Susan Merrill-Constance Kozel Award

The Susan Merrill Constance Kozel Award is presented to an individual whose contribution to society reflects the principles of justice and peace. The Susan Merrill-Constance Kozel Award was established in 1995. It is dedicated to recognizing the work of Peace and Justice Center founding members Susan Merrill and Sr. Constance Kozel. The first director of the Center for Peace and Justice, Kozel said that The ultimate vision is world peace. . . . There can’t be any peace without justice.”

2019 Honoree: Bernadine Baluta
Bernadine Baluta has worked as an advocate for justice for the underserved and homeless for over 50 years. She is kind and compassionate and continues to serve this population in her retirement. After graduating from the Geisinger School of Nursing, she held positions in hospitals in Connecticut and Berwick, as a private duty nurse, and as an instructor for adult nursing assistant programs. Ms. Baluta served as Captain in the Air Force Nurse Corps for 2 ½ years in Vietnam and San Antonio and as Captain in the Air Force Reserves for 5 years at the McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. She worked in an orphanage in San Antonio, then worked with the Navajo National Health Foundation as a staff nurse. Ms. Baluta retired in August 2018 after 35 years of caring for patients living in the Salvation Army, Ruth’s Place, and many other local shelters. Bernie Baluta facilitated extraordinary student experiences for 18 years at Wilkes University, Nesbitt School of Pharmacy. There, her colleagues and students witnessed how wonderfully she treated and cared for the homeless, fighting for justice and peace in this population. Each Christmas, Ms. Baluta encouraged students to fill 250 backpacks for the underserved and homeless. Ms. Baluta has given her time, her money, and her love in caring for these patients who are somehow forgotten in our society. She recognizes that everyone is a human being first, deserving of love, compassion, and justice.

2019 Honorees: Gary and Denise Williams
Gary and Denise have been married for five years and between them are the proud parents of five children and five grandchildren—Cameron, Maya, Natalie, Ryder and Jacob. Denise currently works full-time for St. Therese’s Church in Shavertown as the Coordinator of Religious Education.  She has a certification in Lay Ministry and is a Mercy Associate.  Denise has helped coordinate the Commission on Economic Opportunity’s “Penny Wars for the Poor” for over twenty years. Denise is very actively involved with Fair Districts PA, a nonpartisan citizens group working to stop gerrymandering in our state, serving  as the coordinator of the Luzerne County chapter, and as a team member for accumulating municipal resolutions in favor of an independent citizens commission to draw fair election districts statewide. Until his retirement from the banking industry, Gary had little involvement in volunteer activities.  However, that gradually changed as he took on more and more roles in the community. Gary currently serves on the boards of The Back Mountain Memorial Library, Dinners for Kids, Luzerne County Head Start, Meals on Wheels, The McGlynn Center, and Pocono Northeast Resource Conservation & Development Council.  He also drives for Meals on Wheels, Dinners for Kids, and the American Cancer Society. In addition, he is a volunteer tax preparer for CEO, a tutor at the McGlynn Center, a member of St. Therese’s Social Justice Committee, and a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) in Luzerne County. In their spare time, Denise and Gary enjoy  golfing, reading and most importantly watching their five grandkids grow up healthy and happy! 

