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NFJC to honor community leaders

The National Federation for Just Communities of Western New York will present its 2011 Community Leader Awards to 21 adults, 12 students, a business and a college at its annual luncheon at noon Jan. 20 in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. For tickets, call the NFJC at 853-9596. Honored will be:

>Arts

*Ted Pietrzak, who was director of the Burchfield Penney Art Center from 1998 until last October. He guided the center into an award-winning new building that has drawn more than 150,000 visitors in the last two years and was deemed by the New York Times one of the 44 destinations in the world to visit in 2009. He's also active in cultural tourism efforts.

>Business:

*Laurie A. Branch, president and CEO of Iroquois Insurance Group in Olean, which has grown from 50 to more 1,900 member agencies. In 2009, then-Gov. David A. Paterson named her New York State's Woman of Excellence in Business. She volunteers on several community boards.

*Joan Yang, founder and president of Rand and Jones Enterprises, a construction and building materials firm owned and operated by minority women. She has opened the door for the next generation of women and minority business owners in a male-dominated industry.

>Community Organization:

*Thomas Herrera-Mishler, CEO and president of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, which he led into a new partnership with the city to operate its historic Olmsted parks. He also partnered with agencies to provide "green" industry jobs for the disadvantaged and helped showcase the strong neighborhoods around Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

>Community Service/Volunteerism:

*Marilynn P. Fleckenstein, associate vice president for academic affairs at Niagara University. She founded Learn and Serve Niagara, the university's service learning program, which last year saw more than 2,300 students perform more than 50,000 hours of service to the Western New York community.

*Twiggs Seymore Jr., a teacher, coach, tutor and mentor in math and science who has been heavily involved in the Buffalo Prep program for minority students. He also led several teams in the NAACP national Act-So competitions and remains a quick phone call away for former students and mentees who have gone on to college.

*Karen Lee Spaulding, deputy director of Albright-Knox Art Gallery. She oversees what she terms the museum's "people departments," which include the education program featuring classes and workshops for visitors, school and public tours, and the weekly Gusto at the Gallery Free Friday's series.

*Agnes F. Williams, a Seneca and clinical adviser for Native American Community Services. She also is coordinator of the Peace Institute, the Indigenous Women's Initiative, a monthly "Talking Circle" for the public, and two annual events held on the United Nations' Indigenous Peoples Day and on its Human Rights Day.

>Corporate

*KeyBank, whose foundation supports organizations that foster economic self-sufficiency. It focuses on financial education, work force development and diversity. The bank's Matching Gift Program doubles employee contributions to charities, and it gives grants to foundations on which employees serve.

>Education

*Edwin Clausen, vice president of academic affairs at Daemen College. He added a community service requirement to the school's core curriculum and designed its Center for Sustainable Communities and Civic Engagement, which has partnered with city neighborhoods to improve nutrition, health care, economic self-sufficiency and environmental awareness.

*Kathy Jamil, an administrator and founding member of the Universal School in Buffalo. She also is director of the Islamic School's League of America, which plans educational conferences for schools, works on multiple interfaith collaboratives and is co-founder of Resources and Help Against Marital Abuse, which focuses on domestic violence.

>Family

*Danis J. and Scott W. Gehl. Danis Gehl is associate executive director/director of education at the University at Buffalo Educational Opportunity Center. She previously worked to improve neighborhoods around UB's Main Street campus as project director of the University Community Initiative and was executive director of Kensington-Bailey Neighborhood Housing Services.

*Scott Gehl has been a community organizer for Buffalo Neighborhood Housing Services, a University District Common Council member and is currently executive director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal, where he has challenged housing discrimination and helped pass fair-housing laws.

>Health Care

*David M. Dunkelman, president and chief architect of the nondenominational Weinberg Campus, which serves 700 elderly and disabled with residential care, adult day care, a nursing home and other services. He also writes, consults and speaks regularly on aging issues and care for the elderly.

>Interfaith

*Rev. Jacob C. Ledwon, pastor of St. Joseph University Catholic Church, where the motto "diverse in background, united in faith" reflects the attitude of Father Jack, as he is known. The church hosted the NFJC's annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration. He also founded Opera Sacra, which produces religiously themed music by diverse musicians for diverse audiences.

>Law Enforcement

*John R. Chella, superintendent of the Niagara Falls Police Department, where his focus has been forging a strong partnership with the community. The department has both a citizens and youth academy and has expanded its outreach programs. He actively recruits minority candidates for law enforcement careers.

>Legal

*Lisa Bloch Rodwin, an Erie County Family Court judge who, as chief of the District Attorney's Domestic Violence Unit, founded the state's first such bureau outside of New York City. As judge, she directs a new collaborative to reduce the number of minority children placed in foster care, and she created the first program in the state to reach out to Muslim, immigrant and refugee families about family court.

>Philanthropy

*Clement R. and Karen A. Arrison, retired president of Mark IV Industries and president of Karen Fick Designs, respectively. They and their foundation contribute to educational, cultural and animal welfare initiatives as varied as Chautauqua Institution, the SPCA and the Stradivari Society, where they also lend three Stradivarius violins to young musicians.

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>Public Relations

*William M. Collins, of Travers Collins & Company. He's past president of Professional Communicators of WNY and the Public Relations Association of WNY and a past recipient of Business First's 40 Under 40 Award for his work for the Diocese of Buffalo.

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>Social Services

*Michele Brown, executive director of Compeer of Greater Buffalo. She transformed the start-up organization into a major provider of mental health care. Compeer uses 350 volunteers to mentor children with emotional problems and serve as peer friends for adults and seniors, saving Erie County millions of dollars annually while enriching lives.

*Nester D. Hernandez, executive director of the Belle Center, which he has turned into an all-encompassing human service center on the Lower West Side. It provides educational, social and community-building services, including day care, educational courses, AmeriCorps, youth programs and a food pantry.

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>Special Award

*The Anne Frank Project, which grew out of the Buffalo State College theater department's 2006 production of "The Diary of Anne Frank," which refreshed the classic by incorporating the Rwanda genocide and casting two "Annes," one Jewish, hiding from Nazis; the other, Tutsi, hiding from Hutu extremists, both speaking Anne's words. The resulting annual conference uses Frank's experience to examine genocide, intolerance, bigotry and racism.

*Youth awards will be presented to: Brittany Bhayana, Williamsville East High School; Christine Bond, Nardin Academy; Emilyrose Conforti, Sacred Heart Academy; Spencer Gates, Kenmore West High School; Danielle Gianquinto, Niagara Falls High School; Margaret O'Neill, Nardin Academy; Christopher Chiles, Burgard High School; Erin Lachaal, City Honors High School; Ariel Manney, WNY Maritime Academy; and Emerald Wielbon, Nichols High School.

*The Elizabeth A. Hickey Award will be presented to Kayla VanCleave, Park School. The Manch Scholarship Award will be presented to Yessica Amezquita, International Prep at Grover.

e-mail: citydesk@buffnews.com

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