2024 Citizens Who Care Honorees
The Rotary Club of Andover thanks Mark Spencer for donating the photography for Citizens Who Care, Educator & Student of the Year and Gail Ralston for interviewing and writing the honorees stories.  
Andover TV
What would the Town of Andover do without Andover TV?
It was during COVID that the Town clearly recognized its importance when Andover TV was credited with “keeping things going by keeping Andover citizens connected to their government.”  Not only were all town committee meetings and announcements fed through Andover TV, but over 100 sports events were also broadcast.
And it was all done with the strong commitment of the Andover TV staff who we recognize today.
For Wess Murphy – with Andover TV since 2001, Executive Director since 2008, Sara Antonakos – Programming Director since 2004, and Sean Murphy – Features Producer and Cameraman since 2019, the word “no” is simply not in their vocabulary.
What the community does hear is, “how can we help?”
By definition, Andover TV is a nonprofit, community media television system serving Andover residents.  The state-of-the-arts studio is located at Andover High School and is one of the most advanced local television studios in the region.
Andover TV is not funded by the Town but through a fee from Comcast and Verizon.  Formal agreements show Andover TV as a tenant that uses the high school space to provide community service back to the Town.  The studio equipment is owned and maintained by Andover TV.
While formally scheduled media classes are not held, Sara and Wess do offer training upon request to volunteers interested in creating local television programming.  This might include learning about studio/field production and digital video editing.
In addition, Andover TV generally employs 2 to 3 part-time college-age broadcasters and 4 to 5 high school student “broadcasters” to film Committee meetings and other events.
The staff enjoy a light banter when brought together.  Wess talks program editing and about offering IT consulting services at the Ballardvale Fire Station.  Sara talks about creative ways they have helped nonprofit organizations such as the Andover History Center, the ABC friends and the Greater Lawrence Kiwanis Club.  Sean likes to do “light stories” such as “Positively Andover.”
They’ve also sponsored Andover Days and the ACE Scarecrow exhibit – all without costing a dime of taxpayers’ money!
And for Rotary, the Andover TV team takes on the filming of all Citizens Who Care honorees.  Their biggest challenge will probably be how to film themselves!

In short, Wess, Sara and Sean are amazing examples of positivity and creating ways to benefit the community.  They might sometimes think of themselves as “modestly behind the scenes,” but in the end they are simply three individuals who care.


Steve Cooper

There’s one thing Steve Cooper wants you to know – he doesn’t deserve this honor.  Lucky for Steve, his friends think otherwise.
It turns out, Steve is a great storyteller.  His love of being outdoors, his respect for his fellow veterans, and his concern for the safety of his community shines through in all that he does; it defines who he is.
Growing up in East Boston, Steve knew his path led to a future outside of college, and somehow was going to tie into planes.  Working for United Airlines, he decided to enter military service, a decision supported by his parents.  Rather than leaving his service to chance, he chose the Air Force, training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and Lowry Air Force Base in Denver.
Specializing as a weapons mechanic, Steve followed assignments in Maine and New Hampshire before flying to Guam and then Vietnam.  After his military discharge in 1969 and being awarded several service medals, he returned to United Airlines where he taught Ramp Service classes in the United States and beyond, including China, Singapore, Germany and Fiji. During his 46 years at United, Steve returned to Vietnam twice, where he conducted training missions for United.
Arriving in Andover in 1978, Steve combined his love of the outdoors and military training by joining the Andover Sportsmen's Club.  As a certified firearms instructor he conducts gun safety courses and runs the NRA “refuse to be a victim” course, teaching people safety and situational awareness.
At the Sportsmen's Club, Steve promotes family fun activities such as annual fishing derbies – the longest running competition of its kind in the state.  Scholarships are also given to local students.
As a member of the American Legion Post 8 in Andover, Steve is the Sergeant at Arms always available to provide an Honor Guard for deceased veterans and yearly participates in flag-raising ceremonies during veterans’ services at Andover’s local cemeteries.
Steve participates in the flagging of veterans’ graves and Wreaths across America.
His love of the outdoors connected Steve with the Andover Conservation Commission, volunteering to clear trails, keeping meadows open and building kiosks, boardwalks and bridges over streams, spending easily 100 hours a year.  These projects are a visible reminder of the philosophy, “what have you done with your life that says you were here?” 
For Steve Cooper, his mark continues to be made throughout the community.  Tonight’s honor is well-deserved.

Thank you, Steve, for your service.

