The Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs has honored eight New Yorkers for their service and dedication to people with special needs at the annual Justice Center Champion and Code of Conduct Award ceremonies in Albany. The awards recognize individuals and organizations who have worked tirelessly to improve the lives of individuals under the Justice Center’s jurisdiction.
Justice Center Executive Director Denise M. Miranda presented four individuals with the agency’s Champion Award. Nominees can include individual staff members, community members, people receiving services or organizations that support the mission of the agency.
“This year’s Champion Award winners embody the mission of the Justice Center,” said Miranda. “They have worked tirelessly to support and protect individuals with special needs. It is my privilege to recognize their commitment and hard work on behalf of this vulnerable population.”
This year’s winners include:
Earl Eichelberger, Justice Center Advisory Council (Albany) - Earl Eichelberger passed away earlier this year after serving six years on the Justice Center’s Advisory Council, chairing the Legislation and Regulations Committee and actively participating in the Investigator and Police Training Committee. Mr. Eichelberger brought with him a rich history of public service focused on helping vulnerable individuals. The Justice Center benefited from Mr. Eichelberger’s wealth of experience in New York’s human services sector, his legislative acumen, and most importantly, his compassion. His family accepted his Champion Award on his behalf.
Lisette Pineda, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (New York City) - Lisette Pineda defines a Champion Award winner, going above and beyond to ensure justice for an individual receiving services. Ms. Pineda reported a very serious allegation to the Justice Center. During the course of the investigation, Ms. Pineda moved to take a job in a new city. Despite that, she met with Justice Center investigators several times. She also traveled, at her own expense, to Long Island to provide testimony at an administrative hearing. She was under no obligation to do either but wanted simply to help the victim get justice.
Chief Assistant District Attorney David Rossi, Albany County District Attorney’s Office (Albany) - David Rossi has been working hand-in-hand with the Justice Center to ensure collaboration on all criminal cases as well as improve communication and processes. Mr. Rossi leads a team of prosecutors who review cases for criminality. In addition, he has helped the Justice Center test new tools used to communicate with District Attorneys’ offices across the state, making communication regarding abuse and neglect cases more efficient.
Dr. Barbara Sampson, New York City Chief Medical Examiner (New York City) - Doctor Barbara Sampson has been an invaluable resource for the Justice Center. Her quick responses, her attention to detail, and her willingness to work with the agency is unparalleled. Her work allows the Justice Center to examine the deaths of individuals in care and address any systemic concerns that may have been identified when the case was reviewed. She is responsive to the agency’s questions and frequently helps investigators.
The Justice Center’s Advisory Council also presented its Code of Conduct Award to four recipients. This award honors staff who embody the ethical standards outlined in the Code of Conduct for Custodians of People with Special Needs. Employees who assist people with special needs are required to sign the Code, which ensures that people “live self-directed meaningful lives in their communities, free from abuse and neglect, and protected from harm.”
This year’s winners include:
Sukina Anderson, Vanderheyden Hall, (Wynantskill) - She leaves no stone unturned. That’s how colleagues describe Sukina Anderson’s dedication to the individuals in her care. She is described as a true advocate for individuals receiving services and they know she is the go-to in their program. Ms. Anderson emphasizes consistency which has proven to be helpful for the young people receiving services at the facility where she works. Colleagues say she not only fights for what the youth in her program need, she teaches them how to advocate for themselves, which is an invaluable lesson.
Ariel Coffman, CN Guidance & Counseling Services, (Hicksville) - Ariel Coffman has 15 years of person-centered devotion to the field of recovery and mental health. She is widely known and with great affection as a humanitarian who anchors every one of her actions in the priority of assuring that each client’s well-being is at the core of everything she does. Colleagues say Ms. Coffman has a palpable compassion, deep need to non-judgmentally understand all parties’ thoughts and feelings, a reverence for facts and for individuals’ privacy, and a gentle humor and empathy that puts both staff and clients at ease. She is credited with building an environment where everyone feels respect, dignity, choice, self-determination and well-being. Not only does she support people where she works, but Ms. Coffman advocates for individuals with special needs in her free time and leads the board of the National Alliance of Mental Illness-NY.
Michelle Proctor, The ARC Westchester (Hawthorne) - Michelle Proctor has spent the last 16 years honing the skills she uses to individually help each and every person with whom she works. She takes the time to get to know each individual and their personal preferences, and then works to incorporate their interests into their daily activities. For individuals who cannot speak, Ms. Proctor works with each to help them communicate their wishes in other ways. In a newly opened residence, Ms. Proctor helped each resident decorate their own space with furnishings very specific to their liking. In addition, she has helped individuals receiving services reconnect with family members. Colleagues say she is an excellent role model for staff as well.
Ruby Thomas, Outreach (Brentwood) - Ruby Thomas’ colleagues write she “brings a level of care and consideration for a challenging population that is rarely found.” Ms. Thomas has spent her life dedicated to bettering the life of those around her. She served in the military, had a long career in the NYS Office of Mental Health, and now works with individuals with mental illness and substance abuse disorders. She not only to addresses the mental health needs of the individuals with whom she works, but also their physical, emotional and personal well-being. She works to teach each person who has been marginalized from society to stay active in their community by enhancing their social skills. In addition, Ms. Thomas continually advocates for those who may not be able to advocate for themselves. She also volunteers in her community by organizing voter registration and school supply drives.
The Justice Center operates a toll-free hotline for people to report allegations of abuse, neglect, and significant incidents 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Anyone who witnesses or suspects an act of abuse or neglect has been committed can make a report. Because the Justice Center is not a first responder, callers are directed to call 9-1-1 if there is an emergency that requires an immediate medical or police response.
The Justice Center has authority to investigate all reports of abuse and neglect in covered facilities and programs, pursue administrative sanctions against staff found responsible for misconduct, and its Special Prosecutor/Inspector General shares jurisdiction with local District Attorneys to prosecute criminal offenses involving allegations of abuse or neglect. The Justice Center notifies local district attorneys of all cases of abuse and neglect that occur in their jurisdiction.
Justice Center Individual and Family Support advocates provide guidance and information to victims, their families, personal representatives, and guardians about the reporting and investigation process, offer support during criminal court proceedings, and are available to accompany victims during interviews and court appearances.