Assembly Member Rebecca A. Seawright Honors "Women of Distinction" at 2024 Awards

May 31, 2024 --- To commemorate the tenacious women of the 76th Assembly District, Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright honored 22 women leaders of distinction for their achievements, noteworthy contributions, and outstanding work on behalf of the community on the Upper East Side, Yorkville and Roosevelt Island.

“Every year, we celebrate the remarkable women who work hard to give the next generation a better future,” Assembly Member Seawright said. "To the Women of Distinction, we say congratulations! You are an enduring inspiration to our entire community, our beloved city, and our great state of New York!"

Seawright’s tenth annual Women of Distinction Awards ceremony was held at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Zuckerman Auditorium on East 68th Street. Dr. Lisa M. DeAngelis, Chief Physician Executive at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Sandra Wilkin, vice chairwoman of the Board of Trustees of The City University of New York, offered remarks as featured guest speakers.

The distinguished honorees have made outstanding contributions in fields ranging from public service, local businesses, neighborhood outreach to nonprofit institutions, medical institutions, universities, and more.

Honorees received a New York State Assembly citation recognizing "outstanding work on behalf of the community...worthy of esteem for her civic dedication and service, essential to the advancement of the residents of the 76th Assembly District and the State of New York."

The 2024 Women of Distinction honorees are:

Francene Benjamin: Born on Antigua and Barbuda, Ms. Benjamin came to New York seeking medical attention because of a severe back injury and multiple surgeries. She ended up in a long-term care facility at Coler on Roosevelt Island, where she serves as the President of the Resident Council and as a member of the Community Advisory Board.

Dr. Arline L. Bronzaft has researched and authored books on college women’s aspirations, student test anxiety, and subway orientation. Still, she has garnered the most acclaim for her landmark studies on the impacts of transit noise on classroom learning and for collaborating with political leaders to reduce noise pollution.

Captain Dania Castro: Growing up in Washington Heights, Captain Castro witnessed the city undergo many changes throughout her life and career. Starting as a Police Officer in the 24th Precinct, she rose through the ranks to become a Sergeant in PSA 7, Strategic Response Group, and the 47th Precinct. Later, she was assigned to the 43rd Precinct as a Platoon Commander. She strives to address all conditions and needs of the community, creating a safer and more inclusive environment for all.

Lindsey Cormack is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Diplomacy Lab at Stevens Institute of Technology. She has authored two books: How to Raise a Citizen (And Why It’s Up to You to Do It) and Congress & U.S. Veterans (From the GI Bill to the VA Crisis). She currently serves as the Secretary for Community Board 8 and Co-Chair of the Street Life Committee.

Gladys Dixon: Born in North Carolina, Ms. Dixon came to New York to attend nursing school. After falling ill and becoming a 14-year Coler resident, she has advocated for enhancing the services at Coler and Goldwater hospitals. She pursued this passion as a member of the Coler Hospital Resident Council and served as the Vice Chair and Chairperson of the Community Advisory Board.

Emily Eleusizov is a junior at Eleanor Roosevelt High School and a resident of Roosevelt Island. From a young age, Emily has been an active and involved community member and environmentalist. She has been a Girl Scout for the past 12 years and was a member of a championship-winning all-girls robotics team. Emily is now involved with Model UN and student government in her school.

Elyse Foladare, Esq. is a proud resident of the Upper East Side for the past decade. As an active attorney, Elyse represents developers and landowners throughout all five boroughs. You can find her walking her friendly dog Red in the Upper East Side’s amazing parks. She hopes to continue living on the Upper East Side as she continues the next phase of her life.

Barbara Hannah Grufferman is an award-winning author on positive aging, with works like "Love Your Age” and “The Best of Everything After 50.” She serves as a long-standing board member and on the Executive Committee of the Bone Health and Osteoporosis Foundation (BHOF). Grufferman has appeared on major television programs such as The Today Show and Good Morning America and speaks nationwide on topics related to positive aging and health.

Wendy L. Hersh is a National Certified Rehabilitation Counselor and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. A Roosevelt Island resident since 1977, she works to improve people with disabilities’ quality of life. Wendy is a former president and board member of the Metro Chapter of the National Rehabilitation Association and the New York State National Rehabilitation Counseling Association. She served on the Roosevelt Island Carter Burden Senior Center’s Advisory Board and has been President of the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association since 2016.

