The Athena Smith Ford Student for Peace Award

Established in 1996, the Student for Peace Award is presented to a young person whose academic and extra-curricular activities reflect a commitment to justice and a future of peacemaking. In 2019, the award was named in memory of Athena Smith Ford, the 2001 recipient and an outstanding advocate for justice and peace throughout her short lifetime. Athena, who passed away in 2016, is a model for young people who want to bring about justice and peace in their communities

2021 Honorees: Mustafa Almeky, Lakina Hughes, Winter Jenkins, and Kaylee McNeil
A group of people walking Description automatically generated with low confidence   A group of people walking down a street holding signs Description automatically generated with medium confidenceLast year in early June, a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest took place on Wilkes-Barre Public Square fittingly on the same day the charge against Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd was upgraded to second-degree murder and all four Minneapolis police officers involved were taken into custody. Ignited with outrage that their loved ones could someday face this same police brutality, then first-year local high school students Lakina Hughes, Winter Jenkins, Kaylee McNeil turned to Facebook to spread the word of their BLM protest later that week. With multiple brothers, Winter especially had her family in mind when she saw the video of George Floyd being abused by an officer. When the event began, the square quickly filled with nearly 200 people carrying signs that read “no justice, no peace” among other slogans of support. With everyone gathered, then Wilkes University senior Moustafa Almeky aided the high schoolers in leading chants and kneeling for a moment of silence for the tragedies suffered, and often ignored, in the black community. Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown and Police Chief Joseph Coffay likewise took a knee in solidarity. The young leaders all emphasized that violence can never be answered with more violence. As the chants died down, some speakers took the opportunity to highlight the importance of voting while a voter registration table was available on the square during the rally. His family being originally from Egypt, Moustafa did not want to see racial injustices continue here in the United States and echoed the others’ concerns that officials who will make the necessary changes for equality to be achieved need to be put in power. Lakina herself served as one of the speakers and expressed tearfully that she is sometimes scared to leave the house because of how some people automatically look down on her for being black. The audience raised the signature BLM movement clenched fist as Lakina shared that she fears what the world will be like for her children if the black community continues to be killed due to the color of their skin and white offenders not being held unaccountable. Once the speakers had their voices heard, the crowd marched across the Market Street Bridge as police cars safely escorted them across traffic. As the protestors came back down the Pierce Street Bridge, they halted outside the Luzerne County Courthouse yard. To further recognize the cruel death of George Floyd, everyone laid down on their stomachs with their hands behind their back as they shouted “I can’t breathe.” They stayed in this position for nearly nine minutes just as George Floyd did as he was suffocated by an officer’s knee pressing on his neck.  The marchers then returned to the square and soon dispersed. After the 3-hour long protest in the blistering heat, the young leaders – Lakina, Winter, Kaylee, and Moustafa – felt proud of their work. Kaylee reflected that the turnout of people from different cultures and races meant so much as it showed that the black community isn’t alone in its fight against racial injustice. 

2020 Honoree: janelle Sherman
A person smiling for the camera Description automatically generated with medium confidenceJanelle Sherman is a Wilkes University 2021 alumna who majored in psychology and nursing and minored in women and gender studies. She is a crusader in fighting food insecurity by giving at-risk families fresh produce and generating scholarship that empowers women to defend themselves against gender inequality. During the summer of 2019, Janelle partnered with food justice advocate Clancy Cash Harrison and the Wilkes-Barre YMCA’s Power Scholars Academy and Tasty Thursday summer programs to distribute a total of 10,849 pounds of free, fresh produce to over 900 families. For the 6-week Power Scholars program, she created weekly educational activities for students in grades 1-5 that emphasized fruits and vegetables for a healthy life. While working for Tasty Thursdays, Janelle helped to secure produce from CEO and SCI Retreat in Hunlock Creek for free pop-up produce stands throughout Wilkes-Barre. To introduce children to how tasty vegetables are, she provided families with samples and a recipe card for a nutritious dish utilizing the fresh ingredients. With the international honor society in psychology, Janelle also set up free pop-up produce stands at Wilkes where she distributed nutritional information to students and faculty. To further connect children with the Earth and healthy food, she participated in procuring and giving free produce at Hillside Farms’ annual Grief Camp for children who lost an immediate family member or are experiencing family instability. In addition to promoting healthy food, Janelle has served as a Wilkes research assistant. She was tasked with collecting and analyzing data concerning ways young women can protect themselves from sexism. In March 2019, she presented the findings at the preeminent international Society for Research in Child Development’s biennial conference where thousands attended. Now as a graduate nurse in Behavioral Health Services at First Hospital in Kingston, Janelle continues to offer help to people experiencing food insecurity and/or domestic violence.

