Jersey Companies Give Back at the Great Oak Awards

The Great Oak Awards honor businesses with strong Jersey roots and a deep commitment to charitable institutions and social causes.

Representatives of the winning companies and event supporters at the 2017 Great Oak Awards, front, from left : Theresa Richardson (WithumSmith+Brown), Jennifer Farrington (BD), Drew Polin (OpDecision), Kate Tomlinson (New Jersey Monthly), Michele Siekerka (NJ Business & Industry Association), Adam Schnitzler (the S3 Agency), Brent Ashton (Ernst & Young), David Silverstrom (the Silverstrom Group) and Brenda Liss (Riker Danzig). Rear, from left: Michael J. Smith (Berkeley College), Joyce Buford (Allstate), Sylvia Lasalandra Frodella (H2Ocean Restaurant & Raw Bar), Karen Escobedo (New Jersey Natural Gas), Joe Visaggio (Novartis Pharmaceuticals), Patrick L. Ryan (First Bank), Matt Powers (Uber), Kelly Bonventre (NJ Sharing Network), Michael Campbell (Columbia Bank) and Laura Lampron (Nisivoccia).
Representatives of the winning companies and event supporters at the 2017 Great Oak Awards, front, from left : Theresa Richardson (WithumSmith+Brown), Jennifer Farrington (BD), Drew Polin (OpDecision), Kate Tomlinson (New Jersey Monthly), Michele Siekerka (NJ Business & Industry Association), Adam Schnitzler (the S3 Agency), Brent Ashton (Ernst & Young), David Silverstrom (the Silverstrom Group) and Brenda Liss (Riker Danzig). Rear, from left: Michael J. Smith (Berkeley College), Joyce Buford (Allstate), Sylvia Lasalandra Frodella (H2Ocean Restaurant & Raw Bar), Karen Escobedo (New Jersey Natural Gas), Joe Visaggio (Novartis Pharmaceuticals), Patrick L. Ryan (First Bank), Matt Powers (Uber), Kelly Bonventre (NJ Sharing Network), Michael Campbell (Columbia Bank) and Laura Lampron (Nisivoccia).
Photo by John O'Boyle

Many diverse, charitable companies call New Jersey home. Their philanthropic spirit was on display as New Jersey Monthly honored 10 companies for their charitable works at the fourth annual Great Oak Awards dinner September 13 at the Park Chateau Estate in East Brunswick.

The Great Oak Awards honor businesses with strong Jersey roots and a deep commitment to charitable institutions and social causes. Readers nominated companies for the awards, and a panel of expert judges chose this year’s honorees from a pool of 50 finalists.
Each finalist was assigned to a category based on the size of its full-time New Jersey workforce.

Nisivoccia in Mount Arlington, OpDecision in Marlton, The S3 Agency in Boonton and the Silverstrom Group in Livingston were the winners among the small companies. Columbia Bank in Fair Lawn, Riker Danzig in Morristown and WithumSmith+Brown in Princeton took top honors among the medium companies. Bayer in Whippany, BD in Franklin Lakes and Ernst & Young in Iselin were the large-company winners.

Keynote speaker Michele Siekerka, the President and CEO of the NJ Business Association and Co-Chair of Opportunity NJ, emphasized how proud she was working with companies that strive to help New Jersey grow.

“Great businesses make great communities,” she said.

Here are some examples of our honorees’ charitable endeavors:

Nisivoccia, an accounting and business advisory company, donated tax and financial-planning presentations to local organizations, in addition to providing supplies to the Mount Olive Food Pantry.

Telecommunications company OpDecision helped raise more than $275,000 for the Legacy Treatment Foundation. “We wanted to change the culture of fundraising,” CEO Drew Polin said. “You don’t always get to see where your fundraising goes to, and we wanted to create a culture that reflected our board, which was very young and eager to do the work.”

The S3 Agency provided roughly $300,000 in-kind advertising and marketing services to the Turtleback Zoo, including a new website and TV commercial. Through their S FREE program, the advertising agency allows smaller organizations a chance to apply for other in-kind services.

The Silverstrom Group, a dental practice, partnered with the American Cancer Society for the annual Smiles for Life award. Every year, a cancer survivor is granted a $25,000 cosmetic smile makeover to combat the oral effects of radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Columbia Bank funds financial-literacy programs in schools, and made $1 million in corporate donations to New Jersey organizations. “Volunteers have participated in over 100 charitable events, our largest undertaking since 1927,” said Public Relations Officer Gary Perino. “We strive for 100 percent participation in volunteer efforts from our employees.”

Riker Danzig sponsors the annual Newport 10K in Jersey City, which benefits the Jersey City Medical Center. In addition, the legal firm supports organizations such as the Alliance for Lupus Research, Daytop New Jersey, Homeless Solutions and others.

WithumSmith+Brown’s Withum Week of Caring is a collaborative effort by all 575 employees to volunteer over 2,500 hours at 50 various organizations. “Giving back is part of who we are as a company,” said Joan Kampo, director of Human Resources. “We feel like it’s something we need to do. Many people are in need of assistance, and we try to help anyway we can.”

Bayer’s initiative Making Science Make Sense commits to helping improve science education and literacy in schools. The program reaches over 2,300 New Jersey students by conducting in-class experiments and hosting teacher workshops. “The most rewarding thing is seeing children’s faces and directly interacting with them, it gives you perspective on how blessed you might be,” Sean White, Oversight Management in Ocology SBU, said. “I got to speak with elementary school kids about recycling. I definitely earned my paycheck that day.”

Health care company BD supports organizations that provide resources to vulnerable populations faced with challenges such as hunger, housing and homelessness. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston and the earthquake in Mexico, the company has done a lot of work in disaster relief, providing diabetes products to people in need. “Knowing you make an impact and can effect change is very special,” said Ellen Rafferty, manager of Social Investing. “We try to be a champion for our non-profits.

Ernst & Young’s Corporate Responsibility Strategy focuses on three target areas: education, entrepreneurship and workforce equality. Their College MAP Program, a long-term mentoring program for high school students, is active in 30 U.S. cities. “Seeing kids have an active role in their future is so rewarding,” said executive director Jason Kopec. “Whether they’re in kindergarten or a senior in high school, it feels good to see they can make better for themselves if they stay positive and stay focused.”

Berkeley College was the presenting sponsor of the event; marketing partners were Allstate NJ Insurance Company, First Bank, H2Ocean Restaurant & Raw Bar, New Jersey Natural Gas, NJ Sharing Network, Novartis Pharmaceuticals and Uber.

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