PHILADELPHIA — Each year, Philadelphia joins more than 4,250 cities, counties, and tribal areas to celebrate the contributions of its volunteers and national service leaders. In 2021, despite the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, the City of Philadelphia celebrated those who make their neighborhoods better through service.  On Tuesday, April 6, the 9th annual Mayor’s Day of Service Recognition Awards Ceremony was held, in which Mayor Kenney recognized 15 Philadelphia volunteers and national service members who have made a positive impact in their communities. The virtual award ceremony was organized and led by the City’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service (MOCEVS).

“I want to acknowledge the time, effort, and dedication of every single person who gave back in service, especially those who supported our city’s response to COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, volunteers became essential personnel and Philadelphians stepped up in a way that exemplified what it means for us to be the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection,” said Mayor Kenney. “This is why I’m happy to recognize 15 exceptional Philadelphia volunteers and national service members, who work tirelessly to make their communities better.”

For this year’s event, MOCEVS received over 200 nominations that highlight the incredible work and service that takes place in Philadelphia. Volunteers were nominated by family, friends, and members of the public in five award categories: Mayor’s Philly Hero Award, Mayor’s Youth Hero Award (age 18 and under), Mayor’s Distinguished National Service Award, Mayor’s Distinguished National Service Alumni Award, and the Greater Philadelphia Corporate Volunteer Council’s Distinguished Corporate Volunteer and Distinguished Corporate Skills-Based Volunteer.

“Today’s event is truly a culmination of all of the work that happens in the Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service. It is an opportunity to reflect on the commitment to service that so many individuals hold true in their heart but very often goes unrecognized,” said Amanda Gamble, Chief Service Officer for the City of Philadelphia. “As we uplift current volunteers, we also hope to inspire new volunteers this National Volunteer Month.” The City of Philadelphia congratulates the winners of these awards.

2021 Honorees:

The Mayor’s Philly Hero Award recognizes Philadelphians who have made an impact in their communities.

  • Adam McNeil started SistaTalkPHL in 2018. It wasn’t until 2020 that he was able to come up with the funds to lead his first community wash day, providing laundry access to local single mothers. He hopes to be a vessel of hope for single black mothers and their families. Adam wants to bring the world together and honor single mothers for all they do. Adam loves his organization SistaTalkPHL and wants to always work to empower and uplift women.
  • Charles Ramey has been a volunteer Boxing Coach for the City of Philadelphia Department of Recreation’s Boxing Program for the past 41 years. He is passionate about using boxing as a tool to impart life lessons to his students/boxers and has made a vast difference in the lives of thousands. No surprise that many of the young people that Charles has coached are now college graduates, business owners, and successful members of the workforce.
  • Dr. Helen Teng received her bachelor’s in nursing in 2004, a master’s in nursing in 2007, and in 2019 completed a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Nursing. Dr. Teng has had a strong commitment to addressing and researching healthcare disparities within immigrant populations. Aside from her volunteer work with SEAMAAC, Dr. Teng further addresses the needs of the community with an emphasis on the marginalized as a clinical assistant professor at Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions.

The Mayor’s Youth Hero Award (age 18 and under), honors youth who have made an impact in their communities through service.

  • Declan Cassidy is an 11-year-old who is in 6th grade at Baldi Middle School. He started Declan’s Socks For The Streets in 2019 to help people suffering from Substance Use Disorder and Homelessness. Declan’s 2020 sock drive collected 9,223 pairs of socks. He likes to volunteer because it makes him feel good and proud and it’s nice to see people smile.
  • Nily Exius is a college Freshman majoring in Psychology at Cabrini University. Nily volunteers with Philly Reading Coaches, working with students in Kindergarten through 3rd grade to improve reading literacy.
  • Asil Greer is a 7-year-old actor, model, and kid entrepreneur from Philadelphia, PA. Asil is the founder/author of I Can Read, So I Can Lead, an organization encouraging children and adults to read so that one day they can lead. In 2019, Asil added and launched another initiative under the I Can Read, So I Can Lead umbrella called I Can Read, So I Can Lead Painting with a Literacy Twist. Outside of his busy schedule, Asil loves to recite poetry verbatim, read, draw pictures, master sign language and play with his classmates.

The Mayor’s Distinguished National Service Award recognizes individuals currently serving in AmeriCorps or Senior Corps programs.

