State Assemblyman McDonough Announces Bellmore-Merricks’ Women of Distinction

New York State Assemblyman David McDonough held his Seventh Annual Women of Distinction Awards Ceremony on Saturday, September 24, at the Merrick Library. These woman all live within the assemblyman’s 14th Assembly District.

In honoring the women, he remarked that their achievements and dedication have resulted in improving the quality of life in our community.

“We are very lucky to have these women as our friends and neighbors. Special thanks go to the families of our honorees who have allowed their loved ones to spend so much time caring for others.”

The winners are Svetlana Groman, Dr. Michelle Jardine and Erika Wagner of Bellmore; Christine Vignola, Gail Hernandez and Linda Prussen of Merrick; Lori Farina of North Bellmore; Rita Marie Smith of North Merrick; and Judy Bongiovi  and Karen Siler of Seaford, and Geraldine Moore, Ph.D and Carol Wilson of Wantagh.

wodFrom left are Bill Wagner (in for Erika Wagner), Dr. Michelle Jardine, Gail Hernandez, Carol Wilson, Lori Farina, Assemblyman McDonough, Judy Bongiovi, Rita Marie Smith, Karen Siler, Linda Prussen, Dr. Geraldine Moore and Christine Vignola


 A Bellmore resident, Svetlana is a home health aide who works with patients who have problematic health issues preventing them from caring for themselves on a daily basis. Several have suffered debilitating health conditions that have diminished their quality of life.

Understanding that severe illness can affect a person emotionally and psychologically, Growan is determined to give her patients’ lives more meaning, doing whatever it takes to brighten their day. She spends time speaking with them, cooks their meals, bathes them, cleans their homes and reminds them to take their medications. To help keep their leg muscles active, she helps those who are able to walk around their home. On her own time, she will often help them with their shopping.

Growman cares deeply for her patients, and they appreciate it. They have a deep regard for this woman who is more than a health aide to them. She is a guiding light, always encouraging them and treating them with respect and consideration during one of the most challenging times in their lives.


 An endocrinologist serving the Long Island community for the past 16 years, Michelle works tirelessly to help her patients while raising her nine year-old daughter. She recently completed a two-year program in endocrine certification in neck ultrasound (ECNU), which concentrates on thyroid and parathyroid diseases.

With a client base that comes from as far away as Florida, she enjoys seeing patients whom she has treated come back healthy and happy.

Although Dr. Jardine’s practice is time consuming, she always has time for her daughter and her activities, whether it be helping out in Girl Scouts or serving lunch in the cafeteria. She especially enjoys Career Day, when she speaks to the students about her practice and what her job entails.

Juggling her personal life and her career will never be easy, but Dr. Jardine understands priorities and treats both parts of her world with the care and attention they deserve.


 The second of four children, Erika is a member of the Air National Guard. Initially deciding to join the U.S. Air Force, she realized that although she wanted to serve her country, she wanted to serve the people of the Long Island community, specifically. Having made her decision, Wagner found that the Air National Guard would give her the greatest opportunity to do this.

She enlisted for eight years and is assigned to the 106th Air Rescue Wing at Gabreski Air Force Base in Westhampton.  The mission of the 106th is to provide worldwide personnel recovery; combat search and rescue capability; expeditionary combat support; and civil search and rescue support to federal and state authorities. Putting their lives on the line every time they are called upon, they fulfill the 106th’s motto “That Others May Live”.

Wagner is the third Wagner to serve in the Armed Forces since the Civil War.


Gail is an example of a successful cancer survivor who used her experience to help educate others.

As most people are aware, one of the side effects of chemotherapy is total hair loss. For many men and women this causes great anxiety. Given that they are entering a difficult fight, which in itself is anxiety-provoking, they would have one less thing to worry about if they knew they wouldn’t lose their hair. Knowing she was going to have to deal with this side effect of her treatment, Hernandez decided to research methods for preventing the hair loss.

Incredibly, she found a safe and effective method that would allow her to keep her hair. Hernandez was so very grateful for the result that she organized a fundraiser to increase awareness of the method and to provide financial assistance to those who could not afford to pay for the program.

The method is called Cold Caps Assistance Project and can be found at

Keeping her hair during that difficult time gave Hernandez hope, and she in turn shared her hope with others coping with cancer.


 A resident of Merrick, Linda lives an active and varied life. From coach to writer, she manages to fit everything in while raising her three daughters.

