ELIZABETH—Benedictine Academy Campus Minster Linda Michalski was honored Saturday, Nov. 2 by USA Network and Cablevision Power to Learn at the USA Characters Unite Award event held at the Academy in Elizabeth.
Michalski, a Chatham resident, was feted for her work with Sister Donna Jo Repetti, OSF, and students, to make the public aware of the horror of modern day slavery in the form of human trafficking. Michalski shared the Characters Unite Award with her co-moderator, Sister Donna Jo and the “Cor Defender” students at the event, who have stood up as fellow champions of human rights in the fight against human trafficking.
USA Network and Cablevision representatives, along with several state and local officials; school parents, faculty and staff; alumnae and friends, were on hand to acknowledge Michalski’s work and award. Characters Unite is USA Network’s public service campaign to combat hate and discrimination and promote greater tolerance and acceptance through on-air programming, digital content and community events nationwide. Michalski is one of ten winners selected from hundreds of nominees around the country “for their extraordinary efforts in combating hate, intolerance and discrimination worldwide, and making significant contributions to champion civil and human rights in their communities”.
Michalski was presented with a $5,000 check from USA Network and Cablevision Power to Learn to “continue her amazing work”. USA Network Director of Public Affairs, Loren Hynes, lauded Michalski as “an extraordinary woman whom we are excited to honor”. “We read hundreds of nominations this year,” said Fred Haug of NBC Universal, who also was on hand for the award ceremony, “but we kept coming back to this nomination. The more we read, the more we knew we had to honor her,” Haug stated. “We will continue to shed light on this issue,” he added. “We believe in what you have done,” Cablevision Manager of Government Affairs Don Viapree said. “It is a testimony to what you have decided to do with your life.”
NJ State Assemblwoman Annette Quijano called Michalski a “trailblazer”, and, a “champion of change”. “You gave young women (the BA Cor Defenders) a voice”, she said, teaching students “personal responsibility and how to help your neighbor”, in addition to “shining the light of awareness” on a problem few like to talk about, Quijano pointed out. She recalled how the Benedictine Academy students came to Trenton alongside Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle to introduce a sweeping new bill to crack down on Human Trafficking in NJ. They testified before the House Committee calling for the need for education in the public and private school sectors to warn young people about the dangers of this hideous crime. The bill was eventually passed and signed into law.
During the event honoring Michalski, the Cor Defender students presented their newest programs to help eradicate modern-day slavery. The first program, called “Five by Five”, is an “educational prevention project” designed to keep students everywhere safe. The BA students plan to distribute the “Five by Five” program on USB flash drives around the country and world to educate young children about the dangers of being drawn in to Human Trafficking. The program encourages young people to “Be Smart” and not be “duped by traffickers”. “At BA, we believe that knowledge is power,” the students stated. The second program is a state-wide “call out” to “all our honorable Mayors”. Benedictine Academy is currently co-partnering with the National Coalition Against Human Trafficking to ask the support of all mayors in the state of New Jersey to issue a proclamation, following the lead of President Barack Obama and Governor Chris Christie, declaring January 11th as Human Trafficking Day in their city or town.
NJ Assistant Attorney General Tracey Thompson cited the work of the Benedictine Academy Cor Defenders, Repetti and Michalski. “I am so proud of the Cor Defenders,” Thompson noted. Their work “fits neatly with the Division of Criminal Justice’s agenda.” NJ has one of the top two Human Trafficking laws in the nation, she pointed out. “It is really a rescue operation from modern-day slavery,” Thompson explained. Benedictine Academy’s program “really inspired me to do the work that I do,” Thompson added. With the Superbowl being held in NJ in 2014 and expected to increase Human Trafficking problems, Thompson stated that her Division is taking a pro-active regional approach, working with other nearby states to identify Human Trafficking offenders and prevent incidents. A Task Force has been created to handle the problem, and Michalski (and Repetti) are members of that Task Force, Thompson pointed out. Michalski also will be acknowledged for her work on January 24 at the State House in Trenton, Thompson noted.
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