Past Honorees

2018: Sarah Khan
Sarah Khan is a teacher and community organizer, both online and in her hometown of Stroudsburg. She attained her Honors BA in English and Linguistics and Language Studies from York University, Toronto, and her M.Ed. in Professional and Secondary Education from East Stroudsburg University. The first Fulbright Fellow in the university’s history, she spent a year in Turkey teaching English, learning Turkish, and serving as a cultural ambassador and capacity developer for the emerging English language program. Sarah has run allyship workshops, organized demonstrations and marches, and has served in various capacities as a volunteer locally and internationally. She is a crisis hotline volunteer and sexual assault and domestic violence counselor-advocate at Women’s Resources of Monroe County and works as a pro-bono English curriculum director at Paper Air-planes, a non-profit dedicated to providing language skills training to Syrian refugees by connecting them in peer-to-peer mentoring with fluent speakers of English. Her peace and justice advocacy was inspired by the examples of educators in her family and their stories of bravery. At sixteen, she picked up a book that spoke to the survivors of war and decided that she would dedicate her life to opening an all-girls school in rural Pakistan with a vocational training center for women. She believes that books, not bombs, can drive out ignorance and that every parent wants a safe future for their child, free from militarism and fear. She is continuing to work on a culturally-sensitive, trauma-informed, and adult-skills focused curriculum. She has created over 600 pages of learning materials and presented her mixed-methods research at a conference in Mexico. Sarah believes that the most pressing issue of our time is to stop to listen and think. She thinks that we should leave our preconceptions at the door and humanize the person across the threshold, whether imagined or physical. She believes we were put on this planet to help each other.

2018 Honorees: Dr. Chris Somers, Sean Farry, and Lindsey Riddell Misericordia University Campus Ministry
Campus Ministry at Misericordia University is led by Dr. Chris Somers, Sean Farry, and Lindsey Riddell. The office carries out the mission of the University by serving in the community and by making visible and effective the Mercy Charisms of Mercy, Service, Justice, and Hospitality. Campus Ministry seeks to respond to the Critical Concerns of the Sisters of Mercy through advocacy, education, and action, and to reach out with love and respect to persons of all faiths and backgrounds. Based on Catholic Social Teaching, their approach to social justice welcomes all people and strives to make sure everyone has a voice. The members of Misericordia’s Campus Ministry live out their mission by serving at Ruth’s Place, St. Vincent DePaul Kitchen, and Mother Theresa’s Haven, They have also hosted Spring Break service trips throughout the U.S. and internationally.

2017 Honoree: Tim Maloney
Tim Maloney is a Muslim from Northeast Pennsylvania. A graduate of Keystone College, he is currently a member of the ACLU of NEPA and the Scranton-Area Ministerium. Over time, Tim has worked to be an advocate for interfaith dialogue, community service, and peace. He has a blog and Facebook page, which can be seen at Tim finds inspiration in the works of Fred Rogers, Linda Sarsour, and Malala Yousafzai. He believes anybody can make a difference, even with small acts of kindness (like opening the door for a stranger). Tim has sponsored various events promoting peace in Northeastern Pennsylvania, from promoting positivity on Public Square during Random Acts of Kindness Week by giving out flowers, positive notes, handmade cards, cupcakes, candy, and other fun stuff to random strangers, to sponsoring the Yellow Roses Interfaith Service and Peace Dinners. Tim was named Man of the Week by The Weekender magazine and is an ardent supporter of Muslim and LGBTQI communities.

2016: Hon. Mayor Christopher Concert

2015: Peggy A. Felton and Tony Mathis

2014: Representative Phyllis Mundy

2013: Esau Foster, VA Medical Center, and  Ned Smith, St. Martin de Porres Catholic Worker House

2012: Rev. Marcelle Dotson

2011: Rita Boyle and Sister Nancy Lee Lydon, RSM

2010: Kimberly Biggs-Kiel, memorial

2009: Robert Makar, North Penn Legal Services

2008: Rick Evans, Jewish Community Center

2007: Linda Kohut, Director, Senior Services, Area Agency on Aging, Luzerne/Wyoming counties.

2006: Samuel Bosch, 1 Human Family

2005: Lois Myers, W-B Free Medical Clinic

2004: Ron Felton, president, NAACP


2002: Jean Warrington, Blankets – Afghanistan, 1600 blankets via American Friends Service


2000: The Rev. William Pickard

1999: Marguerite (Maggie) Ritz

1998: Patrick Rushton, for his contributions to the community reflecting principles of peace and justice.

1997: Jim Bresky

1996: Attorney Joseph Cosgrove, for his representation of marginalized members of society

1995: First Constance Kozel award to family of the late S. Keene Mitchell, instrumental in securing our office in the Kirby Health Center.