taking the PSAT, writing college essays, and improving organizational skills. Jennie Evans, her supervisor, nominated her.

Ms. Church’s charity: Mohawk Hudson Humane Society


Dr. Teresa Haig-Nicol

Dr. Teresa Haig-Nicol
Dr. Haig-Nicol is the assistant principal at Green Tech High Charter School. She has created a service-learning model and trains teachers, equipping them with tools to better educate students and help with their emotions. Her doctorate degree is in Educational Leadership, and her approach teaches cultural humility and community engagement. Deborah Hendricks nominated her.

Dr. Haig-Nicol’s charity: NAACP


Student Award Winners

Beth Gannon

Elizabeth “Beth” Gannon
Beverly Schilling, American Legion Post 1520 Chairperson, nominated Beth for her volunteer work at the American Legion, the All Saints Catholic Church, the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern NY, and the Beverwyck Senior Community Living Center.

When Scouts BSA (formerly Boy Scouts of America) opened its doors to allow girls to participate, Beth became the first local female member. She is on pace to earn her Eagle Scout award in 2021.

Beth has been home schooled and completed her high school requirements two years early. She’s heading to Hudson Valley Community College this fall as a full-time student in their Environmental Sciences Program.

Beth’s charity: NAACP


Bill Gannon

William Gannon
Beth’s older brother, Bill, was also a Making a Difference Award winner. Bill has already completed his first two years of college at Hudson Valley Community College, and he’s only 17 years old. He plans to start his junior year at RPI this fall.

Deacon Gary O'Connor nominated Bill, who has been an altar server at All Saints Catholic Church in Albany since he was in second grade.

Bill volunteers at the Sister Maureen Joyce Soup Kitchen and for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern NY. He is an Eagle Scout with Scouts BSA Troop 75 in Delmar, maintaining walking trails and building trail marker signs. He is a competitive rower with the Albany Rowing Center and volunteers by introducing the sport to disadvantaged youth. Finally, Bill was promoted to Chief Petty Officer for the Mahan Division of the U.S. Navy’s Sea Cadet program.

Bill’s charity: Albany Rowing Center


Debron Jackson-Eley

Debron Jackson-Eley
Young people love to make videos, but not many of them create videos to teach their peers about the dangers of vaping and guns. Not many middle schoolers usher at church, fill blessing bags for the homeless, and read the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, either.

Debron is a unique 13-year-old who just finished 8th grade. He wears a T-shirt that reads: “Too often we underestimate the power of touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn life around."

Debron’s charity: NAACP


Elizabeth Sipos

Elizabeth Sipos
Elizabeth, who graduated a few weeks ago from Loudonville Christian School and is going to attend HVCC in the fall, has been volunteering since she was 7 years old when she read poetry, sang, and played music at local nursing homes. She and her friends continued the tradition for more than a decade, until the pandemic stopped them.

COVID-19 ended a lot of Elizabeth’s volunteer work – assisting with art programs at Albany Public Library, teaching Sunday School, singing in the church choir, and volunteering at Double H Ranch in Lake Luzerne.

Katherine Malle, Elizabeth’s parent, nominated her and pointed out that she usually has to work twice as hard and twice as long as her peers because she has a rare energy metabolism disorder called Mitochondrial Disease that impacts her vision, hearing, and muscles.

Elizabeth’s charity: RISSE


Andrea Thomas

Andrea Thomas
Andrea serves as the Youth Representative Chair for the Northeastern NY Chapter of the American Red Cross and just finished her junior year at the Academy of the Holy Names.

“No matter how big or small the push may be,” she said, “I am reminded that our work and accomplishments together have the strength to truly make a difference one way or another.”

Suja Thomas, founder of Indian American Nurses Association of Albany, nominated her daughter Andrea. She wrote, “The part that best demonstrates to me her true character is her startup of the Teens Helping Seniors NY Chapter, an organization aimed at serving those most at risk during this unprecedented pandemic through contactless grocery deliveries. Her work with this organization, despite ongoing hurdles, truly shows her genuine desire to help others in times of need.”

Andrea’s charity: Double H Ranch


Alvira Tyagi

Alvira Tyagi
Alvira, a senior this fall at Shaker High School, founded the club Teens for Refugees, which focuses on educating students about the local refugee situation and providing opportunities for students to volunteer and help those less fortunate.

Alvira organized volunteer events with RISSE (Refugee and Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus) in Albany and spearheaded efforts to collect and distribute clothing and supplies. Sara Detmer, her teacher and club advisor, nominated Alvira.

Alvira’s charity: Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York


Learn more about the CAP COM Cares Foundation and its mission to our community.