By Jennifer L Warren

Hope and unity.

These were the messages embedded in the words of Guest Speaker Luis Perez Saturday afternoon at the Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel. Although the Hispanic Heritage Committee’s 7th Annual Community Service Luncheon was originally designed to be a festive occasion, honoring eight noteworthy people for their tireless dedication and arduous efforts aimed at selflessly helping others, the recent environmental tragedies affecting Puerto Rico and Mexico were on everyone’s minds, making these words take on even greater significance.

“Hope is about the things to be; real hope is not so easy to come by, but by all odds, each of these honorees before you persevered, not by an act of will as much as courage,” said the preacher Perez. “Unity is easier said than done; it has become fashionable for people to treat each other with disregard.” Reflecting further he added, “Unity requires heavy lifting and hard work; it is a slow, evolving process, never existing by itself, and we need to take the time to have a listening heart.”

One of the honorees with that integral skill of listening was Jason Gerard. A former science teacher for both Beacon and Poughkeepsie Schools, Gerard then moved his career path toward the administrative level, currently leading the Charles B. Warring Elementary School building in Poughkeepsie. His journey has led him to a wealth of insights he shared upon his award acceptance.

Norma Vizcarrondo, Hispanic Heritage Committee President, introduces one of the eight honorees, Assemblyman Frank Skartados, at Saturday’s 7th Annual Community Service Awards Luncheon, held at the Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel.

“I think of us as Latinos and the labels out there we use; it’s such a big world, and we come in so many shades and colors, so it’s important to keep our minds open and reach for our dreams,” said Gerard, who added how honored he was to be sitting next to fellow honoree and education mentor, Jose L. Carrion. “I want to continue to listen; it is one of the most important things I do, but can be one of the hardest to find the time to do so.”

Gerard, who accepted his award just prior to Carrion, also spoke of the dire need for tolerance and togetherness in society. Presently the Superintendent for the Wappingers School District, Carrion served as a Principal for six years for the Newburgh Enlarged City School District.

“It’s important we don’t forget anyone,” affirmed Carrion. “The moment we do, we fail as humanity.”

That unwavering commitment to all could be seen Saturday even in the actions of the event’s Mistress of Ceremony, Francena Amparo, who has served six years in the Dutchess County Legislature. After providing background details as well as adding personal sentiments about the honorees, Amparo had to excuse herself to help secure a vehicle to transport collected goods from a local coffee shop to Puerto Rico. The very altruistic spirit that transcended each of the honorees was alive and well in Amparo, adding to the potency of the afternoon’s events.

Still another honoree, Assemblyman Frank Skartados, spoke from the heart upon receiving his award.

“This is what makes America great, that we all come together; I have always had great affection for Spanish people, who have a love of family, work and God,” said Skartados.

“Getting this honor makes me feel a part of the family, and the Hispanic community is huge, 57 million in the United States, and by 2065, that will double.”

It’s that very pronounced presence as well as accompanying influence that prompted Norma Vizcarrondo, President of the Hispanic Heritage Committee, to begin this critical Annual Luncheon, which continues to grow.

“I wanted to bring people together and break down barriers,” said Vizcarrondo, whose heart, like many, was very heavy, with recent events affecting her homeland of Puerto Rico.

“What happened in Puerto Roco and Mexico will strengthen all of us; we are, and always will be, one in this nation.”

Other honorees included; Anibal Roberto Garcia, Carlissa Marie Morrison, Enrique Rob Lunski, Felipe Santos Maldonado, and Juana Leandry Torres.

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