Suzanne Crowley, Educator of the Year

Suzanne Crowley had two goals in life:  to be a mom and to teach. 
She graduated from Boston College in 1985, gained teaching experience at a parochial school and, while living in Burlington, worked for five years at Sanborn in the third grade, got married and her daughter was born.
The family moved to Andover in 1999 and Suzanne came back to Sanborn as a Media Specialist in 2001.  With the help of a lot of glitter, she developed ways to make research and projects interesting and engaging.  But she missed the direct connection with students.
When she was offered the chance to teach in the fifth grade in 2004, magic happened.
Suzanne is very clear on what her next goals and philosophy as a teacher were:
  • She would be a teacher not only for academics, but also for the emotional and social aspects of a student’s life.
  • Every student needs an extra push – from the student with an IEP to the gifted student – all have an opportunity to grow.
  • Every student should be engaged and motivated to learn and have fun.
While Suzanne takes her classroom assignments very seriously, she is unique in how to make learning happen.  What other classroom has a Time Machine?
In the corner of her classroom stands a large box.  She might go in as Miss Crowley, but she’ll emerge as Scientist Susie, Hippie Historian or Viking Vicki.  Taking on different personas and seeing the students react is a way to immediately engage them and to make learning real.
The ACE program has awarded Suzanne two grants for this innovative work.
In her classroom, students are grouped around tables as a “tribe,” switched occasionally so they get to know others in their classroom.  Speaking skills are practiced during the classroom “rock ritual” where students pass around a rock and focus on one student who they must say something positive about. 
And they may write stories about themselves and share these with others.  On this subject, Suzanne believes students should write every day, with poetry being an important part of this learning to “release emotions” through the written word.
From the first day of a new school year, Suzanne Crowley has one rule: “Don’t stop others from learning; don’t stop me from teaching.”
Suzanne’s key to teaching?  “Build relationships with the students, let them know every day that you care and love them.  If you don’t, you will never make a difference.”

Major Wanjun Gao

It is worthy to note that on the Chinese cultural sale, calligraphy is at the top at Number 1. 
Into this world, Major Wanjun Gao was born to an intellectual family in Central China’s Henan Province in 1942.  It was a hard time in China. With his father as a young military officer, Major lived in his grandparents’ home under their protection.
Major Gao’s grandfather was a noted Chinese calligrapher and a prestigious scholar in his hometown. The family also lived in Shaanxxi Province – famous for the Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses.  His grandfather called it “their second hometown.”
Major Gao received a good cultural education from his childhood through college, specializing in English and the Liberal Arts.  After China’s difficult time during the 50s and 60s, Major came to Northern Illinois University as a visiting professor.
In the United States, Major Gao and his colleagues’ eyes were open when they stood on American soil, for them “this great country of Freedom and Democracy.”  Major Gao was inspired by the words of Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address when it promised “government of the people, by the people and for the people, shall not perish.”
As two well-educated intellectuals, Major Gao and his wife embraced western literature as they had been by Chinese philosophical wisdom and Confucian teachings.  They built up pious religious faiths and became Christians.
And with their move to Andover, the Gao’s became naturalized citizens and proudly think of Andover as their “third hometown.”
Major Gao’s joy of life has extended to helping both their Chinese and American friends.  As a volunteer, Major has taught ESL classes to the elderly Chinese since 2013, both at the Robb Center and at the Andover Housing complex.  He is also the founder and leader of the Andover Chinese American Charm Circle which performs throughout Andover, and he volunteers on the Elder Services Task Force.
Major Gao has also written more than 300 classical poems.
Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, and as a merited artist in Chinese calligraphy, Major Gao has shown his work regularly in the area.  He has written the Serenity Prayer in his artwork many times in the past decades.  He recites this prayer to enlighten other Chinese friends and to give advice to his own children and grandchildren.
Major Gao shares this again:
God grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.

