As we all continue to practice social distancing, the Westchester County Youth Board’s 3rd Annual “Shero” Awards was held virtually Tuesday, March 23, 2021 during the Westchester County Youth Board meeting. The two women being recognized as “Sheros” are Heather Miller, the Executive Director of the Thomas H. Slater Center and Stephanie Marquesano, Founder & President, The Harris Project.
County Executive George Latimer said, “We are incredibly honored to have countless “sheroes” that assist county government daily. Fortunately, several of our departments and boards have taken the time to acknowledge some of the women that often go unrecognized. Particularly when it comes to children and youth, this is an even more difficult task. I applaud the key women who have done a magnanimous job in serving children and youth, especially during the pandemic.”
Westchester County Youth Bureau Executive Director Dr. DaMia Harris-Madden said, “When the Shero Awards were conceptualized, we knew there would be an extensive list of dynamic women who make a difference in children and youths’ lives. Only two award cycles later did we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic, with even more valiant women who have given of themselves in order to help others. The work that the honorees have displayed during such challenging times are to be applauded, and we appreciate their commitment to the vulnerable.”
Abe Baker-Butler, the Youth Board’s Vice President stated, “We are proud to celebrate Women’s History Month by recognizing two outstanding Westchester women who have made invaluable contributions to the lives of our County’s youth, providing services and leading projects that build social justice and equity in our communities. We thank Heather and Stephanie for serving as tremendous role models for youth of all backgrounds.”
About the Awardees
Stephanie Marquesano started the harris Project with the mission of advancing prevention and awareness of co-occurring disorders (COD). She advocates for the implementation of integrated treatment opportunities to improve the lives of teens and young adults diagnosed with COD, which is the combination of one or more mental health challenges and substance misuse and/or addiction. (theharrisproject.org). Stephanie lost her son, Harris, to an overdose due to COD and learned that treatments either focused on mental health OR substance misuse, but not both. Stephanie turned her pain into change and provides resources and education for youth to get help. While Stephanie works with adult partners in mental health, substance misuse, and schools, etc., she also works directly with youth, empowering them to help others. She has been recognized nationally and statewide for her work with COD. The pandemic did not slow Stephanie down, it increased her efforts to reach youth while they were experiencing severe isolation and increased vulnerability to mental health disorders and substance use.
Heather Miller has been a steadfast presence at the Thomas H. Slater Center in White Plains for the past forty years, starting as a part time administrative assistant and working her way up to the full time position of Executive Director in 2005. One of her first initiatives upon becoming Executive Director was to create and direct the INVEST Youth Programs which received an award the first year of its existence. Under her leadership, the center experienced the creation of Step Up Girls Program, Next Generation Boys Group, Health and Fitness programming, Summer Thrift Store, Summer Youth Employment Programming, Gardening Project, the Haitian Resource Center and the ‘For Diane’ senior drop in program. While part time at the center, Heather worked at other local not for profits where she saw a need to serve the middle school girls during the summer months and started a Counselor-In-Training (CIT) program. Recognizing the need to motivate and challenge the high school students, she also conducted college tours to Historically Black University and Colleges.
During the pandemic, she designed two enterprises to provide employment for youth during the summer months including a business to make, sell/donate masks and a not for profit to prepare and provide lunch for seniors. She worked with the County Department of Mental Health to collaborate with a service provider to provide group service to and also partnered with the White Plains Library to bring Dr. Ibram Kendi, author of “How To Be An Antiracist” virtually to Westchester County residents.