Five Islanders Honored as Women of Distinction for 2018

March 4, 2019

Five Island women, J. Khadijah Abdurahman, Jennilie Brewster, Rossana Ceruzzi, Julia Ferguson, Jovemay Santos will be honored by Assembly Member Rebecca A. Seawright on March 7, as part of the Fifth Annual Women of Distinction Awards. 


"Celebrating Women's History Month is not just about the women that came before us; it is about the women today who are change-makers, influencers, and inspire us to resist and keep up the fight. We are better for the women who stand beside us today," said Seawright. The Assembly Member is honoring 18 women in total this year. As part of the ceremony, Roosevelt Island Girl Scout Troop 3001 will partner with the Park Avenue Armory and the Knickerbocker Greys to present the colors. 


 J. Khadijah Abdurahman

J. Khadijah Abdurahman is an independent researcher focusing on predictive analytics in the child welfare system.


She is a co-founder of WordToRI, an oral history library she calls a "growing digital humanities project." It initiates critical discussions around topics like race, artificial intelligence, disability/access, and reimagining end of life, through collecting oral histories and organizing events that integrate the performing arts with academic expertise.


Part of her goal is to find ways to make the Island more inclusive going forward by inviting more people to participate in larger conversations, something she believes was missing when Goldwater Hospital closed its doors in December 2013 to make way for the Cornell Tech campus.


Most recently she has given talks on Algorithmic Justice and Roosevelt Island history at Cornell Tech and an independent K-12 school.


Jennilie Brewster


Jennilie Brewster is founder and project lead for OPEN DOORS, an arts and justice initiative based in NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler on Roosevelt Island. OPEN DOORS’ mission is to support the creativity and leadership of people who have been harmed by gun violence and

inspire action for safer, more just communities.


As a teaching artist, Jennilie has collaborated with people of all ages and backgrounds to tell their stories through writing, multimedia installations, and performance pieces. She’s received fellowships and awards from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Headlands

Center for the Arts, Ucross Foundation, the Pollination Project, and Puffin Foundation, among others. Jennilie holds an MFA in painting from the Milton Avery Graduate School for the Arts at Bard College, and a Foundations Certificate from the New York Zen Center for

Contemplative Care.


Her artwork has been shown in museums and galleries around the country, and her essays on identity, art, landscape, and trauma have appeared in Catapult and The Rumpus.


Rossana Ceruzzi


Rossana Ceruzzi, a resident of Roosevelt Island since 2000, has held different leadership roles in her community: currently she serves as the President of the Wildlife Freedom Foundation (WFF) a non-profit 501c3 organization she also founded. She has been a Common Council member on the Roosevelt Island Residents Association since 2014, a biannually elected position. For the current term 2018-2020, she is serving as appointed Chair of the Island Services Committee.


Ceruzzi was born, raised, and educated in Italy. She is a former record and advertising executive and speaks three languages. She has worked as a copywriter, translator, and interpreter in the Multilingual Communications industry and with many Fortune 500 companies. She currently teaches Italian Language and Literature at Hunter College (CUNY) in New York City.


Ceruzzi attributes her great passion, interest, and love for animals to her childhood in Italy when visiting her grandmother’s farm where she became acquainted with all kinds of animals. With each passing year, that love grew stronger. Ultimately, inspiring her to create the WFF in 2015, formed for the purpose of protecting and conserving wildlife and caring for stray and abandoned cats in New York, primarily in her Roosevelt Island community.


Ceruzzi is a Federal and New York State Licensed Wildlife animal rehabilitator and she has acquired the training and experience necessary to aid injured and distressed animals, feathered or not, so that they can eventually be returned to the wild. For several decades,

she has worked tirelessly to protect animals and their habitats and to establish, through educational programs, the importance of protecting and preserving wild animal populations in urban areas.


Her work in the community has gained visibility, and she has been featured in many national and local publications and TV shows, among them: The New York Times, Chasing News, The New York Post, Our TownThe Main Street WIRE, Roosevelt Islander, The Roosevelt Island Daily, and in several publications of CUNY and Columbia University.


The WFF Cat Sanctuary located inside Southpoint Park on Roosevelt Island, has been named as a "must see" by The Culture Trip NYC - Guides & Tips.


