MAYS LANDING - For five years during elementary school, Suzanne George was Genesis Grandez' school bus driver in Egg Harbor Township.

Last week, George was Grandez' guest at the Atlantic County Institute of Technology, as one of 10 people nominated by freshmen for the impact they have had in their community.

"I was shocked that she remembered me," said an emotional George, as she was treated to a manicure at the school by cosmetology student Brandon Herrera, 17, of Absecon. "I do try to get to know the kids on my bus."

Grandez, now a freshman at ACIT, said George one time hand-delivered a school book that her sister had left on the bus.

"She's way more than a bus driver, she's a friend," Grandez wrote in her essay.

As part of Red Hawk Day of Service to celebrate Career and Technical Education Month in February, the honorees were treated to manicures, oil changes and lunch, all prepared by students. Students in the medical assistants' program offered to check blood pressure, and students in the Informational Technology Academy were available to scan computers for viruses.

Andrew Weber, principal of the Emma C. Attales School in Absecon, was nominated by former student Pujan Patel, who cited all the events and projects Weber helped organize at the school.

"He tries to get us all involved and have a good time doing it," Patel wrote.

Weber said it was a treat to see how some of his former students are doing at ACIT, including sophomore Hayden Hires, of Absecon, who was part of the team doing an oil change on Weber's Ford Explorer.

"I was pretty surprised to see my old principal here," Hires said. "This is the first time I'm doing an oil change for someone I actually know."

Weber grilled him on tire pressure and oil weight as the team checked out the car.

Danny Udowiczyk, of Estell Manor, nominated his church youth pastor, Matt Burkey, of the First Assembly of God Church in Millville, citing his work for the church, helping the needy and working with young people.

"He helps teens like me to find confidence, to help people, and especially to give out of kindness," Udowiczyk wrote in his nominating letter.

Chris Gonzalez, of Hammonton, nominated his soccer coach, David Elkner, who works as a firefighter. Gonzalez said he nominated Elkner as a thank-you gift to someone who has gone out of his way to help him and other team members.

"He always encourages us to try more things, put ourselves out of our comfort zone ... and to always finish our education," Gonzalez wrote.

Caelyn Brennan, of Mays Landing, might have been a high school dropout rather than an ACIT student if not for her nominee, her eighth-grade math teacher at the William Davies School, Jamie Hayden.

"Mrs. Hayden showed me what school could get me in life," Brennan wrote. "She helped me realize that I do deserve a good future. Mrs. Hayden gave me something I never thought I would have. She gave me hope."

"Oh, I miss her a lot," Hayden said as they ate lunch in the ACIT cafe. "She is like a daughter to me."

Some of the honorees were family members, although the students nominated them for work they do outside the family.

Yazmeen Thompson, of Mays Landing, nominated her step-father, Kevin Thomas, for his community work as a Mason. She wrote she wanted him to know how much she cares about him.

Jillian Canfield, of Egg Harbor Township, nominated her mom, Michelle, who let her father's cousins move in with them for a year after their house flooded.

Kaitlyn Owens, of Estell Manor, nominated her mom, Lisa, for her work as an aide to a boy with Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism.

"At first I didn't think an aide could actually improve the life of a student they're working with," Kaitlyn wrote. "At the end of the year our house got many phone calls telling my mom how much they saw her student improve in just a year. I finally realize how important my mom's job is."

Shanniyyah White, of Atlantic City, nominated her uncle, Dennis White, of Atlantic City, for the work he does helping people, including drug addicts, try to improve their lives. She said he is a role model to family and friends.

Francisco Martinez, of Brigantine, was nominated by his son, Francisco, who recalled how his father moved the family in with a despondent friend for several days after her mother died so there would be someone to keep her company.

Romil Patel, of Pleasantville, nominated his older sister, Roshni, 18, for all the community service activities she has done in high school and college.

"The things she has taught me made me think different about the community," he wrote.

The day also gave honorees a chance to tour the school and learn about programs there.

"It was cool to see the education system here," said Burkey, 23, who was mistaken for a student once or twice. "I was impressed."

Contact Diane D'Amico:


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