For more than three decades, Prussen has coached gymnastics. During the last 10 years she has taught Mikayla, who is deaf and whose mother is battling multiple sclerosis. To make things easier on the family, Prussen picked up Mikayla for lessons every week until she obtained her driver license. Under Prussen’s tutelage, Mikayla started gymnastics as a beginner and now has elite tumbling skills.

A lover of the written word, Prussen is a journalist, columnist and playwright, her work having received widespread attention.  Her story “Older Athletes Strive to Excel” was featured on the front page of Newsday, and the story “Organ Owners, ” which appeared in the Long Island Press, was quoted in a decision to hear a case by the New York State Court of Appeals, and was later written up in Yale Law Review.

Prussen maintains a column, “Something to Wine About” for the online Daily News.  When it comes to wines available on Long Island, she has the knowledge of a sommelier.

Prussen’s writing has earned her 11 press awards.

With several one-act plays to her credit, she is also a regular contributing playwright to the Township Theater Group of Huntington and is an actress with a handful of TV and film credits.


 Christine has spent her entire career helping people reach their financial goals, whether it was in her position as a broker on Wall Street broker or her time with Fidelity Investments, which she joined in 1998.  During her time with Fidelity, she has held several leadership positions working her way up from Account Executive to her current position as vice-president, branch office manager in Roslyn.  It is in her current capacity that Vignola has been recognized as one of the top managers in personal investing, receiving the coveted President’s Circle Award for Excellence.

She is an executive member of Ellevate, an organization whose goal is to advance women in the workplace, both for themselves and the greater good, and is a Women’s Ambassador for Fidelity Investments.

As important as her career and organization affiliations are, it is Vignola’s work with the American Cancer Society (ACS) that touches her heart. It began in 2008 with the Merrick- Bellmore Relay for Life when her daughter Amanda and her friend, both nine years old, began selling lemonade to raise funds for ACS. Both girls had been touched by cancer in their families, Amanda’s grandfather having died and Michaela’s grandmother being in the middle of fighting her way back to health. Vignola led the team A Cup for a Cure’s fundraising efforts and, today, the team is proud to have raised more than $40,000 since the girls opened that lemonade stand.

Through various fundraisers, Vignola and daughter Amanda, now in high school, helped A Cup for a Cure raise $15,000 for the Merrick-Bellmore High School Relay for Life event, the largest amount raised by a team.

Vignola used her time working with 14 high school students not only to teach them about caring and giving back, but how to be passionate about a cause, set a goal, create a strategy,  overcome differing opinions and work together to create something larger than any one person can do on their own.

As a career woman, mom, wife and caretaker for her dad, Vignola’s life is a balancing act. She approaches each part of her world with grace and dedication, giving her all to those around her.

She and her family reside in Merrick.


 Having joined the Town of Hempstead Civil Service Commission in 1996, Lori currently serves as a Personnel Specialist IV and is the most senior member of the civil service staff.  Supervising a staff of 10, she possesses a thorough knowledge of civil service law and procedure and their practical application. She is an invaluable resource to the town as an expert level practitioner in Civil Service administration.

Generous with her time, Farina makes herself available to counsel town employees and members of the public regarding career paths and opportunities within the town. She is often sought out by department heads and senior administrators for her advice pertaining to their departments. During every meeting, coaching session and discussion, she always has the town and its employees as her first priority. Farina’s expertise is so highly regarded that the New York State Department of Civil Service reaches out to her on a regular basis for her guidance and insight.

Due to the passing of the interim executive director, Farina has been performing two jobs at the town for the past several years, never complaining or with a decrease in the volume or quality of her work. Rarely missing a day of work, her co-workers feign shock and disbelief when she finally takes some much deserved time off.

Dedicated to her family, Farina and her husband Jason are the proud parents of Nicole and Joseph. Between her personal, family and work obligations, Farina’ life is extremely full and busy, yet she handles it all with composure and grace.


 It is apparent that Rita Marie is thankful for the blessings in her life and, in appreciation, gives back to those around her. Over the years, she has given her time and energy to numerous and varied community organizations that are important to her.

A Merrick resident, she has been an active member of Sacred Heart Church, participating in the Mommy and Me pre-school program; the Clothes Closet and the Peanut Butter and Jelly Gang, which distributes donated clothing and food to those in need; and as a funeral greeter.

