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Six Public-Service ‘Superheroes’ Honored With Sloan Awards

By CRYSTAL LEWIS

Six civil servants were honored as “New York City’s Justice League” during the Nov. 18 Sloan Public Service Awards.

Since 1975, the Fund for the City of New York has honored public servants who demonstrated outstanding commitment to the city, with checks for $10,000 presented to this year’s winners. And while the coronavirus moved this year’s celebration from Cooper Union’s Great Hall to a virtual ceremony, the pandemic also highlighted the importance of public servants, many of whom were essential workers.

The Capes Fit

So it made sense that during a year in which front-line workers have been hailed as heroes, Michael Arad, chair of the awards selection committee, compared this year’s winners to the fictional superheroes featured in the DC Comics series.

For award recipient Opal Sinclair-Chung, a Chief Nursing Officer at NYC Health + Hospitals’ Kings County Hospital, an interest in public service began when she was an elementary- school student living in Jamaica. During summer vacation, she accompanied a public-health nurse on prenatal and well-baby visits, and later began volunteering at a public-health clinic.

“This exposure, along with my passion for nursing and leadership, sealed my career decision early,” she said.

After traveling to the U.S. to study nursing, in 2010 Ms. Sinclair-Chung began working at Kings County, which had the 13th-busiest emergency department in the country and was under the oversight of the U.S. Justice Department, requiring the facility to undergo a series of reforms.

“Part of my responsibility as the Chief Nurse is to remove barriers. I talk to staff, I ask them, ‘What are some of the things that are interfering with you performing your job?’ ” she said. “I want to make a difference in how health-care is delivered.”

A 50-Cent Tip Paid Off

Also recognized was John James, who has worked at the city’s Human Resources Administration for 27 years. Working in customer service at a hospital in India to help connect patients with non-profits to receive financial assistance for their medical care sparked an interest in the service industry. After arriving in the U.S. in 1989 and working as a cashier, a friend gave him 50 cents and recommended buying this newspaper to help him find a civil-service job. In 1993, Mr. James was hired as a Caseworker at HRA. “This is the biggest social- service agency in the country, so there’s a lot of opportunity to do good,” he said.

Now an Associate Job Opportunity Specialist III within HRA’s Division of Fair Hearing Administration, Mr. James established same-day resolution conferences for clients who have lost their benefits after falling out of compliance with HRA rules. The conferences prevent food-stamp recipients from having to bring their case before a fair-hearings judge and help them restore their benefits.

Mr. James said that the conferences started when Mayor de Blasio came into office, explaining that “the agency had a new vision. It used to be more punitive— but it changed to help people,” he said.

Prior to the pandemic, the agency held 700-900 conferences each day, resulting in fewer benefit hearings being needed. ‘So Proud to Be Serving’

“I am so proud to be a civil servant serving New Yorkers… and I’m going to be a civil servant for life,” Mr. James said.

Award winner Peggy Wyns-Madison has been in city public schools since she graduated from Howard University in 1982. She became an Assistant Principal at P.S. 15 in Red Hook in 2001 and Principal in 2007, and began working with non-profit organizations to help establish the school as a “hub” for the neighborhood, which was rapidly becoming more residential. Students designed Continued on Page 13

NO BETTER TIME TO CELEBRATE CIVIL SERVANTS: The Fund for the City of New York Nov. 18 held a virtual version of the Sloan Public Service Awards, a celebration of six municipal employees who have dedicated their careers to serving the city. The award winners, including Opal Sinclair-Chung (bottom right), a Chief Nursing Officer at NYC Health + Hospitals Kings County Hospital, were honored for their work on the front lines during the COVID pandemic.

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the school’s playgrounds and helped build a community garden.

“I learned early on to know your students, know your Teachers, to know your parents, but also, to know your community,” she said. “It’s important to tap into the resources right outside of the classroom window.”

The other award recipients included Eloise Hirsh, a veteran Department of Parks and Recreation employee who was tasked with transforming the large Staten Island landfill in Fresh Kills into a park, and Yang Zeng, the Director of the Flushing Library, which was the busiest library in the country.

Leaving on High Note

For Steve Schindler, the Director of Water Quality in the Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Water Supply, the celebration of his achievements came just in time.

“I’m going to be retiring in five weeks, so it’s very exciting to be honored like this,” he said.

Mr. Schindler became attracted to the sciences because he enjoyed camping with his family, and attended the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York. Although he was initially interested in biology, he became involved in acid-rain research, which led to him working at DEP in 1987, and eventually becoming the Director of Water Quality in 2003.

He was credited with scaling up the Bureau of Water Supply’s laboratory and research, and with maintaining the city’s water quality during severe weather conditions such as Hurricane Irene.

‘9 Million Rely on Us’

“Most people turn on their tap water and they don’t really think too much about it. It’s a job where people really only pay attention when something is not working,” Mr. Schindler said. “Knowing that nine million people rely on us to provide this product, it’s very important.”

Several of the winners believed that the honor belonged to their colleagues as much as themselves. Ms. Sinclair-Chung credited her team for her accomplishments, and commended the Kings County Hospital staff for bravery during the pandemic.

“During these unprecedented times, our nation has called to public-service members to risk their lives to remedy the widespread fear and illness brought on by COVID-19,” she said.

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