LIVINGSTON, NJ — Honored for their contributions to the community over the past year, Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC) and Margie Heller, administrative director of community health and outreach at SBMC, were recognized as the 2018 Business of the Year and Civic Leader of the Year at the Livingston Area Chamber of Commerce (LACC) Awards Dinner held on Thursday at the Westminster Hotel.

On behalf of SBMC, Heller highlighted a few of the health center’s accomplishments since September, including the opening of the Cooperman Family Pavilion for the purpose of creating a more comfortable and appealing environment for patients. SBMC was also recently recognized as having the No. 1 transplant program in the United States for living donors.

“[The Cooperman Family Pavilion] was a fairly significant project and undertaking and it could not have happened without the support and guidance of our town,” said Steven Zieniewicz, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of SBMC, who accepted the award on behalf of SBMC. “I’m also very proud because my wife and I live in Livingston, so not only do we work here, we live here, and we really experience the community on a very first-hand, warm and enduring basis.”

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SBMC, a flagship hospital of RWJ Barnabas Health, is New Jersey's oldest nonprofit, nonsectarian hospital and has worked since 1865 to exceed the community's highest expectations for compassionate care, healthcare excellence and superior service.

Zieniewicz recognized Barry Ostrowsky for his leadership as the president and CEO of RWJBarnabas Health, and specifically for his hard work in creating a deeper relationship with Rutgers University, which helps “distinguish and define [SBMC] as the best in the state.”

In addition to SBMC's reputation as a leader in providing the highest level of patient care—including delivering nearly 5,800 babies annually, caring for even more newly diagnosed cancer patients and creating breakthroughs in the field of infertility—many of the medical canter's facilities are nationally recognized.

“I was one of those premature babies at Saint Barnabas—I was a twin, I was three-and-a-half pounds when I was born, and I was there for about six weeks—so this is a long tradition of taking care of those babies there,” said Councilman Dr. Shawn Klein, an on-staff ophthalmologist at SBMC, as he presented the Business of the Year plaque to Zieniewicz on behalf of the LACC.

Heller, currently the system administrator of global health at RWJBarnabas Health in addition to her role at SBMC, is a Roseland resident with an extensive background in community service both locally and globally.

LACC member Daniel Blue, owner of Livingston Bagel, presented the award to Heller, joking that the definition of “civic leader” comes up when Googling her name.

“If you Google ‘civic leader,’ it says that it is someone who volunteers their time, skills, knowledge and enthusiasm to promote the quality of life in their community; someone who finds ways to positively impact the individuals, organizations and issues; and they contribute to the common good of their community,” said Blue. “This year’s civic leader, Margie Heller, exemplifies all of those qualities…When Margie is given an opportunity to accomplish something, she not only meets it, but exceeds it to the fullest.”

Blue added that in addition to supporting his business, Heller also supports his family and is the type of friend who “will do anything for you at any time.”

“To sum it up, this is one of the kindest and most loyal people that you could ever meet and our community is fortunate to have her,” he said.

With her father, mother and aunt as her community-minded role models, Heller made community service a priority at a very young age. This passion extends far beyond the medical center, as Heller also sits on a variety of boards in Essex County, including the West Essex YMCA, the LACC, the Valerie Fund, Kessler Stroll ‘N Roll and the American Heart Association Executive Leadership Team among others.

Heller has been previously recognized for her community service, and was most recently the recipient of the Althea Gibson Leadership Award, presented by Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.

Through her role at SBMC, Heller dedicates herself to building stronger communities both locally and globally. Locally, she has successfully implemented a program in partnership with the YMCA that addresses obesity and diabetes in Latino youth and adults in West Orange. She has also developed and continues to maintain garden initiatives in West Orange, Livingston and Orange. 

Heller thanked the LACC and also acknowledged her fellow honorees, stating that she was “in really good company” on Thursday night.

“We all want the same things from our communities, regardless of which one we live in,” said Heller. “Community capacity building is defined as ‘the process of developing and strengthening the skills, processes and resources that communities need to survive, adapt and thrive.’ Community capacity building isn’t a one-time thing; we must strive to constantly build relationships and develop successful partnerships. Collaboration is imperative.

“Volunteering my time, skills and knowledge to better our communities has turned passion into purpose for me. I feel honored to get up every morning doing something that I truly love. RWJBarnabas Health and SBMC have given me the opportunity to create sustainable social change in our communities both here and abroad.”

Heller thanked her SBMC family as well as her real-life family for being at the event to support her, and for their “constant love and support.”

Blue continued to honor the business community by presenting the award for 2018 Business Person of the Year to Mahesh Lekkala of Wine Legend, who was selected for being an integral part of the Livingston community. According to the LACC, he and his business have continuously lent their support to the many volunteers and non-profits in the area.

Lekkala was an aspiring computer engineer until his wife’s parents, who ran a beer and liquor store in New Jersey, propelled him into the beverage alcohol retail business. He ultimately debuted two Wine Legend stores, in Livingston and Cherry Hill, in 2002, and has since opened locations in Woodbury, West Orange and Brooklyn. The West Orange location is the first storefront with an in-store bar.

Sponsors of this year’s LACC Awards Dinner included the SBMC staff, Essex County, SBMC Health Corporation, Metro YMCA, CareOne, Remy Cointreau, Phelps Construction Group, West Essex Tribune, The Bennett Family, Eastman Companies, Health Benefits Navigator and Columbia Bank.

Check back with TAPinto Livingston throughout the week for more on this year’s honorees of the Livingston Board of Education, Livingston First Aid Squad and the Livingston Police and Fire Departments.

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