Jimmy Gonzalez - Founder - A Hand for a Paw - Bridgeport, CT

“As the sole Animal Control Officer in Connecticut's largest city, Bridgeport, Jimmy Gonzalez worked tirelessly for several years. In this position, he worked to save homeless animals and provide them with shelter and food. All the while, he cared about their welfare, safety and well-being.

Jimmy is the person someone calls at midnight when a kitten is trapped under a house in the pouring rain and when someone finds a stray animal and doesn't know who to call.

Jimmy does the jobs that need to be done, but that no one else wants to do. He is the person you want on your team, on your side and in your community.

Jimmy is the voice for the voiceless, a beacon of light, a natural leader and an unsung her.”

Nominated by his friend, Joette Hansen, Easton, CT


Billy Cooke - Billy's Baseballs - Washington Township, NJ

“I'm Billy's mom and I'm always proud of him, but this idea of his has shown me a side of my son that a mother can only hope to ever see in her child.

Billy inspires me. He's done more charitable work in these last eleven months [as of 9/2014] than most people do in a lifetime. I think he's so invested in this work because it is truly personal to him.

An Ambassador of Hope to me represents a person who sees the good and the joy in things and inspires other to join them to spread that joy. I believe Bill is exactly that. One way Billy makes a difference is by collecting baseballs with encouraging messages to send to U.S. troops.

These baseballs act as ambassadors of their own. They connect people who otherwise would not be connected. For Billy, these connections have forged communication between him and thousands of people.”

Nominated by Billy's mom - Phylisse Cooke - Washington Township, NJ


Agnes Burke - Volunteer - Saint Michael Parish - Stanhope, NJ

“Aggie and her sister Paula ran the outreach program together until Paula died two years ago. Now Aggie is the sole coordinator of Outreach and assists the needy members of Saint Michael Parish by providing food and other necessities.

Aggie has a wealth of knowledge of the various resources available to those who come for help and counsels them in a loving and charitable manner, no matter their circumstance.

The most amazing aspect of this story is that Aggie is [as of 2014] 83 years old and has the energy and dedication of someone many years younger.

Agnes Burke exemplifies 'Hope' for the needy of our communities. She is a true treasure and has worked miracles with this program, which serves approximately 140 families.”

Nominated by her friend, Mary Soccio, Stanhope, NJ


Olga Taborda - Volunteer - Whittingham Cancer Center - Norwalk, CT

“When I was approximately nine years old, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not only did she survive and beat that ugly disease, but she became healthy enough to work her way into volunteering for the Whittingham Cancer Center at the Norwalk Hospital.

Although she does not have a specific title other than 'Volunteer,' I have titled her as an 'Angel.” She takes enormous pride in spending hours with patients by reading to them, sitting and talking with them, or simply lending a listening ear if they feel the need to vent.

Being positive is something that she takes much pride in, especially when it comes to new patients.

I nominate her for her unselfishness, kind heart and willingness to give back to those whom she has never met, but shares a deep and personal battle with.”

Nominated by her son, Officer Phil Taborda, Norwalk, CT


Joni Jasterzbski - Artist and Art Teacher - Verona, NJ

“Joni has personally decorated an innumerable amount of Hearts of Hope. She has spearheaded this program in Verona elementary schools after receiving a heart herself during completion of numerous chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

She was so touched by the heart she received; she had her kids start painting them in her art classes.

My children helped paint hearts and when I witnessed firsthand how beautiful they were, I requested that my place of employment give them to patients.

Joni is truly an inspiration. She will help anyone who needs it. Her work with cancer patients is truly inspiring. She gives hope…makes hope…is hope…one heart at a time.”

Nominated by her friend, Agnes Nagy, Oncology Nurse at Valley Hospital, Paramus, NJ


John Voket - Associate Editor, The Newtown Bee - Newtown, CT

“John Voket is best known in Newtown as our town and government reporter. But many also know John for his willingness to share his musical talent. For many years, he has donated his musicianship to the annual Newtown Relay for Life.

This past year [2014] he, himself, celebrated a year of cancer survival. A few years ago, following the death of our fellow sports reporter, Kim Harmon, John organized and ran 'Hearts for Harmon' night of music and raffle to assist Kim's bereft family.

John has a high profile as a reporter in town, but I think not everybody realized how much he dedicates himself to the people and town of Newtown, Never expecting anything in return.”

Nominated by John's Co-Worker, Nancy Crevier - Newtown Bee - Newtown, CT


Ambassador of Hope Award Luncheon - September 2014

Pictured on Top Row from Left to Right:

Jimmy Gonzalez, Judy Pedersen, Billy Cook,

Pictured on Bottom Row from Left to Right:

Agnes Burke, Olga Taborda, Joni Jasterzbski

Absent from photo: John Vroket



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2014 Ambassadors of Hope

Each year, Hearts of Hope chooses one outstanding individual to receive our national Ambassador of Hope Award. This award pays tribute to someone who goes above and beyond to give of themselves, their time, and their talents to make our world a better place. They do this by spreading hope through their own efforts or through their community connections.

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