Untitled Document

April 24, 2014


(Newark, NJ) – The Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders held its 11th Annual “Essex County Celebrates Youth” program on Wednesday, April 23, 2014, at the Hall of Records.  This happy and heartwarming event is held each year to acknowledge and encourage outstanding young people throughout the County who have accomplished and contributed so much at a young age, and proven themselves to be role models for their peers.

This year’s honorees were: Dylan Belluardo, a 7th grade student at Livingston’s Heritage Middle School; Cha’Nel Tyler Ellis of Maplewood, a senior at Columbia H. S.; Daniel Friday, a senior at the Cicely L. Tyson Community School of the Performing & Fine Arts in East Orange; Michael A. Nicosia, Jr., a junior at Belleville H. S.; Rafael A. Nunez, a senior at Irvington H. S.; Zoë Obadia, a senior at Glen Ridge H. S.; Erica Silverman, a junior at Livingston H. S.; Catherine V. Sousa, a senior at Newark’s Science Park H. S.; and Tannia N. Wilkerson of Irvington, a sophomore at Essex County’s Newark Tech.

Pictured above are: (front row, l. to r.) Zoë Obadia of Glen Ridge, Dylan Belluardo of Livingston, Erica Silverman of Livingston, and Tannia N. Wilkerson of Irvington; and (back row, l. to r.) Catherine V. Sousa of Newark, Cha’Nel Tyler Ellis of Maplewood, Daniel Friday of East Orange, Michael A. Nicosia, Jr., of Belleville, and Erika Gilces (representing her brother, Rafael A. Nunez of Irvington). PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

“This is probably my favorite event of the year, and that’s because it involves young people”, said Freeholder President Blonnie Watson of Newark as she opened the program.  “I get so much satisfaction from helping young people and seeing them succeed, and that’s exactly what this event is all about, celebrating young people who are doing good things, and we are just delighted to draw attention to their accomplishments and encourage them to keep doing what they’re doing.”

In her welcoming remarks, Freeholder Carol Clark of East Orange spoke about the history of the event she initiated 11 years ago.  “This will be my last Celebration of Youth event”, said Clark, who will leave the Board at the end of the year, “so I am especially proud that for the first time in all these years, every one of my nine freeholder colleagues will be honoring a young person tonight.”  She went on to say, “There is nothing more important than caring for, nurturing, encouraging and celebrating our young people, because someone will have to be sitting in these freeholder seats, and it just might be one of you, and it just might be because you were a part of this event tonight… we don’t know.  But what we do know is that we want to honor our young people.”  She also remarked that as each of the young people is honored, their proud parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and pastors, “whose big smiles I see out there in the audience”, will be honored as well.

Dylan Belluardo of Livingston (front row, right), a 7th Grade student at Heritage Middle School, received his commendation from Freeholder Leonard Luciano of West Caldwell (back, center).  Dylan was joined by his parents, John and Tracy, and his sister, Sandra.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

Dylan Belluardo of Livingston received his award from District 4 Freeholder Leonard Luciano of West Caldwell.  A 12-year old 7th Grade student at Heritage Middle School, Dylan maintains high honors and his favorite subjects are math, science and Italian.  He is also a student at Andy’s Music School in Livingston where he has been taking piano lessons for five years, and enjoys playing classical pieces and performing at the school’s recitals.

Dylan is also a member of Team Technomes, one of the Livingston Robotics Club teams that compete in the U. S. Foundation for Inspiration & Recognition of Science & Technology Lego League annual robotics competition, and this year his team advanced to the state competition.  He has been involved in
scouting since 1st Grade, and achieved the Arrow of Light, the highest honor in Cub Scouts.  He has since moved on to Boy Scout Troop 12 in Livingston, where he currently holds the rank of First Class and the position of Totin’ Chip Instructor.  He is also a member of the Scarlet Aquatics-Elite Division Swim Team, a competitive swim team that trains and competes year round against other competitive teams throughout New Jersey.  John and Tracy Belluardo are Dylan’s proud parents, and he has a younger sister, Sandra.

