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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 Award—to honor both our founder, Etta Angell Wheeler and those, who by their purpose and actions, embody Etta’s spirit of empowering children and youth to redirect their life trajectories and build futures of hope and possibility. To date, five ETTAs have been awarded.


  • JENNIE WHITE has, throughout her life, personified the power of resilience and perseverance. When faced with trauma and setbacks, Jennie chose not to succumb or adapt to her hardships, but rather to turn adversity into advantage and evolve into her best self. There were many clouds along the way: she doesn't know who her father is; her motherabsent in her life due to drugswas murdered when she was four; at 12, she was kidnapped and "given" to a man who sexually abused her repeatedly; in her 20s, she was homeless on the streets of Manhattan with two children; in her 30s, she had major health setbacks and used a walker for years; and on and on and on. But summoning up the words of Maya Angelou, Jennie notes, "I've had so many rainbows in my clouds," including what she calls her "greatest accomplishment, my four children, in whom I've instilled a standard of radical love for others." We're proud that, on her journey, the years she spent at St. Christopher's played a part in helping her find her best self and build a life of purpose, dedicated to the betterment of others, especially children with special needs. The ETTA Award was presented by St. Christopher's to Jennie "for inspiring youth to pursue their dreams and live purposeful lives." Here, Jennie is pictured, left to right, with her children, Anthony, Kayla and Ariana, her daughter-in-law, Diamond, and son, Khai at St. Christopher's 2023 Gala.
  • Learn more about Jennie's Journey here.
  • Valley Bank has, for nearly 100 years, been one of the premier commercial, retail, and private banks in the country. Its acquisition of our longtime philanthropic partner, Westchester Bank, in 2021 enhanced its mission of strengthening the economic life and quality of life in the communities it serves. Valley Bank is a purpose-driven financial institution, whose commitment to giving people and businesses the power to succeed has become a model in how banks can successfully balance profit and purpose. We are grateful Valley Bank continues John Tolomer’s and Westchester Bank’s support of our work. The ETTA Award was presented by St. Christopher's to Valley Bank "for bettering life in its communities and building a more sustainable world.” Here, pictured left to right, are Joe McCoy, Valley Bank’s Divisional Head-Commercial Lending for the Hudson Valley, and Dr. Sarah Ruback, St. Christopher’s CEO at St. Christopher's 2023 Gala.


  • 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. The ETTA Award was presented by St. Christopher's 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. The ETTA Award was presented by St. Christopher's 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. The ETTA Award was presented by St. Christopher's to Frances Gonzalez "for embodying our vision and inspiring our youth to never stop pursuing their dreams."
  • Learn more about Frances' Journey here.