Sheila Graham

In 1996 Sheila was working as a Financial Analyst.  Moving to Andover that year with her husband, she didn’t know anyone, and when her first child was born the next year, she looked for ways to get to know the community.  Sheila discovered that community through the Mother Connection.
Here, Sheila became a board member, serving as Treasurer, then President.  Newsletters, play spaces, fund raisers and speaker series are just a few of the activities she participated in.
Sheila knew that she was making a difference in the organization but soon realized how much the community giving also gave to her and her family.  She wanted to return the favor and found her calling as a volunteer with many other organizations.
With her background in Finances, Sheila turned her attention to the Andover Country Day School.  Sheila collected the monthly tuition and kept track on a spreadsheet.  She was also involved in fundraising and running events for the school.
She continued with ACDS even with her youngest no longer attending and held the position of school Board Secretary until 2021, having served 14 years.
Making an impact on the Andover Schools, Sheila also served as Secretary of the High Plain PTO; was Secretary of the Wood Hill Parent Advisory Council (PAC) and was a committee member on the Wood Hill School Improvement plan, again helping with fundraising events.
The Andover Girls Field Hockey Boosters also received “Sheila support” with raising money and helping to support players during the season.
Sheila became a member of Andona around 2000 and held many positions as Civic Chair and Scholarship Committee member.  Similar to Rotary, Andona provides scholarships to the youth of Andover.
Sheila served as Andona President 2002-2004 and on the Fundraising Gala committee.  And her membership here wouldn’t be complete without mentioning her commitment to one of Andover’s favorite events – Andona’s annual Clowntown, another major fundraiser for the organization.
Sheila found yet another way to support education and the lives of others with another passion – A Better Chance of Andover.  She came to learn about ABC through a Host Family opportunity, hosting an ABC scholar for four years. The scholar, now in college, still keeps in touch with the Graham family when possible.
Supporting the ABC mission, Sheila accepted a Board position in 2018, becoming involved in aspects such as its Sustainability Committee and the Gala Fundraising Committee.
Sheila Graham clearly wears a lot of hats.  Each one embodies her spirit of “giving back to the community.

Brendan Hamm

Everything Brendan Hamm does is done with an eye toward supporting our country’s veterans.
Spending 17 years in the Marine Reserves where he did multiple deployments in combat theaters, he experienced the loss of several friends and after coming home, he continued to lose a lot of Marines to the invisible wounds of war.
Which is why, over 16 years ago when Brendan started at Raytheon Technologies (now re-branded as RTX after its merger with United Technologies), he immediately was drawn to the veterans community. Working with employees, he began to tell his service story, and his managers soon realized how he could help other veterans within the company in an official way.
At the same time, there was an informal veterans group that would come together to celebrate Veterans Day and other remembrances. In 2012, the group became a company-official Employee Resource Group known as RTXVETS.
During the workday, Brendan is a Program Operations Manager. Brendan also sits on the global board of Raytheon Technologies as the Employee Engagement Lead, representing over 18,000 veterans in the company across the globe. As such he engages with the corporate Social Responsibility; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; and Human Resources teams.
Brendan first was introduced to Ironstone Farm when his daughter joined the Therapeutic Riding program. With Ironstone Farm in the beginning stages of building a veterans retreat house on the property, Brendan, through RAYVETS, joined in the effort to make this dream a reality.
Ironstone Farm soon became Brendan’s passion. There, he supported programs of therapeutic riding for veterans groups, working with the Home Base organization to provide help for those vets who suffer from PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury.
Brendan also sits on Ironstone’s Board of Trustees and the Facilities Committee Chair.
And after working in manufacturing for 17 years, Brendan had an idea to begin a candle company, a home-based business with his wife on the design side, with 10% of its profits going to three veteran charity organizations, Ironstone Farm, Home Base, and Massachusetts Fallen Heroes.
Brendan left the Marines as a senior enlisted member with over 150 Marines in his command. Developing a personal network, he has become a point of contact that a lot of Marines reach out to for career mentoring, support, or other advice, often when these individuals are at their greatest need.
In “Marine speak,” Brendan deserves a big “hoo rah” in solidarity for all the work that he does.
Thank you, Brendan, for your service.