“Dylan is the youngest of our honorees today”, said Freeholder Luciano, “but I can assure you that he is one hard-working and ambitious young man.”  He went on to say, “Dylan, I know you are destined for great things, and I can’t wait to see you accomplish them.  From talking to your dad, I also know you are already planning to attend M.I.T., and at the rate you’re going, I have no doubt you will.” 

Accepting his Commendation, Dylan congratulated the event’s other honorees and thanked the freeholders for honoring him, his parents for all their support, and his grandparents for attending the event.

Cha’Nel Ellis of Maplewood, a senior at Columbia H. S., receives her commendation from Freeholder Gerald Owens of South Orange.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

Cha’Nel Tyler Ellis of Maplewood, a 17-year old senior at Columbia High School, received her commendation from Freeholder At-Large Gerald Owens of South Orange.  Cha’Nel was selected as a member of the CHS Peer Counselor Program and is also a member of the Minority Achievement Committee working to challenge minority students to enroll in honors and Advanced Placement classes. She was also selected as a member of the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN), a national coalition also working to study and eliminate achievement gaps in school districts. 

Cha’Nel has thrown the shot put, discus and javelin for the CHS Track & Field Team for the last 3 years.  She also plays the violin, has been a member of the CHS Orchestra and Honors Chamber Orchestra as well as the Northern NJ and Essex County youth orchestras.  She began dancing at the age of three and is  
a competitive dancer at LaChaney’s Dance and Music Academy in Maplewood, where she is captain of its Performing Arts Company (PAC) as well as a teacher’s assistant.  She has competed with the PAC on the national level for the past seven years and performed at various venues locally, in New York City, and across the country.  She is the daughter of her proud parents, Robert and Wahkeelah, the sister of Sabina, and will attend the University of New Haven in the fall where she will major in Forensic Science.

“There’s nothing better than seeing young people doing great things, and to watch them succeed”, said Freeholder Owens, “and I am delighted to honor one of those young people tonight.  Her name is Cha’Nel Tyler Ellis, and I am delighted to present you with this commendation for all that you have and will accomplish.”

“I’d just like to thank my dad, my mother, my sister, and the freeholders for giving me this opportunity”, said Cha’Nel.

Freeholder Carol Clark of East Orange presents the Freeholder Board’s commendation to her honoree, Daniel Friday, a senior at East Orange’s Cicely Tyson Community School for Performing & Fine Arts.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

Daniel Friday of East Orange, an 18-year old senior at the Cicely L. Tyson Community School of the Performing & Fine Arts, was honored by District 3 Freeholder Carol Clark of East Orange.  Daniel is pursuing his lifelong interest in the arts, especially theater arts, having grown up in a family of artists.  He is well-versed in all technical aspects of theater, including lighting, sound, prop creation, and costume, and has designed sets for over 20 plays and worked on over 45 productions and events in various capacities; he has also worked as a professional stagehand for events held by outside organizations.

Daniel is a member of the International Thespian Society, Kappa Theta Delta, has served as Treasurer for the last two years, and has also been the recipient of Mystic Awards for “Best Set Design” and “Theater Commitment”, and a CTS Award as a “Student Leader”.  He will attend the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in the fall where he will pursue his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Technical Direction.  Daniel is the son of his proud mother, Sharon, and the brother of his siblings, Kizzy, Ebenezer, Chelsea and David.

“Daniel, I am so proud to shine a bright light on you, your talents, and for being the great young man that you are”, said Freeholder Clark, “because being the behind-the-scenes guy in the theater, you work hard to make the people on stage look good, and sometimes you don’t’ get any of the applause or the accolades, but tonight”, she continued, “you are very much front-and-center for all to see… and ladies and gentlemen, I hope you are as proud of Daniel as we are in the City of East Orange!”

“I just want to thank my family and my teachers, because without them, I don’t know where I’d be.  I thank the freeholders so much”, said Daniel.

