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Etta's Award

Like the Oscars, Emmys and Tonys, in 2020, St. Christopher’s created its own signature award—The Etta—to honor both our founder, Etta Angell Wheeler and those, who by their purpose and actions, embody Etta’s spirit of empowering youth to become their best selves. The three inaugural Etta Awards were presented to:

  • JOHN PARAUDA, a kind and caring person with a beautiful family and a passion for gardening. And it is this passion and a desire to help our youth that led him to us. He had a dream of building a healing garden at our Jennie Clarkson Campus. And to make that dream a reality, he made a generous donation, matched by American Express, and invested countless hours (to this day) to imagine and then partner with AnnMarie Sasso and other team members to build our magnificent Seeds of Hope Healing Garden, which spurred the creation of gardens at our two, other campuses. Because of John, our residents benefited socially and emotionally and became purposeful by immersing themselves in the garden by clearing, planting, caring for, harvesting and cooking its bounty. Our first Etta Award was presented to John Parauda for envisioning and championing our healing garden movement—and in doing so, helping our youth connect with nature and themselves.
  • VERNICE “FlyGirl” ARMOUR, a brave Marine and much-sought-after, motivational speaker who inspired our youth and all of us to be bold and not let anyone stop us from being our personal best. Captain Armour was the Marine Corps’ first Black woman pilot and during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, became America’s first Black woman combat pilot, as well. Flying in her missile-equipped attack helicopter in the skies of Iraq, she engaged the enemy and scouted the roads to ensure they were safe for her fellow Marines and soldiers on the ground. We first met Captain Armour in 2019, as we set out to honor black women military aviators at an event that ultimately was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, she spoke with our youth via Zoom about the importance of pursuing their American dream—in believing that anyone—regardless of color, gender, economic status and beyond—can attain their own version of success through sacrifice, risk-taking and hard work. Our second Etta Award was presented to Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, for spurring our youth to soar by living live lives of purpose and possibility.
  • FRANCES GONZALEZ, a former St. Christopher’s resident who went on to become a successful entrepreneur and founder of As a teenager growing up in the Bronx, Frances was headed down the wrong path. Her mother struggled to rein her in—to protect her—but she needed help and ultimately, found that help in the late 1980s at St. Christopher’s, where Frances became a resident at the age of 12. According to Frances, “St. Christopher’s is one of the best things that ever happened to me. I am here today because of my parents’ love and St. Christopher’s dedication to helping adolescents with emotional and behavioral challenges.” That’s quite humbling for us. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Frances returned to campus after 30 years and shared with us her journey of leveraging her parents’ love and the life skills reinforced at St. Christopher’s into her pursuit of a life and career attuned to nature and veganism. Despite the mask that covered half her face, we could still see tears well up in her eyes as she fondly recalled spending her formative, teenage years with us. We are proud to be part of her story and to call her our alumna. Our third Etta Award was presented to Frances Gonzalez, for embodying our vision and inspiring our youth to never stop pursuing their dreams.