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Top 5ive honors local “changemakers” at event

Holding their Top 5IVE plaques are (l to r) Claire Cousin, Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson, Fathima Chowdhury, Elena Mosley and Vern Cross. All five are either from or serve the Hudson Community. Fathima won in the Youth category, while the others were honored as community changemakers in the BIPOC category. Photo by Casey Albert

COXSACKIE – There were more than a few moist eyes and tears shed at the inaugural Top 5ive Community Changemakers Awards Ceremony at the Wire on Friday evening, March 31. The event was the brainchild of Capital Region Independent Media (CRIM) Publisher Warren Dews, Jr., whose idea was to have the residents of Southern Albany County, Greene County and Columbia County nominate people or businesses that have helped bring about a positive change in their community, uplift the spirits of those around them and generally make the lives of the people they touch happier and more productive. It was an idea that was very well received and the communities responded with great nominees.

Initially four categories were identified with five winners for each. According to Mr. Dews, these categories will change each year. For 2023, areas included youth, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color), women and business. The winners were profiled in the Ravena News-Herald, The Columbia Paper, Greenville Pioneer and online at Those selected joined with the events sponsors and CRIM personnel to receive their awards at a gala banquet. Publisher Dews commentedon the success of the event, saying, “I was actually holding back tears all night because being in the room with these amazing people really touched my heart.”

Here are the award winners in each category.


Fathima Chowdhury, a junior at Hudson High School, is a member of the National Honor Society, student council and president of the school’s Multicultural Club. While accepting her award, Fathima said it was humbling to be recognized for all the efforts she has put forth in her school and community. “I am so proud to represent Hudson and its youth,” she said.

Alivia Ortiz, a junior at Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk (RCS) High School, excels in sports and the arts. Alivia told those gathered she is proud to be honored but felt, “It is important to recognize all in the RCS community who put forth so much each day.”

Hunter Smigel, a Greenville High School senior, is very active in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) programs and is the student representative to the school board. Hunter perhaps summed up what many were thinking when he said, “It’s awesome to see an event like this that brings the community together.”

Lanija Williams, a RCS junior, has a special interest in art and working with children. She is a recent recipient of a national arts award from Howard University and credits her community and school “for helping me do a lot more than I thought I could do.” Lanija is also a strong advocate for diversity in her community.

Olivia Ruso, a Greenville High School senior, is involved in sports, theater and community service. She hosts a Spartanville Spotlight show helping to keep her classmates apprised of what is going on in their school. She could not attend the March 31 event because she was acting in the school play.

‘It warms my heart to see people take time to honor those who do such great work for their community.’

Tina Dipper, executive director of the Perfect Ten Afterschool Program


Claire Cousin, the executive director of the Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition, said very succinctly, “I love my community and I love to be of service to it.”

Vern Cross, the host of a popular radio show shining the light on such important topics as suicide, mental health and many others, talked about the “all hands-on deck” approach to helping his community deal with the important problems they face today.

Mayor Kamal Johnson is the first African American mayor of Hudson, elected in 2019 and re-elected in 2021. Noting the award is not about him but all of those in the city he further stated he is “inspired by our youth” and looks forward to their amazing accomplishments.

Elena Mosley, a Claverack resident, is the founding member of Operation Unite New York in Hudson whose mission is to produce well-rounded, progressive youth. Ms. Mosley said she has found a calling in working with youth and families and urged all to “do good and have fun.”

Pastor Victor Harris, the director of the Albany Adult & Teen Challenge in Ravena, works to help those “suffering from the scourge of addiction” through a faith-based program. He wanted to “thank God for his sovereign goodness” for their success.


Tina Dipper, of Hudson, is the executive director of the Perfect Ten Afterschool Program for girls in the city that includes yoga, horseback riding, outdoor nature classes and more. While accepting her award Ms. Dipper said, “It warms my heart to see people take time to honor those who do such great work for their community.”

Rebecca Flach, who currently holds leadership positions in three not-for-profit organizations in the RCS area, said she “is so thankful for all who put forth so much for the community.”

Marilyn Peters Houghtaling, who is active in many programs in the RCS community, particularly Pop Warner football, said she “is really proud of their youth programs” and urged all to “keep doing what you are doing because it’s really amazing.”

Jennifer Moore-Warren, a Coxsackie native, is involved in many aspects of her community, particularly firefighting and EMS. “I was raised to be a quiet servant. You see what you have to do and just go do it,” she said.

Dr. Elizabeth Boonhower was raised in Greenville and returned to her hometown following completion of her chiropractic education to open her own care and wellness practice. She also could not attend the event Friday night but her parents accept the plaque.


Columbia County Habitat for Humanity rehabilitates and builds homes for low-income families. Executive Director Al Bellenchia said, “We have an aggressive building plan over the next two-years.”

Ravena Shop ‘n’ Save’s Kyle Smith said, “We have so many fantastic employees working at the store. They are the ones who deserve the honor.”

TCI of New York, in Coeymans, offers a one-stop management solution for the recycling, disposal and repair of transformers and other oil-filled electrical equipment. Company representatives told those at the gala, “We are so privileged to be part of this community.”

Unbridled Thoroughbred Foundation, a 30-acre facility in Westerlo, is an advocacy and rescue organization. Founder Susan Kane said, “We have had the privilege of rescuing hundreds of horses and saving them from the slaughter pipeline.”

Plaza Diner is a staple in the Hudson area, offers a diverse cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Manager Ally Alesi said, in a proof about the diner, their customers are like family and “we are proud to give back to our community.”

At the conclusion of the evening’s festivities, CRIM President Mark Vinciquerra said, “It was our pleasure to host this inaugural event which brought together 20 unbelievably deserving honorees from our publication’s area. We look forward to continuing to host and modify this event in the future.”

The gala was catered by the Firehouse Café & Bistro of Adams, MA, which is owned by Mr. Dews, with the Bronte Roman Jazz and Pop band providing the music. Not to be forgotten are the primary sponsors of the festivities, especially Shop ‘n’ Save, LaFarge Holcim and TCI of New York.

“Bringing people together through the pages of our newspapers (print and digital) and in person is what I love about my job,” said Mr. Dews about the event.

Top 5IVE award winners, their friends and family mingle and enjoy the music prior to the beginning of the presentation ceremony at the Wire in Coxsackie Friday evening, March 31. Photo by Casey Albert
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