Freeholder Rufus Johnson of Newark (left) presents the Board’s commendation to his honoree, Michael A. Nicosia, Jr., a junior at Belleville High School.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

Freeholder At-Large Rufus Johnson of Newark sponsored and presented the Board’s commendation to Michael A. Nicosia, Jr., of Belleville, a 16-year old junior and outstanding student at Belleville High School.  Michael was admitted into the Gifted and Talented Program in the 4th Grade, wrote a poem that placed second in the Women’s Club’s annual poetry contest, and in the 6th Grade he was selected to become a conflict mediator.  He has been an Honors student since the 7th Grade and has received High Honor Roll for the majority of his time at Belleville High School.

Michael has also been a member of BHS’s Varsity Golf Team and Junior Varsity Crew Team, with which he’s competed in regattas and shared in the winning of a Gold Medal in the Metropolitan Youth Speed Order.  He has also been a member of the Mock Trial Team, which has competed against high schools and with some of the most prestigious law programs in New Jersey; the team advanced to the state quarterfinals two years in a row, and he contributed to its success in the roles of witness and lead attorney.  Michaels’ true passion, however, is film.  He is an aspiring director and has filmed, directed and edited multiple music videos, one of which was entered in a contest on ThePremise.com, received over 1,000 views.  Michael’s proud parents are Doreen and Michael A. Nicosia, Sr., Belleville’s Deputy Mayor.  He also has a sister, Cherylann.

“This evening I have the pleasure of honoring a very smart young man from the great Township of Belleville”, said Freeholder Johnson.  “I’ve known Michael’s parents for many years, but I have gotten to know Michael, Jr., over the last couple years, and to see what an outstanding young man he is.”  Presenting Michael with his Commendation, Freeholder Johnson said, “It gives me great pleasure to shine a spotlight on you today for all you have done, Michael, and to encourage you to keep up the good work.  Congratulations.”

“I just want to say how honored I am to be here tonight”, said Michael.  “I realize how difficult it can be to obtain a successful future as a teenager in this day and age… it takes a lot of hard work and dedication, and it is at times like this that all that hard work and dedication pays off.”  He also thanked his family, Freeholder Johnson and the entire Freeholder Board.

Rafael Nunez a senior at Irvington H. S., was honored by District 2 Freeholder D. Bilal Beasley of Irvington.  Rafael is ranked #1 in his class at Irvington H.S. and has a GPA of 4.28 on a 4.0 scale.  He was also named to the Super Honor Roll and was ranked #1 in his class throughout his high school years with an Honors and AP-laden course load. He is a member of the Sigma Beta Club, Future Business Leaders of America, Library Council and Student Council, as well as a 4-year member of the IHS baseball team and football team, where he was the starting quarterback.  Rafael has volunteered extensively at food banks, community health fairs, a Cerebral Palsy Awareness Walk and the Bridges Teens Tackle Homelessness Conference.

He conducted cancer research at Rutgers-Newark through the American Chemical Society’s Project SEED program, was the winner of Rotary International District 7470’s Interact Club 4-Way Test Essay Contest, and was one of only two students selected to represent New Jersey at the nationwide U. S. Senate Youth Program that brought high school students together in Washington, D. C., in March 2014.

Rafael is the son of his mother Azucena, and is Erika’s brother.  He will attend Dartmouth College in the fall on a 4-year academic scholarship, where he plans to major in Political Science and eventually pursue a career in government and elected office.

“Unfortunately, Rafael can’t be with us tonight, but he has a very good excuse”, said Freeholder Beasley, “because he’s attending a three-day orientation conference at Dartmouth College, where he will attend college in the fall on a four-year academic scholarship”, adding “but we are fortunate to have his sister, Erika Gilces, here with us tonight to accept the commendation his behalf.”  Freeholder Beasley also expressed his appreciation to Irvington Superintendent of Schools Dr. Neely Hackett and Irvington H.S. Principal, Sandra Boone-Gibbs for recommending “such an outstanding young man”, and for attending the event to show their support.

