Governor Wolf Honors 50 State Employees for Excellence in Public Service

Gov WolfCredit: Commonwealth Media Services

HARRISBURG, PA — On Friday, Governor Tom Wolf praised the recipients of the Governor’s Awards for Excellence and thanked all state employees for their dedication to public service.

“Over the past seven years, I have met thousands of commonwealth employees and witnessed the incredible work they do each day. This year’s award recipients embody the best qualities of our workforce, and their accomplishments demonstrate the breadth and impact of public service,” said Governor Wolf. “I want to thank these commonwealth employees for their exceptional contributions and being an inspiration to all of us.”

Twenty-six state agencies submitted a total of 121 nominations prepared by their employees, with 10 individuals and six group nominations selected as winners for this year’s awards.

Find My Ride Apply Team – PennDOT, Department of Human Services and Office of Administration

Venkata Chimmili, Shane Daniels, Ian Detamore, Ronald Minnich, Daphne Simeonoff, Amy Stum, John Taylor, Maribel Torres, Loc Tran and Aaron Wolff

For creating Find My Ride Apply, an easy-to-use online tool that allows individuals in most counties to apply for the five largest transportation assistance programs used by older adults, people with disabilities and others. The tool streamlines the process by validating data and routing applications to the correct transit agency for the user. Find My Ride Apply dramatically reduces errors, saving transit agencies time and money and enabling users to access benefits more quickly.

Litter Action Plan Team – PennDOT and Department of Environmental Protection

Kathryn Cole, Natasha Fackler, Jessica Shirley and Emily Watts

For partnering with Keep America Beautiful to develop Pennsylvania’s first ever Litter Action Plan with a focus on changing littering behavior. The team met with over 100 stakeholders to gather feedback and input for the plan, including legislators; legal, community and environmental groups; local government and associations and businesses. The team has also taken part in litter cleanup efforts in the Harrisburg area.

Robert Then – Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency

For applying his extensive knowledge of PEMA’s WebEOC platform to coordinate information and provide solutions to meet the needs of state agency and county partners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then also oversaw the implementation of county emergency management migration to the WebEOC platform, which integrates into the commonwealth’s system for incident management. All these accomplishments, which required considerable planning and training for execution, were completed while also carrying out his day-to-day duties.

Caleb Dixon – Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency

For multiple accomplishments improving public safety and resiliency, including the development of online tools for state agencies to track data during the COVID-19 pandemic. As an emergency management specialist in the hazardous materials division at PEMA, Dixon streamlined the system for counties to apply for multiple grant programs. He also researched and proposed a new web-based system that would be used by companies that must file emergency response plans with the commonwealth. Dixon also serves his community as a first responder.

Educator and Support Staff Vaccination Team – Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Department of Health, and Department of Education

Kira Lemmons, Jennifer Shirk and Kari Worley

For organizing vaccination sites to administer COVID-19 vaccines to over 112,000 teachers and school support staff in an unprecedented 20-day period. The multiple-agency collaboration was successful in preparing 28 intermediate units to serve as vaccination sites. This included organizing work schedules, providing staffing and training, making vaccine appointments and ensuring safety precautions were followed. They accomplished this at a time when vaccines were in limited supply and appointments were difficult to find and schedule.

Criminal Justice Team – Office of General Counsel

Brian Corl, Anne Cornick, Carissa Morales and Eimy Yague-Cowfer

For their role in processing commutation and pardon requests that have provided life-changing second chances for over 2,000 individuals and contributed to Pennsylvania becoming a national leader on pardon reform. Obtaining a pardon was a slow, difficult and costly process that could take more than five years and was unsuccessful most of the time. Thanks in part to the work of this team, processing time is down and more than 98 percent of the cases recommended for clemency to the Governor have been granted.

Crystal Weand – Office of Administration

For leading the training of case investigators for the Department of Health’s COVID-19 contact tracing program. In response to rising cases in 2021, Weand and her team were called upon to assist with training case investigators on DOH systems, processes, customer service and effective communication techniques to motivate positive cases and close contacts to follow public health guidance. They delivered training to 800 people over the course of approximately a year, updating and improving their curriculum along the way.

