Community leaders honored at 21st annual NIA recognition dinner

CONEY ISLAND — Some of Brooklyn’s most prominent civic leaders attended the Neighborhood Improvement Association’s (NIA) 21st annual recognition awards dinner on Thursday, Oct. 3.

Held at Gargiulo’s Restaurant, 2911 West 15th St., the event honored several individuals who have worked to better the community and who have shown support for NIA.

The NIA has been addressing issues that impact youth, families and seniors in the community since it was founded in 1981. It is a nonprofit community service organization headquartered at 6614 11th Ave. in Dyker Heights.

NIA’s board of directors includes Founder and President Michael Bove, Vice President Jerry Saporito, CEO Mary Anne Cino and Executive Director Rosa Casella. The dinner’s honorary chair was Harry Nespoli, president of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association.

The primary focus of NIA’s work revolves around expanded after-school partnerships that serve several thousand students daily, encouraging exploration and learning through the arts and sciences, developing new skills, providing opportunities for exercise, and fostering positive youth development and healthy lifestyle choices.

Honoree Keith Mellis with Mike Bove, CEO Mary Anne Cino, Harry Nespoli and Mary Anne Cino.

Bove said that being at the NIA dinner was second to none. “The NIA was created for one reason, to help children by building strong families and not just in our community but in many communities,” said Bove.

This year’s honorees were a diverse group of individuals with an exemplary record of service to the community including school leaders, NIA staff, law enforcement and food service workers.

They included NYPD Deputy Chief Charles Scholl; Maggie Gu, owner of Park Asia Restaurant; and Keith Mellis, assistant chief of public information, New York City Department of Sanitation, who received the Humanitarian Award.

The educational leadership and collaboration awards were presented to Dianne Gounardes, District 20 director of early childhood education and Anthony Mungioli, former principal of P.S./I.S. 121.

P.S./I.S. 30 Parent Coordinator Donna Moscatello and P.S. 179 Parent Coordinator Karina Gonzalez received the Community Service and Family Advocate Awards.

Community leaders and elected officials attending the dinner included State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus and City Councilmembers Justin Brannan and Mark Treyger.

City Councilmember Justin Brannan presents check to NIA.

Andrew Gounardes said he was especially proud to be at the dinner since his mother, Dianne Gounardes, was one of the honorees. “Every year the NIA has great honorees, but I think that this year probably has some of the best honorees in the entire history of the NIA,” said Gounardes. “And my mother did not make me say that,” he added to laughter and applause.

Dianne Gounardes said that she was extremely thankful to NIA for recognition. “But honestly for me, the recognition belongs to NIA. It belongs to NIA for being such an incredible partner in what we developed,” said Gounardes. She credited NIA with helping initiate the pre-K after-school program. “When I had my first meeting with NIA, we sat down and we developed a program that works. And now we have NIA after-school programs in eight of our 11 buildings,” she added.

Treyger called the NIA one of the best organizations not just in Brooklyn but in all New York. ‘They are one of the largest social service providers we have here in our neighborhoods in Southwest Brooklyn. And I am proud to say that NIA was born in Southern Brooklyn and they’re here to stay in Southern Brooklyn.”

Brannan presented the NIA with a check for $478,500 representing the city’s FY 2020 funding for the organization.

“I’m proud to support NIA Community Services Network year after year,” Brannan told this paper. “Whether it’s through their popular after-school programs, summer day camps, cultural arts programs, youth and family counseling or fantastic senior support programs, NIA makes it easy for me to give back directly to the neighborhoods who gave me so much growing up. They are a true partner,” added Brannan.

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