Rafael’s sister, Erika, spoke proudly of her well-rounded and successful “little brother” who is dedicated to helping his community and “craves to make a difference in the world.”   She talked about how hard he works in school as a straight-A student, saying “I’ve seen him stay up late, and wake up early, and I’m pretty sure there have been times he hasn’t even slept to finish his school work.”  She concluded her remarks by saying, “I would like to thank you on Rafael’s behalf.  I am honored to be his sister, and to be here for him.”

Freeholder Brendan Gill of Montclair presents the Board’s commendation to his honoree, Zoë Obadia, a senior at Glen Ridge High School.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

Zoë Obadia of Glen Ridge, a 17-year old senior at Glen Ridge High School, was honored by District 5 Freeholder Brendan Gill of Montclair.  Zoë is an excellent student and an outstanding alto saxophone jazz musician, which she started playing in the 4th grade.  She has attended the Juilliard, Litchfield and Jazz House Kids summer camps, the NJPAC and Manhattan School of Music pre-college programs, and the Jazz House Kids Music Program in Montclair.

Zoë has received numerous awards and honors performing individually and with various groups.  With the Jazz House Kids, its Big Band won 1st place at the Charles Mingus Student Competitions in 2011, 2012 and 2014, and 2nd place at the Essentially Ellington Competition in 2013; and its Jazz Combo won the Mingus Spirit Award in 2014.  As a member of the Manhattan School of Music’s Jazz Combo, she won the “Outstanding Jazz Combo” award from Downbeat Magazine in 2012.  Individually, Zoë won “Outstanding Soloist” awards in alto saxophone at the Charles Mingus Competitions in 2011, 2012 and 2014; and the “Outstanding Alto Saxophone Soloist” award at the Essentially Ellington Competition in 2013.  She also won “Outstanding Junior High Jazz Soloist” from Downbeat Magazine in 2011; the “Youth in Action Award” from the International Women in Jazz Organization in 2012; and was featured as the “Jazz Prodigy” at the 2013 Pittsfield City Jazz Festival by the Berkshires Jazz Organization.

Zoë was also named the 2014 YoungArts Jazz Saxophone winner, performed with the YoungArts Jazz Combo at the New World Center in Miami in January, where Mikhail Baryshnikov selected her to perform with the YoungArts Jazz Combo at a show he curated at the Baryshnikov Art Center in New York City.  She has performed with the jazz combo, Young Jazzers; she also performed with the Student’s Grammy Big Band at this year’s pre-Grammy concert and after-party as a member of Grammy Camp Jazz Session 2014.  She was recently named a Candidate to be a 2014 Presidential Scholar in the Arts, and will attend the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City this fall.  She is the daughter of her proud parents, Yves Obadia and Elisabeth Riday.

“With all the talk in the news about how students are being pressured and evaluated”, said Freeholder Gill,  it’s great to see so many young people here today, and especially you, Zoë, who are doing so well academically and also engaged in other activities that can never by measured by a test, because that is what a truly well-rounded education is all about.”  “Zoë, it gives me great pleasure to honor you today for your musical talents”, said Gill.  “I know you have an amazing career ahead of you, and I can only hope you’ll remember us when we’re trying to get tickets to come see you perform.  Congratulations, and best of luck.”

“I am honored to be recognized,” said Zoë, “and I would like to thank my parents and my music teachers for supporting me.”  She went on to say, “I feel really fortunate to live in Essex County because it has a great community of artists who really support and inspire me.  They not only have successful careers of their own, but they also contribute to the community by involving everyone in their art, especially young people.”  She also expressed appreciation to her high school music teacher as well as the Jazz House Kids program in Montclair, with which she has been affiliated for the past five years.