PA VETConnect Team – Department of Military and Veterans Affairs

Samantha Cossman, Daniel Dudkiewicz, Chelsea Ellsworth, Susan Meighen, Erica Moore, Zachariah Pearson, Zackary Portser, Jennifer Spitler, James Stafford and Craig Swineford

For leading the PA VETConnect initiative focused on providing support to veterans where they live and leveraging community-based providers to fill gaps in service. The team supports veterans’ advocates across Pennsylvania by raising awareness and streamlining connection to resources available to veterans, service members and their families. Thanks to PA VETConnect and these dedicated employees, thousands of veterans are getting the services they need and living better lives.

Barbara Raymond – Department of Military and Veterans Affairs

For assisting and leading the staff at the Southeastern Veterans’ Center (SEVC) in Philadelphia to meet increased clinical demands due to COVID-19. At SEVC, Raymond led by example, boldly tackling problems without losing one ounce of compassion. In doing so, she developed trust and confidence from residents, families and staff. Raymond was also instrumental in DMVA’s COVID-19 mitigation response, vaccine rollout and education efforts.

Richard Hamp – Department of Military and Veterans Affairs

For leading Pennsylvania’s participation in a national initiative to prevent suicide among service members, veterans and their families. Hamp has written grant proposals resulting in over $7 million for programs that help veterans in crisis. He was also instrumental in rolling out several veteran suicide awareness programs and most recently served as a subject-matter expert on the DMVA’s virtual town hall on preventing veteran suicide. His efforts have also strengthened collaboration between government, non-government and non-profit partners to help veterans in their communities.

Brenda Duppstadt – Department of Labor and Industry

For her efforts to support Pennsylvania workers during the pandemic. Duppstadt collaborated with multiple agencies and local workforce stakeholders to secure a nearly $7 million for employment and training services for workers affected by the pandemic. She was also pivotal in investing roughly $8 million of recaptured program dollars back into the public workforce system – funds that would have been returned to the federal government due to complications created by the pandemic.

Melissa Hawkins – Department of Labor and Industry

For facilitating the delivery of critical information about the COVID-19 pandemic to Pennsylvanians with disabilities. She ensured the availability of certified deaf interpreters for media briefings and collaborated on the creation of educational videos in American Sign Language and other resources to empower the deaf and hard of hearing community to make informed decisions for themselves and loved ones. Hawkins also worked closely with L&I’s Unemployment Compensation office to implement assistive technology to apply for UC benefits.

COVID-19 Vaccine Provider Rollout Team – Department of Health

Daniel Bechtel, Jennifer Bixler, Sarah Edge, Jennie Harpster-Basiago, Robert Kobilis, David Mattiko, Thomas McCleaf, Kristine Rosancrans and Christy Scheidler

For organizing the vaccination of over 112,000 teachers and school support staff in an unprecedented 20-day period in the early stages of the vaccine rollout when appointments were difficult to find and schedule. In their leadership roles, they established a concept of operations which coordinated vaccine distribution, transportation, daily security, cold-chain management and administration of doses. They also oversaw preparations for 28 Intermediate Units to function as vaccination sites.

Vincent Pascucci – Department of Environmental Protection

For fighting climate change and protecting and improving air quality throughout Pennsylvania. Vincent assisted with the development of a regulation for reducing air pollution from coal-fired power plants in line with federal requirements. Vincent taught himself a new programming language and compiled weeks’ worth of data analysis to provide the needed details for the new emissions limits. This work has resulted in lower proposed emissions limits and decreased chances of ground level ozone pollution that can harm people’s health.

Curtis Sherwood – Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

For his creativity in finding new ways to engage the public through virtual programming during the pandemic. Sherwood wrote, performed and sang in a music video titled, “Let it Grow,” meant to inspire people to let their grass grow to meadows for pollinators and to help stop erosion during flooding. Sherwood has been involved with additional online and in person educational programs, including a joint video with the Fish and Boat Commission on boating safety for new paddlers.

Stephanie Cole – Department of Aging

For implementing a program that brings together Pennsylvania undergraduate and graduate students and older adults who are receiving services from the Department of Aging. Originally conceived as a way to reduce social isolation among older adults during the pandemic, the program has continued to grow to include additional universities and Area Agencies on Aging. In January 2021, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote an editorial recognizing the program and noted that it should be a model not only for Pennsylvania but for the nation.

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