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Erskine Award honors 5 women; Contributions acknowledged in arts, science, education, law, social service.

WORCESTER - Five women whose accomplishments have helped improve the community, especially for women and girls, received the YWCA's Katharine F. Erskine Award during the 15th annual Tribute to Women yesterday at Mechanics Hall.

Katharine F. Erskine was an advocate for women for 80 years. A member of the YWCA as a teenager in the early 1890s, she served as president of the YWCA twice, in 1930 and again in 1960 during the capital campaign to construct the building at 1 Salem Square.

Receiving the 2008 Erskine Award were: Penelope B. Johnson for arts and humanities; Judge Carol A. Erskine, for business and law; the Rev. Sarai Rivera, for community/social service and government; June E. Eressy, for education; and Judith K. Ockene, Ph.D., for medicine and science.

Ms. Johnson, head librarian at the Worcester Public Library, has personified commitment to the community, championing inclusiveness and diversity and eliminating barriers to the pursuit of ideas in her 37-year career. A cornerstone of Ms. Johnson's career has been her advocacy of intellectual freedom and the Library Bill of Rights. One of those who nominated her for the Erskine Award called her "Worcester's guardian against book censorship and a protector of the right of free speech."

Colleagues of Judge Erskine, first justice of the Worcester Juvenile Court, say her passion and commitment is virtually unequaled. She has instituted programs and partnerships such as Teen Ride with the University of Massachusetts Medical School, for teenagers engaged in high-risk behaviors. Last Stop, another program she introduced, is a diversion program in Milford Juvenile Court to give youths one final opportunity to avoid being committed to the Department of Youth Services' locked facility.

Judge Erskine also partnered with the YWCA and Daybreak to introduce the Safe Teens Anti-Violence Readiness, a program that addresses dating violence and domestic violence issues with young women at risk.

Rev. Rivera was guided by the principles of social justice and racial equality when she co-founded Christian Community Church with her husband, the Rev. Jose Encarnacion. They are co-pastors of the successful urban ministry that is a catalyst for change through faith in action. Rev. Rivera also works in the mental health field, serving Latino adolescents, adults and families. She was part of the team that developed Nuevos Horizotes, the only Latino day program in the area, at Community Healthlink. She is a collaborating member of the Latino Mental Health Project, is a leader in the Worcester Interfaith Council and played a key role in forming the Worcester Clergy and Police Community Partnership. She conducts after-school and mentoring programs and is an active member of Women Together.

Ms. Eressy, principal of Claremont Academy and University Park Campus School, has spent her career in education giving students the opportunity to excel and break the hold of poverty and low expectations. She has received several teaching awards, including Worcester Teacher of the Year. Those who nominated her for the Erskine Award wrote of Ms. Eressy's love for her students, her commitment to them, and her achievements as a teacher who "brings excitement and encouragement to the classroom every day."

Ms. Ockene is professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine in the Department of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. She is known internationally for her work in women's health, particularly her work on smoking and health. Ms. Ockene instituted the medical school's mentoring efforts that paired 100 junior faculty members with senior faculty and was instrumental in developing a plan to advance the careers of women and minorities at the medical school. Colleagues consider her a role model whose professional accomplishments are their benchmark.

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: From left, Linda Cavaioli, executive director of the YWCA of Central Massachusetts, embraces June E. Eressy, one of the Katharine F. Erskine Award recipients honored during the 15th annual Tribute to Women at Mechanics Hall yesterday. Three other recipients applaud in the background; they are, from left, Penelope B. Johnson, Judge Carol A. Erskine and the Rev. Sarai Rivera.

PHOTOG: T&G Staff/PAUL KAPTEYN
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 7, 2008
Words:677
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