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Sophomore wins Jefferson Award for public service

Vincenza Carrieri-Russo
8:51 a.m., March 3, 2006--Vincenza Carrieri-Russo, a UD sophomore, is one of five Jefferson Award winners from Delaware.

An English major, Carrieri-Russo is the co-founder of Success Won't Wait, a nonprofit group that collects books and distributes them to schools, libraries, community gathering spots and U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq.

The Jefferson Awards is a national program begun by newspapers and radio and television stations to honor ordinary people who do extraordinary things without expectation of recognition. The News Journal sponsors the program in Delaware.

Carrieri-Russo was nominated by the city of Newark. Mayor Vance Funk lauded Carrieri-Russo and her work with Success Won't Wait.

After a state winner is chosen on April 3, that person will compete with winners from other states for the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for public service. The Onassis Award has been called the Nobel Prize for volunteering.

Carrieri-Russo and Susan McNeill of 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.

“We came up with an idea of creating a basket of books and placing it in the waiting room,'' Carrieri-Russo said. “We just watched to see what would happen. You'd see kids pick up books and look at the books instead of picking up toys.”

They exported their idea to a local karate center and other places where children gather. Eventually, they created entire libraries at Exceptional Care for Children and Telegraph Road Learning Center in Newark and Bayard House and Delaware Adolescent Program Inc. in Wilmington.

Success Won't Wait, has collected more than 30,000 books for children and adults, including 1,000 for U.S. troops in Iraq, 2,000 for penal institutions in Delaware and 1,000 books for the Friends of the Hockessin Library after it lost 25,000 books to Hurricane Isabella.

McNeill, a 1986 UD graduate who runs her own public relations business in Pike Creek, said she guided Carrieri-Russo at the beginning but the sophomore has grown in her role.

“She was so young when it started. She was 18 years old and she didn't know how to incorporate, how to do certain things, but now she's taken on tremendous responsibility, which is great because I've got three kids,'' McNeill said. “She is incredibly motivated and has lots of energy. And when she decides to do something, she just goes full out and does it.”

Marianne Green, assistant director of UD's MBNA Career Services Center, worked with Carreri-Russo on a campus book drive that collected 2,000 books last fall. “She's just a terrific young lady. She's very well-organized, and it was a pleasure working with her,'' Green said. “She had come to a volunteer fair we had in September, and she had a booth. She went above and beyond the call of duty to publicize the program.”

For Carrieri-Russo, whose ambition is to become a broadcast journalist, the books program has been a great experience. “I had a chance to meet some really great people with it. It opens many doors,” she said. “The Jefferson Award is not only an honor. It's a great honor. I've worked very hard to convince people to believe in Susan and me and in the idea we had.”

Her reaction when she heard she won the local competition? “I was speechless. I had to ask them to repeat it again for me. I said, 'Are you sure?'” Carrieri-Russo said.

For more information about Success Won't Wait, visit [www.successwontwait.org] or call (302)-996-9054.

Article by Kathy Canavan
Photo by Greg Drew

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