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Non-Profit Agency Honors Volunteers at Annual Awards Ceremony

Community members were recognized for their outstanding contribution to Project Self-Sufficiency at the agency's annual Mosaic Awards ceremony.

Volunteers and representatives from local businesses and organizations were recognized for their outstanding efforts in support of Project Self-Sufficiency and the Sussex County community at the agency’s annual Mosaic Awards ceremony on Thursday.    The event recognizes individuals, schools, civic groups, businesses and non-profit organizations which have provided invaluable assistance to the agency during the previous year.  A special Human Services Hero Award was bestowed on Mary Jo Mathias, longtime Executive Director of the Sussex County Arts & Heritage Council, in recognition of her years of dedication to the community.  Several dedicated volunteers were welcomed into the new Louise E. Murphy Center for Volunteerism Circle of Leaders.  Project Self-Sufficiency is a local, non-profit agency which specializes in services for low-income families in Sussex County, as well as portions of Warren and Hunterdon Counties. 


“The Mosaic Awards honors the individuals and organizations that have been instrumental in helping us to pursue our mission throughout the year,” noted Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director of Project Self-Sufficiency.  “This event recognizes that even the smallest contributions can combine with the efforts of others to have a powerful impact on the community.  The lives of thousands of local families have been changed for the better because of the thoughtfulness and generosity of these individuals.”


A focal point of the evening was the special Human Services Hero Award bestowed on retired Sussex County Arts & Heritage Council Executive Director and longtime Project Self-Sufficiency supporter Mary Jo Mathias.  “The support provided to Project Self-Sufficiency and many other individuals and local organizations by Mary Jo Mathias throughout the years has been invaluable,” noted Deborah Berry-Toon, Executive Director of Project Self-Sufficiency, pointing out that Mathias has also volunteered with the American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voters.  “Mary Jo leads by example and selflessly shares her vision, organizational skills and musical talent wherever it is most needed.  We are constantly grateful for her generosity of spirit.” 

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Several longstanding volunteers and businesses were inducted into the Circle of Leaders, under the umbrella of the Louise E. Murphy Center for Volunteerism.  All have contributed countless hours over multiple years by volunteering at agency events, coordinating toy drives, creating activities for children and families, and other endeavors.  Audrey Ashley and Nancy Harrington were singled out for their extensive volunteering in the agency’s Career Center, where they have taught computer classes and assisted with the Higher Opportunities for Women program.  Girl Scout Ruby Esposito was lauded for initiating the Project Toys for Teens toy drive in pursuit of her Gold Award.  She continued the effort again last year with record success.  Fellow Girl Scout Anah Oozerally was recognized for coordinating a tennis camp for students in the Project Launch Newton program for three consecutive years.  Julie Killen was honored for her assistance with numerous agency events, including the Season of Hope Toy Shop and last fall’s fundraising event at Talbot’s in Sparta.  Mike and Sandy Lipka have made major contributions to a variety of Project Self-Sufficiency endeavors, most notably the annual Back-to-School Fair and the Season of Hope Toy Shop.  Chuck Mathias was honored for his longstanding support of agency initiatives, for serving on multiple task forces and advisory councils, and for his musical prowess as part of the High Point Harmonizers. 


Food insecurity is a dire problem for many Project Self-Sufficiency participants, and contributions to the agency’s food pantry, Thanksgiving baskets and other support programs are always welcome.  Volunteer Paul Franek was singled out for his contribution to the Thanksgiving food drive.  Dolores and James Fernandez were thanked for providing an on-going supply of diapers for agency clients.


Project Self-Sufficiency is in the final stages of launching Project Café, using a newly-renovated kitchen in the campus Community Education Center to develop culinary arts programming and a working restaurant.  Kristi and Chris Adams and Margaret Post were lauded for their efforts in bringing this project to fruition.


Assistance with fundraising is vital to Project Self-Sufficiency’s existence.  Agency participants Diane Oksienik and Maxine Swentzel were recognized for offering to share their stories at the Project 300 fundraising event.  Ann Steyh was thanked for her financial support of Project Self-Sufficiency for more than 25 years.  Local shop owners and caterers George and Frances Delgado were thanked for providing invaluable support to the annual A Taste of Talent, while Tracey Ivaldi was honored for coordinating the fundraising event at Perona Farms for the past 21 years.