Volunteering for the Girls Scouts of Nassau County for 30 years, Smith held the positions of troop leader, service team member, and Merrick Magazines/Munchies coordinator, all of which require a large time commitment.

As trustee and activity coordinator for the Mary and Elizabeth Center in Oceanside, an organization of women helping women through personal and financial crises, Smith has supported many women as they work through their troubles towards a stable, fulfilling life.

Recognizing the need for two working parent households, she has also worked in child care offering parents a safe and caring environment for their young children.

Smith is a woman with a large heart whose life is an example of caring and selflessness.


 Although many volunteers help in capacities that don’t afford them the ability to see the fruits of their efforts, Judy is fortunate to have a brick and mortar building to attest to her work.

As president of the Seaford Historical Society, she has overseen the complete renovation, refurbishment, and reorganization of the Seaford Historic Museum building. It takes significant leadership and organizational abilities to work on a project this size, both of which Bongiovi has in abundance.  The museum was rededicated in May of this year.

Less tangible, but certainly as important, is Bongiovi’s work with the Bereavement Ministry at St. William the Abbot in Seaford. Conducting multiple eight week sessions each year, she helps individuals dealing with grief and loss.  She has been a part of this ministry for more than 10 years.

Bongiovi’s efforts on behalf of the community and individuals dealing with loss are highly regarded by those who know her.


 As a woman with a child with autism and a brother with Down syndrome, from an early age Karen has been a strong advocate for those with special needs. Her dedication began with the birth of her youngest brother Michael, who courageously struggled with his condition. Siler and her parents, along with her three older brothers, helped Michael to develop educationally, socially, spiritually and as a contributing member of the family.

As an adult, Michael was diagnosed with leukemia. Through it all Siler was at his side advocating for the best medical and home care. For years Michael spoke of his desire to live in an apartment, have a girlfriend, get married and be like his siblings. His hopes and dreams spurred Siler to consider ways the local community could accommodate other young people with various abilities to live more independent lives. Fueling this idea was the fact that her son Ryan could one day be a member of such a neighborhood home.

After years of meeting with all the entities involved, along with the necessary and continuing fundraising, Karen’s Hope is under construction at 3553 Kenora Place in Seaford.  Siler believes that our local communities benefit when parents can see their developmentally challenged children live more independently in an ongoing supportive environment.

Karen’s Hope began with Michael’s dreams and is being realized because of Siler’s commitment and dedication.


 Geraldine‘s strong commitment to public health and dedication to lifelong learning are the reasons she constantly strives to educate those around her.

After a young boy died from an asthma attack, Dr. Moore joined the Asthma Coalition of Long Island to prevent the same thing happening to anyone else. Speaking at schools in Long Beach, she began teaching asthma education to the students. Today, Dr. Moore continues to be an active volunteer with the Coalition, is a certified asthma educator, and volunteers at asthma screenings.

Dr. Moore is also a volunteer with the Medical Reserve Corps., helping at the Long Island Marathon and the Victory Games each year. As an associate professor of nursing, she shares her passion with nursing students at Molloy College, where she also serves as the faculty moderator to the Molloy Nursing Student Association.  Dr. Moore was recognized in 2014 as the Nurse Educator Health Care Hero.

She believes political activism is also important so she accompanied a group of students to Albany for Nurses’ Lobby Day, and she helps organize Meet the Legislators Night at Molloy College where elected officials speak about various health policies and their effect on health care.

In an effort to prevent deaths from an opioid overdose, Dr. Moore has brought the Narcan education and training program to Molloy College and encourages students to attend the multiple training programs throughout Long Island.  Currently, she has 240 students scheduled for training this fall.

Dr. Moore is a dedicated doctor who believes in reaching far beyond the walls of her office in an effort to educate people of all ages in order to better their lives.


 An incredibly young 85 years old, Carol’s energy and enthusiasm puts those decades younger than her to shame.  Going from place to place she gives much of her time to caring for the hungry and indigent.

Always looking out for those less fortunate, she gathers household items from wherever she can and collects clothing, giving them to those who can use them. For years she has volunteered at the Freeport soup kitchen, frequently stopping on her way to pick up fruit baskets to give to the patrons.

Wilson can often be found bringing meals to the homeless at railroad stations and offering a word of encouragement.

At 85 most people would be enjoying their retirement, but Wilson would rather be out trying to make life a little easier for those whose life journeys have been so different from her own.













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