Six Honored For Community Service At Good Neighbor Awards At Goddard Riverside

July 9, 2024

Fighting homelessness, advocating for students with special needs, feeding the community, and empowering women around the world.

These are just some of the contributions of the five longtime local volunteers honored with Goddard Riverside’s Good Neighbor Awards this year.

In addition, State Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell, who is retiring from the legislature, received a Community Champion Award for his years of service to his Upper West Side District.  

“What we all do together makes society work. Every once in a while, we like to stop and just say thank you,” said Goddard President Roderick L. Jones, opening the festivities.  

The winners spoke with passion and humility about their work. “It chose me. I didn’t choose it,” said Jameka Collins, awarded for advocating for students with special needs. 

“I would like to help everyone get out of homelessness, but if I can get one person out of homelessness, I have not lived in vain,” proclaimed Gerri Collins  (not related to Jameka), who was honored for fighting for affordable housing. 

The honorees are: 

  • Johnny Grima for his heartfelt volunteer work in connecting people experiencing homelessness with Goddard’s Homeless Outreach staff for assistance, and his advocacy work to bring attention to the need for more adequate housing for New Yorkers. As a former outreach client, Johnny understands the issues facing the homeless community and has tirelessly protested mistreatment of unhoused people. 
  • Assembly Member Daniel J. O’Donnell received a Community Champion Award for over twenty years of leadership representing our community in the New York State Assembly. O’Donnell has been a key force behind major legislative accomplishments, including Marriage Equality and the Dignity for All Students Act. He has also supported our work at Goddard Riverside. 
  • Valerie Padilla for creating the online Valerie Padilla Women’s Empowerment Group in 2018 “based on a dream from her grandmother,” which has now grown to five thousand members who serve communities and strengthen families. Valerie and her team engage with many different supports and projects that help individuals, groups and communities. 
  • Jameka Collins for her volunteer work as a parent leader on the Citywide Council for District 75 (CCD7S), made up of schools throughout New York City that teach students with special needs, and volunteer contributions at the Susan G. Komen Annual Breast Cancer Awareness event and the Uptown Grand Central for their annual Party on the Park Street Resource Fair.  
  • Rob Sweren for his many years of volunteer work and leadership on the Goddard Riverside Holiday Meals committee and all the work he has done to support Goddard Riverside and the communities it serves for over 17 years. His commitment has ensured that 1200 people enjoy a home cooked meal at home or in our centers at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  
  • Geraldine “Gerri” Collins for her many years of volunteer work, advocacy work, public speaking, hosting a radio show and lobbying to address tenants’ rights, housing and homeless issues. Gerri is committed to social justice and organizing, showing her leadership and passion as President of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants, a member of the National Low Income Housing Coalition board, and president of our own Phelps House Tenant Association.  

O’Donnell said his 22 years in the legislature had brought challenges and rewards, and that he believed “the purpose of government is to make sure that we level the playing field for the people who have less. 

“Having this job has been the honor of my life,” he said, calling his constituents ” the best people in the world.” 

Photo credit: Left to right: Grima, O’Donnell, Padilla, Jameka Collins, Sweren, Gerri Collins.

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