  • Emma Houghton is a Serve Philadelphia VISTA AmeriCorps member. Growing up in Memphis, TN opened Emma’s eyes to the inequities ever-present in our society. Since then, Emma has worked towards building a better future for the communities she has come to know and love. The courage and acceptance Emma has found in these spaces have shaped her in more ways than she will ever truly know, and Emma is grateful to everyone who has supported her along the way. Emma is grateful to everyone who has supported her along the way.
  • Ashley Borgella serves with the Notre Dame Mission Volunteers – Americorps (NDMVA). Ashley currently serves at St. Edmond’s Home for Children where she thrives in her love for service. For Ashley, service is not just an act, but a way of life.
  • Cortez Malik Johnson is a current member of the National Health Corps Philadelphia, AmeriCorps program. Cortez is the son of Rhonda L. Hamell and Jamon L. Johnson and brother to Tray D. Hamell and Payton McKay Johnson. He was born in St. Louis, MO, and raised by his mother in Houston, TX. Cortez earned a BA from Vanderbilt University in 2020, double majoring in Neuroscience and Medicine, Health & Society. He will attend the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine in Pasadena, CA in July 2021. Cortez loves God, his family, Dungeons and Dragons, Spoken Word, exercising, and the Great British Bake Off.

The Mayor’s Award for Distinguished National Service Alumni is awarded to alumni of national service programs who have continued to lead a life of service.

  • Esmeralda Hajdinaj is a former AmeriCorps member with City Year Philadelphia. Esmeralda pursued her interests in educational equity and social parity throughout our vulnerable schools and communities across Philadelphia. As a volunteer with HIAS PA, she continues her passion for engaging in the love of our shared humanity by supporting immigrant and refugee services — affirming her belief that sustainable peace and progress resides in the communities and people we serve, for we are all each other’s keeper.
  • Tomarra Sankara-Kilombo is a Drexel University graduate now serving as a Public Health Project Manager with the National Nurse-Led Care Consortium (NNCC) where she supports three national service programs. Tomarra served 2 years as an AmeriCorps VISTA with PHENND and the NNCC. She continues her commitment to community investment in her personal work through Deep Roots Collective and Black Soul Vintage.
  • Elizabeth (Ellie) Malfaro, a Villanova University graduate, served as a Patient Advocate with National Health Corps Philadelphia, AmeriCorps program. She went on to serve another 32 months with the Peace Corps as a Community Health Promoter in rural Peru. In returning to the city, she continued her trajectory in the public health field as a Disease Intervention Specialist in the Division of Disease Control. Ellie currently studies nursing at the University of Puerto Rico in a bilingual context, with the goal of returning to Philly to continue serving the Spanish-speaking residents of Philadelphia as a public health nurse.

The Greater Philadelphia Corporate Volunteer Council’s Distinguished Corporate Volunteer recognizes corporate employee volunteers.

  • Luis Lugo, born in Brooklyn, NY, lived several years in Arecibo, Puerto Rico before moving to Philadelphia in 1972. As a Latino growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood in the 1970s, Luis’s friendly personality and talent for tennis won him many friends and kept him out of trouble. In the ’90s, Luis began working with Health Partners as a marketing representative, which is where began volunteering with and through his work at Keystone First. Luis continues this work and service to help his brothers and sisters in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.
  • Jessie Heckman is a Senior Catalyst at Vanguard specializing in enterprise-wide strategic transformational change efforts. At Vanguard, she leads the Skills-based Volunteering program. She currently sits on Vanguard’s Hometown Grants committee, a group of employee volunteers responsible for granting $1M to hyper-local organizations in the greater Philadelphia region. Outside of her corporate volunteerism, Jessie serves on the People’s Emergency Center board to support those experiencing housing instability in Philadelphia. She’s a South Philly resident and passionate about mutual aid programs in her neighborhood to ensure a thriving community.
  • Eric Heisler is the Executive Director of Channel Strategy at Comcast. His volunteerism focuses on helping nonprofits throughout the Philadelphia area through pro bono strategic consulting projects. He delivers these projects as part of the nonprofit group Compass, where he is a Board member, project leader, and volunteer. Some of the nonprofits he has recently worked with include Hopeworks, SBN of Greater Philadelphia, and the Center for Literacy.

A recording of the awards ceremony can be found here.