Ann Knowles

Ann Knowles studied urban planning and design at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  She worked in the field in both public and private settings in Ontario and Massachusetts.  
A highlight of her volunteering began when her son was in high school and a request for someone to help with the central courtyard garden was posted.  This project was an extension of the school’s Environmental Studies class and club, and supporters were needed to sustain the garden in the summer.  Ann ended up running the garden for five years in partnership with another parent.
The high school project connected Ann to many others in Andover who saw a need to create a community garden. Gradually, Ann stepped into the role of “chief proponent” and spent the next couple of years evaluating locations (with the help of Andover High School students) and finding resources to realize this dream.
Ann and the students decided that re-establishing a community garden at the Virginia Hammond Reservation off High Plain Road was ideal and received the go-ahead from the Conservation Commission. Ann proceeded to form a non-profit to be run by an enthusiastic volunteer board, and broke ground in 2016.
From the beginning gardening brought people together.  The Andover Community Garden Association rents protected garden plots to gardeners for an annual fee, offering a nominal teaching program and advice to new gardeners. Volunteers built deer fences and an Eagle Scout built the storage shed.  The Town provides compost and water, and gardeners fill a storage bin with produce to send to the Robb Center.
Beyond the garden, Ann is still passionate about Urban Planning.  As a volunteer member of the Planning Board, she asks “how do we make our downtown beautiful?  What are we doing to increase the enjoyment of our town now and in the future?  How can we make new projects the best projects possible, so that they enhance our town? 
She has also been an active member of the Town’s Master Plan Review Committee, the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness review board, the Shawsheen River Master Plan, and liaison to the Historic Mill District Task Force and the MBTA Communities Working Group.
Ann Knowles’ nominator described her as “the quintessential volunteer who quietly works behind the scenes and does not look for fame or recognition.”  Ann remarks that she will feel a sense of accomplishment if our town is a little more beautiful.  Her years of commitment vividly show this commitment.

Kate Margolese

“Local action is key to global change,” shared Kate Margolese whose local volunteer work has spanned multiple organizations from Andover Community Trust (ACT) to Andover WECAN, Courageous Conversations, Merrimack Junior Theater, Girl Scouts, West Parish Church and A Better Chance (ABC).
Throughout her volunteering Kate has combined computer engineering, strategic planning and marketing skills, while working with the strengths of the many volunteers in town to continually create a more vibrant community.
Walking down the hall shortly after starting a new job at Perkins School for the Blind, a blind colleague stopped Kate and politely asked, “Did you just walk past that stack of folding chairs in the hall?” She hadn’t noticed any chairs, yet sure enough when she turned around there they stood, clearly impeding easy passage for anyone with a visual impairment.
This interaction reminded her of how easy it is to miss seeing injustices around her and stressed
upon her the importance of working to be more observant and dismantling inequitable barriers. In essence expanding her view to encompass the obstacles that others may be facing.
One way she does this is by sharing ideas through websites she created for ABC, Andover WECAN and ACT as well as through newsletters. Similarly, she works with Courageous Conversations to create dialogue on issues of racism, housing, the criminal system, the LGBTQ+ community to encourage people to recognize their discomfort and find common
When her children were young, High Plain and Wood Hill Schools were just being built. Kate co-chaired the transition team, working to create an educational space that encompassed more than a new building. She knew little about creating a school community from scratch, and appreciated the opportunity to learn from educational experts. That eagerness to tackle new problems and learn along the way has been a common thread of Kate’s community work.
Similarly, working with the Sustainability Director’s Advisory Panel, Kate relishes learning from others to expand her understanding of the problem and develop solutions. As part of the panel, she worked to develop Andover’s first greenhouse gas inventory, designed Andover Community Power, and draft Andover’s Climate Action and Sustainability Plan.
She worked with Andover WECAN to write the Andover Sustainability Resolution, which passed at town meeting last year.
All of Kate’s volunteer service carries an element about the challenges of living in a global community. Kate knows that global change starts locally with local volunteers. It is Kate’s commitment to learning and problem-solving in Andover that continues to reach beyond

Edward "Eddie" Mukalazi, Student of the Year

Edward Mukalazi’s school counselor describes him as “a person who is the first to extend a hand to a community member, the first to volunteer for the most difficult and undesirable job, and the one many will turn to for support and new perspectives.”
One hour with Eddie will prove the truth of this statement.
Eddie’s mom immigrated from Uganda to the United States in the 90s due to a lack of access to resources and the tools for her children to be successful.  She knew in order to do this she had to connect them to a level playing field that would “create for them a seat at the table.”
The family moved to Andover in 2013.  Eddie said, “living in Andover shaped who I am and gave me the experience of being challenged.  I saw that people cared and that anyone could use their voice to help others.”
His passion for politics and social change is daily exhibited in his involvement in extracurricular activities at the high school.  These include serving as Co-President of the DEI Student Advisory Council, the Assistant COO of the Youth Assisting Youth Foundation, a member of the Black Student Union and Model UN.
Expanding into town, Eddie was named the student representative of the Andover High Building Committee and a student member of the Town’s Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
For Eddie, DEI is about helping people learn the value of being heard while advocating for oneself and others by working with the system.  “The goal of DEI is for all of us to be truly free in the way we want to be,” he says.
His outstanding leadership skills and a strong commitment to volunteer work, as well as ranking academically among the top one percent in Massachusetts led to Eddie’s selection as one of only two state students to participate in the U.S. Senate Youth Program.
Eddie hopes to study Constitutional Law in College.  He feels we must all understand that when you live in this country, you agree to live by its laws.  And by understanding the law, you understand how to bring about change.
Eddie, through law, hopes to destigmatize the way people see the law and how our relationship with law may have to change.
Eddie’s passion is contagious.  He wants to be the changemaker who helps people “to be unapologetically themselves.”  And, most importantly, he wants to motivate all people to look for the kindness in themselves that will help them make the right decisions in their lives.

