When the Westchester County Board of Health was reviewing the nominations for its annual Distinguished Public Health Service Award earlier this year, board members were so impressed by the efforts of Rachel Cohen, a Mamaroneck 16-year-old, that they decided to create a new youth public health service award to recognize the contributions of young people.
“We felt that her idea was thoughtful, would make a difference in the lives of children and demonstrated concern for the public good, which is what public health is all about,” said Board President R. Steven Nakashima, MSPH, MPA, RS. “We hope her example will inspire other young people to act positively and support their communities.”
County Executive Robert P. Astorino, who was equally impressed, said, “Rachel combined ingenuity and compassion to come up with this terrific project to help children who’ve gone through a traumatic ordeal. Her public service not only makes Westchester a better place, but it’s also a testament to the power and goodness of our young people.”
Mamaroneck Village Mayor Norman Rosenblum, who nominated Rachel, described the program she initiated to collect, clean and donate small stuffed animals to the Mamaroneck Village Police Department so officers can give them to children involved in emergencies as a way to reduce trauma and provide comfort. During the past two years, Rachel has singlehandedly collected, cleaned and donated more than 300 small stuffed animals.
“Rachel has made significant contributions to the mental health of the youngest members of our community,” Rosenblum said. “We are very proud of her and thrilled she is receiving this recognition.”
Lt. Dominick Falcone, who coordinates the distribution of the Beanie Babies, Webkinz and other small stuffed animals that Rachel collects and donates, said that at headquarters, officers often give the animals to children who accompany their parents to police headquarters after a car accident, and officers keep a box of stuffed animals in the trunk of every patrol car, ready to hand out on calls.
“It can be scary for children when they see our flashing lights or when they come to police headquarters, and giving them a stuffed animal makes them feel better,” Falcone said.
Rachel will join County Executive Robert P. Astorino, Westchester County Board of Health President R. Steven Nakashima and Health Commissioner Sherlita Amler, MD, on Thursday, April 24, at the Yonkers Family YMCA to receive the 2014 J.R. Tesone Youth Public Health Service Award from the Westchester County Board of Health. At the same time, the Board of Health will present the 2014 Distinguished Public Health Service Award to the Yonkers Health Connections for LYFE Coalition and the 2014 Honorary Public Health Service Award to John Richard Tesone.
To help Rachel’s project, the Yonkers Family YMCA, at 17 Riverdale Ave., will accept donations of small stuffed animals through April 24. You can also arrange donations by emailing Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The new youth award was named to honor the lifetime commitment to Westchester children of John Richard (J.R.) Tesone, a Board of Health member and owner of Breezemont Day Camp in Armonk, who died Feb. 15. Tesone mentored generations of counselors and campers alike.
The Westchester County Board of Health works together with the County’s Health Department to promote health, prevent disease and prolong meaningful life for Westchester residents. The Distinguished Public Health Service Award is presented by the Board of Health annually during Public Health Week to an individual or organization that exemplifies a commitment to public health. Award recipients are selected from nominations received by the Board of Health.