Past Awardees:

2019 Honoree: Sara Ahmed
On May 19, Sara Ahmed will be the first person in her family to graduate from college.  As she completes her bachelor’s degree from King’s College with a major in biology, Sara will realize the fruits of not only her diligent efforts but also those of her hard-working parents who emigrated to the United States from Egypt as young newlyweds. Many more people will reap the benefits of Sara Ahmed’s dedication to peace, justice, and interfaith and inter-cultural understanding. As a student, Sara has been involved in a number of activities to promote peace and justice. She most recently spoke at the Standing Against Terror: United with Our Muslim Neighbors event on Public Square in Wilkes-Barre, held in response to the terror attacks in New Zealand. Sara has been a leader of the Multi-Cultural and International Student Club; she recently participated in a SERVE trip to Puerto Rico and a Quest retreat through Campus Ministry. Sara was also part of a study abroad program in Peru, which included inter-cultural dialogue between King’s students and young Peruvian English language learners. Ms. Ahmed is committed to promoting peace and justice at King’s College and in the Wilkes-Barre community as a whole. Sara has also been instrumental in educating the King’s community on interfaith issues and presented on this activity at President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge at Gallaudet University in 2016. Sara uses the knowledge she gains to encourage and educate those around her. She is a brave and passionate student, especially where justice and advocacy are concerned. Sara’s goal is to one day travel the world and do research that will impact the lives of many people. She is a very worthy recipient of this award.

2018 Honoree: Julianna Stella
Julianna Stella is a senior Social Work student at Misericordia University, where she serves as the president of the Social Work Association and as a member of the directing team of Campus Ministry in charge of the Catholic Relief Services ministry. The team promotes education and advocacy on campus and hosts events such as hunger banquets and climate change, immigration and human trafficking simulations. Julianna is also the advisor to the Circle K Service Club and a mentor in the Social Work Intern Mentoring Program. Currently, she interns at Catholic Social Services in the Immigration and Refugee Resettlement Program. Outside of school, she serves as Vice President of the Wyoming Area Kiwanis and works as a part time lifeguard at the Holiday Inn. After receiving her undergraduate degree, she will attend the University of SUNY Buffalo for a Masters in Social Work and Macro Practice. Her passion and purpose is service to others, and she aspires, as best expressed by her campus minister and dear friend, “to be kind, work hard, and cultivate joy.”

2017 Honoree: Chelsea Taylor Collins
Chelsea Collins is a recent graduate of Marywood University’s Graduate School of Social Work. During her time in school she was the graduate assistant overseeing the Center for Social Justice and Community Collaboration in which she organized events such as a diversity event for undergraduates and a solution-focused panel dealing with heroin and opiate addiction in Northeastern Pennsylvania. She spent a year interning as the onsite social worker at the Scranton Lackawanna Human Development Agency and the past year interning at Senator John Blake’s Scranton office. She hopes to continue her efforts for promoting intersectional social justice by working in public policy and research. Chelsea is well deserving of the Student for Peace Award as her inspiration is anyone who spreads love and peace in the face of adversity. She started a blog, as a way to start a discussion on political and social issues such as criminal justice, race, and gender, as a way to simplify complex problems to educate and collaborate with others. Her aspiration is to do good, help people who may not have a voice and work in public policy.

2016: Angela Costigan and Katie Gereda

2015: Aoife Burke, Becky Revitt, Andie Sullivan, and Luke Sullivan

2014: Jarred Kraft, Mr. J

2013: Arisa Lucia Gereda

2012: Jordan Marsh and Adam Zapotok

2011: Stanley Chan

2010: Sarah Klee

2009 William Browne

2008: Diya Das

2007: Britney Brewster

2006: Amanda Shonk

2005: Donald Stefanovich

2004: Abigail Myers

2002: Greg Elliott

2001: Buddy Shah and Athena Smith Ford

2000: Jude Pannell

1997: Justin Scappaticci

1996: Brian Hebling