UD junior wins national award for public service
1:38 p.m., June 21, 2006--Vincenza Carrieri-Russo, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences who co-founded a nonprofit group that collects books and distributes them to schools, libraries, community gathering spots and U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq, received one of five national Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Awards for public service during a gala dinner on Tuesday, June 20, at historic Union Station in Washington, D.C.
Carrieri-Russo, who was introduced by U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.), received a standing ovation from a gathering of more than 400 regional Jefferson Award winners, their family members and government officials after her name was announced in a brief video presentation.
An English major from Newark whose ambition is to become a broadcast journalist, Carrieri-Russo was selected from among five local Jefferson Award winners to represent the Delaware region during three-day national award ceremonies in Washington, which began with meetings with government officials and a black tie welcome dinner on Monday, June 19.
“I didn't expect to be the one to be chosen, especially after hearing all of the powerful stories at the [welcome] dinner,” Carrieri-Russo said. “It really touched my heart. I was crying. I turned to my parents after the dinner and said, 'There is absolutely no way that I'm going to be picked.' Everyone here deserves this award as much as I do.”
Her voice choking with emotion, Carrieri-Russo revealed that at the age of 5, she overcame a mysterious and potentially fatal illness that left her with a learning disability that only her family and close friends have known about.
“I overcame the disability with perseverance and determination. It took many, many years, and I still have to work even harder in school; I have to read things twice, three times, four times,” she said. “Now I feel gifted that I am able to help others and hopefully stamp out illiteracy in my lifetime.”
“Thank you, Mom and Dad,” she said. “You two are the ones that made me who I am today. Everything I've learned. You've taught me to strive for the best, to set goals and achieve them. I will never forget what you have done for me. I am so happy you are here to support me today.”
Newark Mayor Vance Funk III, who joined the Carrieri-Russo family at the event, said the national honor reflects the spirit of volunteerism that has grown in Newark.
“For the past two years, volunteerism has increased to an incredible level among the University students,” Funk said. “It's fitting that a University student like Vincenza Carrieri-Russo receives the national honor, which she richly deserves.”
The Jefferson Awards program, established by newspapers, radio and television stations in 1972, honors individuals for their contributions to public and community service. The Wilmington News Journal sponsors the program in the Delaware region.
Carrieri-Russo and Susan McNeill, a 1986 UD graduate who runs her own public relations business in Pike Creek, conjured up the idea for Success Won't Wait three years ago. Carrieri-Russo was teaching McNeill's daughter dance, and McNeill would always bring books to read to her son.
The project began with a basket of children's books she collected to put in the dance studio. Success Won't Wait has mushroomed into a major effort to encourage literacy and reading with books distributed to schools, doctors' offices, community centers, learning centers and residential libraries.
With help from volunteers and local businesses, Success Won't Wait has collected more than 30,000 books for children, as well as for adults, including 1,000 for troops in Iraq, 2,000 for penal institutions and 1,000 to replace books lost by the Hockessin Library during Hurricane Isabella.
With support from Marianne Green, assistant director of UD's Bank of America Career Services Center, Carrieri-Russo organized a book drive on campus last fall that netted 2,000 more volumes for the project.
Article by Martin Mbugua