BRICK – Local heroes who have strived to make a difference in the community were recently honored with their own “cape.”
The 9th Annual Brick Hero Awards presentation was held at the Brick High School auditorium and hosted by the Mayor’s Student Advisory. The program gives the opportunity to acknowledge those who have made a positive impact in the community and awards them for their acts of kindness.
This year, they recognized 33 individuals with some of the honorees consisting of teachers, students, administration, community workers, residents and more. Throughout the night, each hero was pinned with a green superhero cape.
The first honoree of the night was former mayor John Ducey. Ducey served as mayor for nearly nine years and had announced his resignation earlier this year.
Although Ducey was not present for the ceremony, he was honored with a cape and students from the Mayor’s Student Advisory gave a speech thanking him for everything he has done for the Brick community.
“Ducey was an admirable leader of Brick and extremely involved in the student body population. He treated students as if they were professionals, asked our opinions and really considered what we had to say. This was a great opportunity for us to be treated as mature individuals and to feel like our voices were being heard in our town,” student Aidan Murphy said. “He has spent his entire career as mayor ensuring the overall success of Brick Township, as well as the wellbeing of each individual and citizen. John Ducey is an excellent example of a community leader who cares deeply for the wellbeing and productivity of their community.”
Some other honorees included Dave Panebianco, a Brick resident who dedicated his time to making repairs for churches, businesses, neighbors and locals. He has also worked with various local police and fire departments.
Panebianco is a member of the Holy Name Society of Visitation Church, American Legion and Knights of Columbus. He has donated about $15,000 to the church to have the necessary repairs and cleaning done. Additionally, Dave helps out each month at the church’s family gathering, the annual gift auction and presently cleaning the stained glass of the church.
Ptl. Scott Smith and K9 Echo were honored at this year’s Hero Awards for serving the Brick community for 16 years, four of which in the K9 unit. The most recent incident Ptl. Smith was involved in was the animal hoarding situation.
He was the first to arrive on scene was able to gain consented entry into the home. He was the lead operations investigator on that call and stayed on scene for about 10 hours. It was noted that he stayed well after his shift ended to ensure the safety of the animals as well as maintain proper procedure.
“K9 Patrol Officer Scott Smith, badge 231, and Echo deserve to be recognized not only for their role in shutting down the horrendous animal cruelty case, but his many years of continued service to the Township of Brick,” student Brody LaVallee stated.
Many educators and school staff were recognized at this year’s awards, one being Cindy Dornacker who is a social worker/counselor at Drum Point Elementary School. Dornacker was hired during the COVID pandemic and was nominated as a hero due to her commitment to build relationships with students, staff, and families, despite masks, social distancing, and the hybrid learning schedule.
“She has become an integral part of our team, and provides support and resources to assist anyone in need. Mrs. Dornacker has spent countless hours in supporting students with behavioral and mental health needs which have stemmed from students’ limited opportunity to develop and build social skills over the last several years,” Principal Colleen Kerr said.
The last cape given out for the evening was shared between two local environmental advocacy groups: Save Breton Woods and Save Barnegat Bay. Members from both groups worked together to stop the development of 31 acres of property that’s been dubbed Breton Woods.
They attended months and months of countless Planning Board meetings and were able to raise funds to help provide attorneys that would speak out in opposition to the proposed development.
“These individuals were undeterred by the challenging mission, which was beyond many of the participants’ experience. As a community of deeply caring and selfless individuals, members of Save Breton Woods and Save Barnegat Bay advocated for, and ultimately helped achieve the preservation of this land, making Brick Township and our environment better,” student Emily Farrell said.
The following is a full list of the Hero Award Recipients: John G. Ducey, Susan McNamara, Bonny DiBernardo, Diane Johnson, Nick Spanola, Dave Panebianco, Brick Children’s Community Theatre (BCCT), Edward Sarluca, Ptl. Scott Smith & K9 Echo, Morgan Blann, Diana Hoogvliet, Jean Benfanti, Maryann Biernat-Oldock, Jacqueline Janik, Cassidy Haugh, Jessica O’Brien, Kim Petillion, James lannarone, Dan Newman, Geraldine Bayles, Kathleen Oehme, Barbara Favato, Patty Griggs, Dave Kuster, Cindy Dornacker, True Life Church, Nicole Pannucci, Mary Ann Jacob, Debbie Thomas, Save Breton Woods/Save Barnegat Bay, Marion Gallagher, Anne Leahy, and Katharine Hulse.