The Ahern Foundation, which hands out more than $5,000 in scholarships each year, and 10 people will be honored at the Bayonne Youth Center's 72nd annual awards dinner on Oct. 20.
The other honorees, who have exhibited outstanding character and have made major contributions to our community, are Jason O'Donnell, Christian Booker, Tara McCabe, Albert Romano, Jennifer Auriemma, Rebecca Canela, Joseph Valentino, Catherine Gregory, and sisters Jazlynn Gonzalez and Alyssa Gonzalez. The non-profit Bayonne Youth Center was founded in 1945 by Sabra Jackson.
The dinner will be held at the Chandelier Restaurant, 1081 Broadway, Bayonne, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $65 per person and $35 for children under 12. Ticket reservations must be made by Friday, Oct. 13, organizers said. For more information on dinner tickets, please contact Dawn Herring at 908-528-6478.
The keynote speaker will be Michael Embrich, a U.S. Navy veteran who has served in local, state, and federal government positions for the past 17 years. He currently serves as a spokesman for the United States Army.
The Ahern Foundation, Family Service Award
The Ahern Foundation was established after long-time football coach and former city Councilman Don Ahern died in 1995. He worked for 35 years in the Bayonne school system and retired as the principal of Alternate Education at BHS. The foundation was spearheaded by Don’s widow, the former Arlene Furlong, and their seven children -- Donald, Jr., Dennis, Kathleen, Kevin, Brian, Denise and Debra.
The Ahern Foundation scholarship program awards three scholarships each year, $2,500 to a Bayonne High School, $2,500 to a senior from another area school, who is from Bayonne, and a $500 vocational/technical school scholarship to a Bayonne High senior. In 2016, the program surpassed the $100,000 mark in scholarships awarded.
Jennifer Auriemma, 2017 Entrepreneurship Award
Auriemma is the founder and owner of Bayonne Paint, an acrylic "fun art" business, with roughly 90 percent of events dedicated to fundraising. She has demonstrated an unwavering dedication to helping non-profits, civic organizations, elementary and high schools raise proceeds for their important causes.
For a number of years she helped manage the community Soup Kitchen and organize two fashion show fundraisers that raised nearly $30,000.
Tara McCabe, Educational Award
A lifelong resident of Bayonne, McCabe has dedicated her career to teaching in the city. She began working in the Bayonne school district at the age of 15 as an after-school program assistant. By 18, she was teaching after-school classes while also working summers as counselor for the early childhood program at the Lincoln and Washington schools camps. McCabe joined the faculty of the Bayonne school system in 2003 and has taught at Midtown Community School for the past 15 years.
Albert Romano, Sabra Jackson Award
Another lifelong resident of Bayonne, Romano has been with McCabe Ambulance for 20 years. In 2013 he was promoted to lieutenant; and in 2005 he was a Bayonne Police Emerald Society honoree.
Jason O'Donnell, Humanitarian Award
O’Donnell, the former firefighter, police director and state assemblyman, has been active in numerous charitable and civic organizations. He is a founding member of the Shamrock Society, past president of the Donegal Association, volunteer member of the planning board, Knights of Columbus member, Bayonne Little League board member and volunteer baseball coach. He has announced he is running for mayor in 2018.
Christian Booker, Community Service Award
Booker, a signals systems tech for the Bayonne police and fire signal department, has worked for years as a youth counselor and coach. Today, Christian and his wife, Andrea, educate the youth at their local church in Brick, where they live, and they continue to coach multiple sports.
Catherine Gregory, Outstanding Youth Award
A junior at Marist High, Gregory is involved in numerous school activities and has made time to volunteer as well. She participates in Model UN, Student Council, the Student Ambassadors program, Drama club, Choir, Cheerleading, and the Science and Medical Research club. Catherine also was an integral part of the "Save Marist" campaign to keep the school open. Outside of school, Gregory has volunteered at the Bayonne Medical Center, Jewish Community Center of Bayonne, and at a senior citizen's home in New York.
Joseph Valentino, Oustanding Youth Award
A culinary arts major at Hudson County Community College, Valentino, 17, has volunteered for a number of organizations and causes, including the Ronald McDonald House, where he collected 5,000 pop tabs for a school-wide initiative to provide shelter to families during medical treatment of their children; and serving Thanksgiving dinner to the needy in Bayonne.
Rebecca Canela, Outstanding Youth Award
Rebecca, a sixth-grader at All Saints Catholic Academy in Bayonne, has already left her mark on the city of Bayonne. Her idea for safe-driving signs has been implemented by city officials. When she's not making the roads safer, Rebecca is working on her career goal of becoming a chef and restaurant owner. She is also active as a member of Girl Scouts Troop 12009.
Alyssa Tianna Gonzalez, Outstanding Youth Award
Inspired by her younger sister, 13-year-old Alyssa, a Robinson School student, has been active in autism awareness. She joined the student council in 2016 to help spread awareness of autism, assists and participate in special needs sports activities, especially Buddy Baseball. She and her sister, Jazlynn were chosen by Sesame Street to participate in several short videos regarding autism awareness and living with an autistic sibling.
Jazlynn Kayla Gonzalez, Outstanding Youth Award
Like her sister, Jazlynn, 9, is active in autism awareness. The fourth-grader has addressed her classes at Robinson School to explain the definition and meaning of autism; and her personal experiences with her autistic younger sister. Jazlynn helps out with the special needs activities and she provided the voice narration for a Sesame Street video titled “A Sibling Story.”