Seaford 9/11 Memorial Committee hosts 2024 Patriot Award dinner


Six graduating seniors from Seaford High School were presented with the Patriot Award during a dinner ceremony on June 24, in remembrance of five alumni who died on 9/11.

This year’s recipients — Amanda Beadle, Jillian Gross, Daniella Stek, Michael Wittenstein, Angelina Fernandez and Alexandra Podesta — were announced at the graduation ceremony on June 15. They were each presented with the award and a $2,000 stipend at the June 24 dinner at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury.

The Seaford 9/11 Memorial Committee, a nonprofit organization, was established in 2002 to honor the memory of five Seaford High School alumni who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. The victims were brothers Thomas and Timothy Haskell, John Perry, Robert Sliwak and Michael Wittenstein. Perry was a New York City police officer; the Haskells were firefighters; and Sliwak and Wittenstein both worked for Cantor Fitzgerald at the World Trade Center.

Memorial committee chairman Tom Condon, who started his teaching career at the high school in 1969, knew the five men when they were students. He was a social studies teacher for Sliwak and Tom Haskell, a guidance counselor for Perry, and knew Wittenstein through student activities.

After the events of 9/11, Condon met with their families to figure out how best to honor their memory.

“All five guys loved their experience at Seaford High School,” Condon said, “and they loved the Seaford community, and (the families) wanted to do something positive to always remember their lost sons and brothers.”

During the committee’s inaugural year, ground was broken on a memorial at the high school, with five plaques dedicated to the alumni who had died, and the Patriot Award was created. According to Condon, the award is given to five graduating Seaford High School seniors for their service, character and commitment during their high school years.

The committee, working with the PTA, usually selects five students for the award, but this year, six students were chosen, each receiving a $2,000 stipend. Students apply anonymously and are selected based on questions they answer on an application. The questions include how involved applicants are in taking on activities in the school and the community, and how service, character and commitment factor into their lives, according to Condon.

Since 2002, Condon said the committee has given out 118 awards and around $250,000 in scholarship money.

Wittenstein, whose uncle was one of the five alumni who died on 9/11, said he was shocked and amazed to receive the award.

“I’m at a loss for words,” he said. “I’m so happy to receive this award, especially just being able to honor my family like that.”

Reflecting on his journey and the support he received from his time in Seaford, Wittenstein also expressed deep gratitude for the community that has shaped his path to receiving the Patriot Award.

“Everyone is just so connected, and everyone will help each other when you need it,” he said. “Everyone is just so kind and loving towards each other.”

Beadle said she understands it takes a special person to receive the award, and is grateful for her friends and family, in addition to the families of the five alumni.

“I am truly beyond honored,” Beadle said. “Words can’t even express it.”

Podesta said, “I’m very honored and humbled to receive such a prestigious award like this. It’s highly respected in the Seaford community, and being considered and getting the award is just amazing.”

Stek, who also was honored and surprised to receive the Patriot Award, said many students in her graduating class exhibited the traits that the award stands for: service, character and commitment.

Stek serves as a volunteer junior firefighter with the Seaford Fire Department, and is planning to attend Drexel University in Philadelphia, where she will enroll in its nursing program.

“I just love helping people, and I love being there for someone,” Stek said. “It warms my heart to help someone.”

Patriot Award recipients also received a Certificate of Recognition from Town of Hempstead Councilman Christopher Carini and State Senator Steve Rhoads.

This year, the Seaford 9/11 Memorial Committee also presented the Honorary Patriot Award to three Seaford adults, who are role models in the community: Sergio DeCiantis, Kevin O’Reilly and the Rev. Joseph Fitzgerald.

DeCiantis, owner of Cara Mia, a Seaford restaurant, has been active in community service programs through the Seaford Chamber of Commerce, according to Condon.

Rev. Fitzgerald, from St. William the Abbot RC Church in Seaford, has been involved in several programs throughout the community, such as the 9/11 Memorial Committee and the Seaford Wellness Council, a non-profit organization that assists in the improvement of the community’s quality of life.

O’Reilly, a Seaford High School math teacher for more than 20 years, is “the epitome of a dedicated educator,” according to Condon.

“He gives so much to his students over and over and over,” Condon said of O’Reilly. “He has such a reputation for bringing the best out of his students.”