Monday, October 08, 2001
Concerned Citizens Speak Awards Dinner
By Wally Dobelis
There was a sellout attendance of 176 dinner guests at the Concerned Citizens Speak 15th anniversary dinner and awards ceremony on Sunday, October 6, 1996 at the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park. Before the meal, three surprise awards were given to John F. Bringmann, the founder and leading light of the organization, by Thomas R. Stevens and Richard Jordan from the CCS board, O.Alden James on behalf of NAC, and Assemblyman Steven Sanders.
The Interfaith Humanitarian Awards presentation to seven clergymen, in recognition of their dedication to their congregations and the neighborhoods in which they serve, brought in many congregants and members of the communities who wanted to record their respect and appreciation of the honorees, and hear their reminiscences. Pastor James Amos of Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church spoke of 33 years of community service in the church, highlighting its newest activity, a "To Love and Be Divorced" group, meeting on the third Thursday every month (everyone is welcome); Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Armenian Church in America, told of the need for creeds to forget their differences and stand together to bring back the values of religion; Rabbi Emeritus Irving J. Block, of The Brotherhood Synagogue, proceeding from the Hillel texts "If I'm not for myself, who will be for me," "If I am only for myself, what am I" and "If not now, when?" highlighted the need for activism. Msgr. Harry Byrne (ret), of the Roman Catholic Church of the Epiphany, meditated on the theme of priests, ministers and rabbis needing each other and the value of such structures as CCS to mediate between helpless citizens and mega-business and government; Msgr. Kevin O'Brien, of the Roman Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated the roles of some of his paritioners - mentioning Patricia Sallin, Alvin Doyle and Jo-Ann Polise of the CCS Board - in taking responsibility for the community (the latter two also received the CCS Founder's Citation for their dedication as President and Vice President of the Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Tenants Associations). Rev. Thomas F. Pike, Rector of the Episcopal Parish of Calvary/St. George's, stressed the role of congregations as beacons of compassion and hope for those in need. Rabbi Harold Swiss, continuing on the theme of community of faiths, spoke of the true love that prompted Pastor Amos and his congregation to offer his then homeless Little Synagogue a room to pray, starting a harmonious relationship that has continued for ten years.
There were letters of anniversary congratulations for CCS signed John Cardinal O'Connor, Bill Clinton, Charles Schumer, Carolyn B. Maloney, George E. Pataki, Dennis C. Vacco, Rudolph W. Giuliani, Ruth [Messinger] and Alan G. Hevesi.
Gentle harp music for the reception was provided by Kirsten J. Agresta, who at the age of fifteen was a soloist on a full tour of the British Isles and has since performed extensively throughout the US, Europe, Israel and the South Pacific. She has appeared on NBC, CBS and ABC-TV, on Michigan and Indiana Public Television, and was featured in the "Up and Coming" section of People Magazine.
After the ceremonies there was the customary drawing of raffle winners, rewarded with gifts donated by local restaurants and merchants. The raffle income is used to provide gifts for the needy, particularly during the holidays.
C.C.S., based in the Gramercy Park area, holds "Speak Outs" on issues such as crime, tenants' rights, drugs, stronger criminal laws, landmark preservation and mass transit, in which the citizenry has an opportunity to confront elected officials. The group over the years has directed letters and position papers to elected officials, and has merited congratulations for its efforts from the President, the Governor and the Mayor.