Peggie Ritzer & Kristen Walsh

Before the first Step Up for Colleen 5K, Peggie Ritzer and Kristen Walsh had never met.  Coming together over the tragic death of Peggie’s daughter, Colleen, today they are so close, each nominated the other for this recognition.
Honoring both women – together – was the right thing to do.
Colleen Ritzer grew up in Andover, graduating from Andover High in 2007 with a passion for teaching and a dedication to her students.  Peggie described her daughter as an energetic and optimistic person who liked to bring fun into her classroom, finding unique and creative ways to inspire and educate.
Colleen loved to spend time with her family and loved to talk about her day.  Already she was known for her kindness, compassion and love for others.
When Colleen passed, Peggie and her family launched the nonprofit Colleen E. Ritzer Memorial Fund, which to date has awarded $513,000 in college scholarships to 100 future teachers and leaders from Andover and also Danvers, where Colleen worked as a math teacher.
Keeping the “Kindness for Colleen” effort going throughout the year, Colleen’s family also organizes sales of Colleen Ritzer Daisies and Colleen Pink Christmas Cactuses. Other events include the Kindness for Colleen Blood Drive, benefitting pediatric patients at Boston Children’s Hospital. Peggie goes to high school award ceremonies to present scholarships to future students.
Peggie cannot imagine not having Kristen by her side.
Kristen’s role with the nonprofit fund is Director of Public Relations.  But that title alone can’t describe all the ways Kristen goes above and beyond in her support.
In addition to planning the Step Up for Colleen race, Kristen takes the lead on many efforts and fundraisers, including the Pink Golf Ball fundraiser and donating a Christmas tree to the Methuen Festival of Trees.
Kristen explains that she loves being part of the team and does this out of her love for the family.  For Kristen, in this time of so much negativity, the energy of the people who support the race proves that there’s hope for the future.
Step Up for Colleen has become a coming together of community that never waivers; a family event that thousands look forward to each year.
As Peggie and Kristen reflect on the past 11 years, they point to how far they’ve come. They’re incredibly grateful for the ongoing community support, especially through the pandemic. Most importantly, they continue to celebrate Colleen for how she lived her life, how she remains an inspiration, and how her memory continues to make a difference.

Jennifer Srivastava

Jennifer Srivastava is out to build community.  While this community can take on many different focuses, the biggest is Jennifer’s commitment to the Andover Schools, its teachers, its students and the parents who support them.
Jennifer grew up in Florida, watching her mom’s work in her local schools and seeing how active her dad was in youth sports.  Through them, she saw the power of volunteering, and developed the philosophy of giving one’s “time or treasure.”
When she came to Andover with her family in 2006, she worked at Boston Children’s Hospital in the development office, developing the knowledge and skills that are often called on even today.
Soon she found her focus through her two children.
Believing strongly in the importance of the community’s investment in future generations, Jennifer worked tirelessly at her children’s schools by volunteering with the PAC/PTOs..
In 2014, while serving as the PTO President at the Shawsheen School, she began her work with ACE – the Andover Coalition for Education. This enabled her to have a larger impact on all students in the district by investing in innovative initiatives that help prepare Andover students for success in school and beyond.
Jennifer also made her mark by expanding the town’s beloved Scarecrow Festival in the fall…a tradition loved by many.
Currently, Jennifer is the ACE director, but she also wears other hats serving as the teacher grant coordinator at the high school, committee member for the AHS Senior Safari, soccer and hockey booster volunteer and sits on other district and school committees.  Her goal is always to enhance the experience, whether academic or extracurricular, for all students and teachers involved in the schools.
During COVID Jennifer supported the teachers by securing computer monitors for every teacher who needed one for virtual lesson plans.  When school re-opened, she also sat on the district committee to plan for the classroom environment and the “new normal” that teachers faced.
Jennifer’s membership at Temple Emanuel is valued for helping the community navigate its moral compass.  Jennifer believes that one needs faith-based, open and accepting organizations to be called upon when needed.  Here, she helps with fundraising and board work, most recently completing the Temple’s 100th Anniversary campaign.
In all of her efforts, Jennifer tries to be a connector – bringing people together, fostering a spirit of cooperation and finding alignment between the skills of the individual with the needs of the community.