Fior Hidalgo was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to NYC in 1990. Her strong work ethic and her desire to help others led her to earn her cosmetology and trichology licenses and become a master of her craft. More than just a talented hairstylist, Fior employs her extensive training and experience to address underlying issues that contribute to the health of the hair and scalp. For over a decade, she has owned and operated hair salons in Manhattan and the Bronx. However, her most proud accomplishments have been raising three successful children and giving back to the community. She's been an active member and strong leader in the South Bronx Church for over 20 years, advocating for residents of public housing and for public safety.

Sahar Husain, a proud mother of two teenagers, co-founded Muslim Volunteers for New York, a non-profit organization focused on hunger and poverty alleviation, environmental stewardship, education and health. She has received a proclamation from BP Mark Levine for her community service and an Our Town Award on behalf of her organization. Ms.

Husain is a Board Member and Co-Chair of the Environment and Sanitation Committee of Community Board 8.

Dr. Monique C. James is a Doctor of Psychiatry specializing in Psychiatric Oncology at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK). She is the Director of Inpatient Clinical Operations and the Assistant Clinical Director for the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. As Assistant Attending Psychiatrist, she has provided comprehensive psychiatric care for patients since 2018, serving as a psychiatric liaison to the Breast Medicine Disease Management Team. She is also an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Dr. Gunisha Kaur is a practicing physician, medical anthropologist, and refugee health researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine. She has used her extensive background in neuroscience research to pioneer the study of human rights through scientific methodology. A migrant to the United States, Dr. Kaur has dedicated her career to advancing the health of other forcibly displaced men, women, and children. She is the Founding Director of the Human Rights Impact Lab, a Medical Director of the Weill Cornell Center for Human Rights, a Stephen M. Kellen Term Member at the Council on Foreign Relations, and an Emerging Leader in Health and Medicine at the National Academy of Medicine.

Elana Koenig is a sophomore at Eleanor Roosevelt High School and a cancer survivor. She founded the Koenig Childhood Cancer Foundation (KCCF) and has since financially supported 3,500 children, distributed 30,000 care packages, and saved dozens of

lives. Elana's ultimate goal is to establish a KCCF House in New York to provide lodging to young cancer fighters and their caregivers during treatment.

Dora Marcial is the Manager of the Hospital Executive Administration team at MSK. For 35 years, she has provided top-quality administrative support to the Director of Inpatient Nursing Services, resulting in her 2021 promotion to Manager. Her own experience as a breast cancer survivor adds a dimension to her advocacy work for breast cancer awareness. And her involvement in community initiatives such as the Open Arms Resource Fair, God’s Love We Deliver, and MSK’s Women on the Move underscores her commitment to making a positive impact beyond the hospital walls.

Monica McKane-Sanchez: For the past sixteen years, Monica McKane-Sanchez has hosted 'Community Board 8 Speaks'. In addition, Monica has been a long-serving member of the East Sixties Neighborhood Association (ESNA). For over 25 years, she has worked at Circana, guiding retail and reseller leaders in meeting and exceeding their customers' needs.

Laurette D. Mulry, Esq. is the Attorney in Charge of the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, a not-for-profit organization that is the primary provider of indigent defense representation. Her varied work in criminal, family, and appellate matters was the impetus for creating a holistic model of defense representation. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Suffolk County Bar Association, but her proudest role is that of mother to David, Aidan, and Alixandra.

Diane Reidy-Lagunes is a top NYC oncologist from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She is the creator and host of the award-winning monthly podcast Cancer Straight Talk from MSKCC, where she tackles the subject of cancer head-on, in English and Spanish. As a researcher, she focuses on developing treatments for gastrointestinal (GI) tumors. She is the recipient of several honors and serves as Vice Chair in the Department of Medicine at MSK.

Amy Schwartz is a civic activist, policy advocate, and program organizer focusing on public health, climate change, and education. Amy has launched Wellness Councils in city public schools and created health priorities and programs for physical activity, nutrition, and wellness. She led efforts to reform physical education, improve sex education, and civics education as a member of Women Creating Change (formerly Women’s City

Club). Amy was also Executive Director of the Public Health Association of NYC, where she created advocacy campaigns for adolescent mental health and improved school-based nutrition. Amy was recently honored by Assembly Member Seawright in Albany, receiving recognition from the Legislative Women’s Caucus and Governor Hochul for her life’s work.