Julia Ferguson



Julia Ferguson grew up in the midwest but has lived on Roosevelt Island since 1994 with her bilingual, bicultural family. Her career choice has always been teaching languages, both French and English, in Missouri, France, and locally.


Teaching English language at the United Nations International School for 20 years, she began working with the Middle School Environmental Club about four years ago. Julia is passionate about her volunteer work with the Roosevelt Island Garden Club and building connections with the greater community on Roosevelt Island and in New York.


With other volunteers, she strives to provide outreach programs across her community and at school to promote gardening, green spaces, and green living in our city. Welcoming students of all ages, from elementary to graduate students and beyond, she hopes to inspire people to see, connect with, protect, and enjoy the natural world that is our home wherever we live. 


Jovemay Santos


Jovemay Santos, MS. Ed., CTRS, CDP is the Director of Therapeutic Recreation Services (TRS), Library, Computer Lab, Chaplaincy, Radio Station and Volunteers department at Coler.


As a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) and a Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP) with an MS. Ed in Therapeutic Recreation, Jovemay has the passion and commitment required to enhance the resident’s quality of life by ensuring that their leisure potential is maximized.


She discovered Therapeutic Recreation as an intern and knew instantly that she wanted a career that is rewarding and meaningful. She has been fortunate with her career and accepting a position at Coler/Goldwater in 2002 brought her opportunities for growth as the Assistant Director of Therapeutic Recreation Services.


She worked closely with the Director and oversaw Coler-Goldwater and Gouverneur TRS department. In 2014, she was promoted to the Director of the department. This

position gave her opportunities to work collaboratively with her peers to support and implement resident centered programming for the different populations at Coler.


In 2016, she was featured in a film Healing with Harmony – A Music and Memory Story  that won the 22nd Annual Communicator Award of Excellence from the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts. She's a key player in successful implementation of structured meaningful programming in the Memory Care Unit that created an outcome oriented approach to decrease falls, altercations, and use of psychotropic medications where she went to co-present at the Society for Post-Acute and Long Term Care Medicine in Phoenix, Arizona

in 2017.


Under her guidance, a new program called OPEN DOORS was developed for a group of residents who are young and many of whom have spinal cord injuries from gunshot wounds. Through storytelling, written words, music, and digital art OPEN DOORS members go out in the community and educate younger generation for a better future.


This past summer, through her newfound relationship with Roosevelt Island community members, Coler was a recipient of a corporate volunteer grant project with Google through the leadership of Christina Delfico from iDig2Learn and the Roosevelt Island Garden Club.


This project brought 165 Google employees to beautify and recreate a therapeutic green space for the residents to enjoy at Coler. 


In her spare time she enjoys cooking and spending time with her family and their dog Havana.


Fighting For Women


Since assuming office in 2015, Seawright has championed numerous State bills aimed at protecting or expanding women’s rights and services. This includes a bill she introduced in 2017 that would require the Secretary of State to compile, make public, and maintain various types of information, including gender, about government employees who hold policy-making positions. The goal is to make levels of gender imbalance transparent. 


Most recently, the New York State Assembly passed Seawright’s Equal Rights Amendment Bill (A.271/S.3249), to guarantee equal rights for women in New York State’s Constitution. "With the federal political atmosphere changing, there is a renewed call to ensure that basic equal rights are guaranteed for women. I am proud to have introduced and passed an Equal Rights Amendment Bill in Albany and I applaud Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney for reintroducing this important legislation every year since she has been in office. We are determined to end sex-based discrimination and guarantee equal rights for women under our constitutions," said Seawright. Assembly Bill 271 will be delivered to the Senate.


“We have to stop thinking of history as a closed book, a story with an end, because, as women, our story is not nearly over,” Seawright has told The WIRE last year, “There are exciting new chapters still to be written.”


Over the years, Seawright has recognized many other distinguished women from Roosevelt Island, including Judith Berdy, Judy Buck, Eva Bosbach, Mary Coleman, Lisa Fernandez, Linda Heimer, Sherie Helstien, Wendy Hersh, Nikki Leopold, Marie Luarca-Reyes, Rebecca Ocampo, Barbara Parker, Ellen Polivy, Joyce Short, Margie Smith, Louella Streitz, Lynne Strong Shinozaki, and Sharon Williams. 

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