Martha Tubinis

Martha Tubinis is passionate - about the natural environment and about museums, history and bringing stories to life.  But most of all, Martha is passionate about the importance of giving back to the community.
As a young girl, Martha was aware of her parents’ philosophy “we won’t judge; we will help.”
Her dad co-founded the first Planned Parenthood in southeastern Wisconsin.  He spearheaded a coalition to bring diversity to the local Elks Club, which did not accept people of color or Jewish people.
In the 70s, Martha’s mom was a social worker and established the first shelter in Wisconsin for abused women, staying active in that organization for 35 years.
Moving to Andover in 1992, Martha, now realizing the critical need of building community connections, volunteered for many West El PTO events. While her MBA was in Marketing, Martha developed and volunteer-taught at West Elementary School the course, “Rocks, Minerals and Fossils.”
The highlight of her work in the Andover Schools is remembered when she organized the first International Fair at West Elementary, an effort to help close the cultural gap.  She was inspired by the international school attended by her children during a three-year stint in Paris.
As the project leader she recruited West El family participants for the event.  Thirty different cultures were represented at tables featuring clothing, games, music, international dancing and traditional foods.
Volunteering at the Andover Center for History and Culture she contributed to its Development, Finance and Branding teams, joining the board a few years later and becoming President in 2017.  Her three-year term was extended because of COVID in order to bring continuity during that difficult time. In 2021, Martha joined the staff as Director of Programs.
Outside of the History and Culture Center Martha extends her reach to include the volunteer position of Board V.P. at West Parish Garden Cemetery. Her passion for geology led her to a five-year volunteer position at the Harvard Museum of Natural History where she was later employed as an educator.  
She and husband Mark are committed to the annual MA/NH Walk for Alzheimer’s, creating the team Dorothy’s Dozen in 2017. She participates in the Lazarus House annual Christmas Bethlehem Project. Additionally, she volunteers for Hearty Meals, an organization battling food insecurity in Somerville serving over 75 families with monthly dinners.
Today, Martha still honors the legacy of her parents.  Her passions and her commitments reflect the lessons taught, the importance of the natural world, and the commitment to giving back.

Denise Wynn

Denise Wynn always wanted to be a changemaker, following the example of her parents who were committed to their community.
Working 30 years in Corporate America, Denise spearheaded programs, events, and created affinity groups to address the ongoing question of “how to make positive lasting change in the community.”
Her family moved to Andover in 1996 because she and her husband believed in Public Education.  She was soon drawn to becoming involved after her second grader came home from school and said, “Nobody looks like me!”  This made Denise realize that she had to advocate for her child in order to create a safe place in a predominantly white community.
To do this, Denise opened the lines of communication to make sure her children thrived, not simply survived.
She talked with the principal about ways to infuse her culture into the school system and to help make systemic change through education.
She was drawn to Andover Baptist Church when Rev. Lyndon Myers was called to be its Pastor.  At the time he came, there were perhaps only 15 members, but that soon changed.
For Denise, the Baptist church became a safe place for her children to express themselves fully.  She saw a community developing that she knew she wanted to be a part of.
As a volunteer, Denise was asked to be chair of the Missions Ministry; missions that extend from Lazarus House locally to global missions in Kenya, Haiti, and Honduras.
Denise has been one of the leaders of the church’s MLK Day Celebration since its inception 17 years ago. An outreach event created to honor the life and legacy of MLK Jr. – MLK Day – has since become the church’s flagship event to help foster cross-cultural interaction and fellowship.
Denise points out that George Floyd’s death brought a deeper awareness to many when activism kicked in throughout the community.  This activism expanded beyond just marching and became the embodiment of lived experiences that brought positive change in the community, thereby giving life to the Juneteenth community-wide celebration that educates and celebrates Black history fully and completely.
Denise has driven the Juneteenth program into an annual Town celebration.
Denise’s community – her church and her town - has given her the opportunity to stand in the forefront of black and brown issues; a way for their voices to be heard, and to effect generational change.  She does this with grace and reverence and with the goal of educating all people.