Melanie Steele is the Director of Patient Financial Engagement at MSK, where she has instrumentally created programs to address the financial barriers to care experienced by patients during their treatment journey. Melanie was the first health educator at the Breast Examination Center of Harlem and the first Programs Administrator in the Office of Diversity. She also created high school, undergraduate, and medical student programs designed to address the pipeline of women and minority students in the STEM fields.

Elizabeth Timberman joined Health Advocates for Older People, an organization that promotes safe and healthy aging through free programs for health and socialization. She has helped fundraise and publicize to fund their programs and develop their

outreach. Betsy has served as Advisory Board Chairman since 2014 and was honored as the 2022 Volunteer of the Year. She has worked for New York City Ballet since 2002 and is a Development Associate at the University of Wisconsin Milton College.

Ziyue Louise Wong is a junior at Stuyvesant High School and the founder and co-chair of the Roosevelt Island Plogging Club. Over the past six months, nearly 100 members have signed up, and the Ploggers have collected over 500 pounds of trash around the Island. At school, Ziyue is on the Varsity volleyball team, and outside of school, Ziyue pursues her passion for psychology. She is writing a research paper about the mental health of teenage high school girls and is working on her Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can earn.

Past Women of Distinction Honorees


Judy Berdy, Barbara Chocky, Winnie Cudjoe, Helaine Eisenberg, Jill Eisner, Yvonne Fitzer, Helene Goldfarb, Monica Iken-Murphy, Patricia Sanders, Judy Schneider, Betty Wallerstein


Loraine Brown, Alice Heyman, Zoe Markowitz, Ellen Polivy, Margie Smith, Eileen Toback


Michele Birnbaum, Eva Bosbach, Judy Buck, Mary Coleman, Maureen Fairlie, Linda Heimer, Sherie Helstien, Wendy Hersh, Jean Kim, Dara Lamb, Jacqueline Ludorf, Valerie Mason, Marilyn Mehr, Sonia Ossorio, Liz Patrick, Barbara Parker, Lynn Shinozaki, Joyce Short, Louella Streitz, Betty Walker, Elaine Walsh


Erlinda S. Brent, Reverend Beverly Dempsey, Joan Falcetta, Lisa Fernandez, Nikki Leopold, Rachel Levy, Marie Luarca-Reyes, Trudy L. Mason, Madelaine D. Piel, Jennifer Ratner, Naomi Semeniuk, Mallory Spain, Carol Tweedy, Inspector Kathleen Walsh, Sharon Williams


J. Khadijah Abdurahman, Alexandria Abenshon, Ruth Berghammer, Lori Bores, Jennilie Brewster, Alida Camp, Rossana Ceruzzi, Christine Crowther, Julia Ferguson, Faith S. Fraser, Shakima Grant, Ruth A. Gutman, Officer Lori Murray, Officer Ashley Pappas, Jovemay Santos, Officer Lorraine Wade, Arlene Williams


Julia Fan, Janette Gautier, Ruth Halberg, Andrea Jackson, Dr. Mini Kamboj, Zena Kaufman, Louise Merriman, RD, Ann Meschery, Lisa Spedalle, Bobbie Slonevsky, Lynda Smith


Saundrea Coleman, Gayle Baron, Betsy Feist, Deputy Inspector Melissa Eger, AieshaEleusizov, Dr. Katherine Teets Grimm, Wendy Machaver, Dorian Mecir, Josephine Napolitano, Margaret Price, Gabrielle Ross, Serena Sabet, Jeanne Straus, Shari Weiner, Julia Wischnevsky, Dr. Shirley Zussman


Flor de Maria Eilets, Mary Nell Hawk, Carol Grocki Lewis, Kim Moscaritolo, Shirley L. Mow, Joan Roth, Brenda Sauer, Tricia Shimamura, Betty Cooper Wallerstein, Rebecca Weintraub


Danielle Avissar, Sylvia Corbin, Dr. Faith Davies, Susy del Campo, Susan Hochberg. Sandra Jacobs, Kathryn Jolowicz, Arlene Kayatt, Lisa Lieberman, Barbara Mandel, Yulisa Santana, Barbara Duberstein Selton, Maria Simic, Harpreet Sohal, Elisabeth Stam, Lisa Yeung