Erica Silverman of Livingston, a 17-year old junior at Livingston High School, was honored by Freeholder Vice President Patricia Sebold of Livingston.  Erica is currently in her third year of LHS’s Digital Imagining curriculum.  She has been a member of the Key Club and Forensic Science Team, and was selected for the Physical Education Advanced Leadership Program.  She volunteers extensively: she helped prepare lunches and distribute clothing to hundreds of homeless individuals through Bridges Outreach of Summit; ran in charity races for both the Make A Wish Foundation and American Cancer Society; ice skated in a show to benefit Special Olympics; and during the summer of 2012 also helped orphaned children and elderly and disabled adults, rebuilt a teacher’s hut, soccer field and classrooms in Ecuador, and helped reforest land in the Galapagos Islands near the Charles Darwin Center. 

She began ice skating at the age of seven, and has been a member of the internationally-acclaimed Synchroettes, Essex County’s synchronized skating team, since 2005.  She was also a member of the Synchroettes Junior Team that won bronze and silver medals, respectively, as Team USA at the 2013 and 2014 international competitions in Gothenburg, Sweden.  Erica was selected to display her digital imaging artwork for the last two years at the Livingston Art Show, and this year with the “2014 Fresh Perspectives” Juried Art Exhibition currently running at the Morris Museum.  She received Honorable Mention at the Caldwell College Forensic Science Competition, works as an assistant skating instructor at Codey Arena in West Orange, and has been very active with the Livingston United Synagogue Youth (USY) since 2011.  Erica’s proud parents are Daena and Livingston Deputy Mayor Michael Silverman.  She also has a sister, Samantha.

Freeholder Vice President Sebold spoke about having been an English teacher for 30 years and a Livingston resident, “and for those reasons I am so delighted to recognize a wonderful young woman and student at Livingston High School.”  “Erica, you have made your parents and grandparents, all four of whom are here tonight and very proud.  You are an excellent example of all the positive and constructive things today’s young people are doing, and I know you will continue to soar in the years to come.  You have my heartfelt best wishes and congratulations.”

Freeholder Vice President Patricia Sebold of Livingston (far right) honored Erica Silverman, a junior at Livingston H. S. (2nd from right), who was accompanied by her parents, Daena and Michael, Livingston’s Deputy Mayor.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

Erica thanked Freeholder Sebold and her parents, and added, “I also want to thank Essex County for all the opportunities you’ve given me to support my passion of ice skating.  My team, the Synchroettes, is such a major part of my life and I thank you for supporting me and my team.”

Catherine V. Sousa of Newark was honored by Freeholder Rolando Bobadilla, also of Newark.  Catherine is a 17-year old senior and outstanding student at Science Park H. S. where she is involved in a wide range of activities.  She is a member of the National Honor Society where she serves as Treasurer, and also participates in the Calculus Olympics, the Statistics Olympics, the Newark Math League and the Science Park Robotics Team.  She is the captain of the girls’ varsity soccer team and also a member of the girls’ volleyball team. 

Outside of school, Catherine is also very active in her community as captain of the Ironbound Soccer Club’s U17 Intensity Team; coach/trainer for the Ironbound Soccer Club Recreational Program; and referee/coach with the Ironbound Soccer Club Indoor League.  She is also a Catechism teacher and teacher’s aide.  Catherine plans to pursue a double major in Mathematics and Computer Science when she attends NJIT in the fall.  She is also interested in math and music, and is very proud of her Portuguese heritage.  Catherine is the daughter of her proud parents, Joao and Maria, and the sister of John.

“When I first met Catherine”, said Freeholder Bobadilla, “I asked her to give me three words to describe her character, and she said ‘persistent’, ‘hard-working’ and ‘always willing to help others’, and I can’t think of any finer qualities than those.”  “Catherine”, he continued, “you are a leader, a very capable young woman, and a fine representative of your Portuguese heritage and the Ironbound.”

Freeholder Rolando Bobadilla of Newark (far right) honored Catherine V. Sousa of Newark (center), a senior at Science Park H. S.  She was accompanied by her parents, Joao and Maria, and brother John.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

John Soares, President of the Ironbound Soccer Club, spoke glowingly about how much Catherine does for the organization, saying “she is so much more than the captain of our team… she is my field coordinator, organizes games, and keeps us all in line.  She is a great young lady and I thank her for all she does for us.”