Project Self-Sufficiency relies on a veritable army of volunteers to assist with client events like the Sister-to-Sister Prom Shop, Season of Hope Toy Shop, Back-to-School Fair and others.  Volunteers who were recognized for consistently lending a helping hand include Caitlin Leshiner, Marcella Vitaletti, Carley Ward, and Denise Ward.  In addition to assisting with a host of events as a volunteer, Bea Rush was thanked for supporting the agency for almost 30 years in her role at NORWESCAP.


Assistance with workplace training, education and internships is vital to the agency’s mission of helping individuals to become economically self-sufficient.  Pope John Computer Science Department teacher Adam Michlin was thanked for his invaluable assistance with workplace training, and for putting in long hours as a volunteer at the Season of Hope Toy Shop.  The Sussex County Community College Testing Center was acknowledged for their partnership in providing high school equivalency testing for the New Jersey Youth Corps program.  Robert Fox was thanked for spearheading the development of Project Self-Sufficiency’s 401K program.


Project Self-Sufficiency welcomes assistance with coordinating programs for children.  Lynn Okeson was singled out for her help with the children at the Little Sprouts Early Learning Center.  Newton School District staff members Kathy Bottoni, Angela Dunbar, Kristi Greene and John Succamelli were recognized for their dedication to the Project Launch Newton after school program.  Volunteers from NJ City Serve were acknowledged for packing boxes of snacks for students to use throughout the school year.  Girl Scouts Allison Lynch and Isabel Costello were honored for developing a special carnival for the children at the Little Sprouts Early Learning Center.


Project Sussex Kids, The Sussex County Council for Young Children, was launched during 2015 to support local families parenting children up to the age of eight.  The coordinator of the Hardyston Special Education Parents Group, Ria Smith, was thanked for her dedication to the Project Sussex Kids program.


The Season of Hope Holiday Toy Drive involves the participation of hundreds of individuals, schools, civic organizations and businesses each year.   The 2016 toy drive gathered more than 20,000 items for distribution to more than 2,200 children.  The United States Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, represented by Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Clayton, was acknowledged for their enormous contribution to the effort.  Staff members from Intercar Mercedes Benz & Sussex Honda were thanked for their years of support.  Employees from Selective Insurance Company of America were recognized for hosting a bike-building contest at their Branchville headquarters every December, during which 20 – 30 bikes of all sizes are assembled for donation to the Season of Hope Toy Shop.  The Newton Robotics Team was thanked for providing bike assembly services in support of the toy shop.  In the past few years, several area musicians and choral organizations have volunteered to provide holiday music during the toy shop, including Loni Bach and the strings students from Sparta High School; Harmony in Motion; High Point Harmonizers; Margaret Korczynski and her piano students from the Sussex County Music Workshop; Aimee Nishimura; No Strings A Cappella; Crista Orefice; and Katie Van Varick.  Several of these musical groups have also provided music for other agency events throughout the year.


Access to legal services is a constant challenge for many agency participants.  In addition to receiving a Mosaic Award, local attorney John Graves, Esquire, will be honored at Law Day as Project Self-Sufficiency’s Attorney of the Year in recognition for his dedication to providing legal consultations to area residents in need.


Project Self-Sufficiency works closely with schools and social service agencies throughout the year.  Joanne Koch was recognized for supporting Project Self-Sufficiency’s programs with the Sussex County School Counselor’s Association.  Retired school social worker Wendy Adams, along with staff from the Sussex County Division of Social Services Adult Protective Services, were thanked for their work with Project Sussex Warren Family Connect, Project Self-Sufficiency’s Central Intake program.  The agency’s long and successful relationship with Birth Haven was also singled out for recognition.


Project Self-Sufficiency is a private non-profit community-based organization dedicated to improving the lives of low-income families residing in northwestern New Jersey.  The agency’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of holistic, respectful, and comprehensive services enabling low-income single parents, teen parents, two-parent families, and displaced homemakers to improve their lives and the lives of their children while achieving personal and economic self-sufficiency and family stability.  Since 1986 Project Self-Sufficiency has served more than 25,000 families.  For information about the programs and services available at Project Self-Sufficiency, call 973-940-3500 or 844-807-3500, or visit

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