Catherine thanked Freeholder Bobadilla for honoring her, her parents and brother for all their support, and the Ironbound Soccer League “for all the opportunities they’ve given me to help and give back to the community.”

Tannia N. Wilkerson of Irvington was honored by Freeholder President Watson.  Tannia is a 15-year old sophomore at Newark Tech where she is an outstanding student and maintains a 3.5 GPA.  She has been running track since she was in the 5th Grade and has competed as a member of the Newark Tech Girls Track Team since the 9th Grade, with whom she earned two state championship rings for the 2013 indoor season.  She also ran for the Jersey Heat and Lighting track clubs in 2012. 

Tannia attends Newark’s Grace Temple Baptist Church where she is very active with the Youth Choir, Praise Dance and Usher Board ministries.  She also sang with the McDonald’s Super Choir, a choir organized with people from the Tri-State area, when they performed at Newark Symphony Hall on January 31st and set a new record with the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest Gospel Choir.  She will also compete in the Praise Dance category of the McDonald’s Gospel Fest at the Prudential Center in May.

She enjoys a wide range of interests including running, dancing, skating, drawing, reading and even carpentry.  She is the daughter of Timothy and Sheilisha, the sister of Tyshawn and Tianna, and plans to study Criminal Justice in college.

Freeholder President Blonnie Watson of Newark (2nd from right) presents the Board’s commendation to her honoree, Tannia N. Wilkerson of Irvington (2nd from left).  Tannia was joined by her parents, Sheilisha and Timothy.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

Freeholder Watson explained that she’d been approached by a congregant at her church who told her all about a young lady (Tannia) who she thought deserved to be honored by the freeholders.  “After hearing all about what an outstanding young lady she is, I knew Tannia would be my honoree”, said Watson.  “Tannia, you are a delight.  You are intelligent, talented and an accomplished young lady and it is truly my honor to recognize you today.”

“I want to thank my parents and everyone at my church, and the freeholders for honoring me”, said Tannia.

At the conclusion of the presentations to the evening’s honorees, Freeholder Watson commented that this was her last youth celebration because she, too, will retire at the end of the year after 15 years on the Board, and quoted lines from a poem by William Arthur Ward: “Study while others are sleeping; work while others are loafing; prepare while others are playing; and dream while others are wishing.”  She added, “All of you are talented individuals who I know will make a difference in the world.” 

“I am probably the biggest kid you will ever see”, said Freeholder Clark in closing.  “Getting old is something I can’t control, but whether or not I have to grow up is up to me all together.  I’m probably going to grow old kicking and screaming, and I want you to grow old kicking and screaming too, because if you keep a little bit of youth inside of you, it doesn’t matter if you’re 8 or 80, you will still have a youthful heart.”  As the program drew to a close she said, “Because tonight has probably made me one of the happiest freeholders on the planet, I am going to ask all of you, whether you’re young or at least young at heart, to join me”, as Pharrell Williams’s Oscar-nominated song, “Happy”, blared over the sound system and she invited everyone in the audience to get up out of their seats to dance and clap along to the infectious music.

Freeholder Clark leads the honorees and their guests in celebration as the joyous music of Pharrell Williams’s song, “Happy”, filled the Freeholder Chambers.  PHOTO BY GLEN FRIESON

The program included vocal performances by Destiny Alicea, a senior at Essex County’s West Essex Tech; an opening prayer offered by Shéana Lacy, a student at Hillside H. S.; and a closing prayer offered by Danielle Williams, a Deacon at Bethel Presbyterian Church in East Orange and an honoree herself in 2008.  Thereafter, the honorees and their guests were invited to a reception catered by students enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at Newark Vocational High School.


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For Additional Information:
Gary Kroessig, Public Information
Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders




Board of Chosen Freeholders, County of Essex
Hall of Records - Room 558, 465 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Newark, New Jersey 07102
Tel: (973) 621-4486 Fax: (973) 621-5695