Heroes Honored with “Sweetwater Clifton City Spirit” Award

Orly Wahba of Brooklyn, NY(right) was named the Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award for the month of April for creating a nonprofit organization that empowers others to do simple acts of kindness. Orly Wahba is the founder of Life Vest Inside, a non-profit grassroots organization, based in New York City, whose simple mission is to encourage others to spread happiness through small acts of kindness. Considering kindness to be a “life vest” in life, Wahba works to empower youth to make real and positive change in the people around them. Wahba has worked extensively with teens in her community and has been a middle school teacher for seven years. By instilling self esteem and self-value in her students and many others, she has impacted thousands of lives. Orly was presented the award on April 14th by John Starks during the Knicks vs. Pacers match up. She chose to donate the $2,000 back into her nonprofit to continue her community activation and passion for acts of kindness all over the world. PHOTO GALLERY



Kyle Orent of Malverne, NY(left) was named the Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award for the month of March for his continuous fundraising efforts for charity. After receiving a lemonade stand for his seventh birthday, Kyle Orent used the funds he made to help others and set a lofty goal of securing $20,000 for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide highly trained dogs to assist children and adults with disabilities. He continuously surpassed his goals along with the help of celebrities that signed dog collars that he auctioned off and helped him raise over $135,000 for CCI. He is a true philanthropist, donating all his proceeds even the awards he receives to charity. Kyle’s motto is simple: You’re never too little to make a difference. Kyle was honored on center court during the Memphis Grizzlies game on March 27th where he was presented his medal by Knicks Legend John Starks. PHOTO GALLERY


Lena Franklin of St. Albans, NY was the recipient of the Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award for the month of February for her dedication to the Special Olympics and her assistance in raising over $10,000. The award, named in honor of Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, the first African-American to play for the Knicks, recognizes individuals who have made a significant difference in the lives of others. Lena, a Special Olympics athlete, is often sidelined due her special needs and injuries. To stay involved, and to help others faced with similar adversity, she created Team Lena, a group of personally recruited volunteers that give their time at events and fundraise to allow other athletes to compete in various tournaments. In addition, Lena gave a heartwarming speech to over 600 guests and helped raise over $10,000 for the organization at the 2013 Special Olympics Gala. Lena earns this honor due to her infectious and motivational spirit that translates to all those that come in contact with her. Lena and her tremendous efforts were recognized at the Knicks vs. Golden State match up on February 27, 2013 and was presented her award by Knicks Legend John Starks.




On January 27th, The New York Knicks honored Taylor Ryan of East Islip, NY as the recipient of the Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award for the month of January for her holiday toy drive, which benefited children at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center, a Garden of Dreams Foundation partner organization. Taylor was first diagnosed with Diabetes Insipidus at the age of three and over time, the disease progressed into Histiocytosis, a rare blood disease that causes an overproduction of white blood cells, leading to organ failure and tumor formation. After several years as a patient at Cohen Children’s Medical Center undergoing chemotherapy treatment, Taylor wanted to do something to touch the lives of other children facing similar circumstances. She decided to organize a toy drive to bring holiday cheer. With the help of her family, Taylor received over 300 toys the first year, catching the attention of New York Rangers Legend Adam Graves who helped her deliver the toys. With the success of the drive, she decided to host a second toy drive this past holiday season, which garnered over 500 toys, all while undergoing treatment herself. Although treatment prevented Taylor from delivering the toys this year, her prognosis is promising and she has used her condition as a gateway to help others.
Taylor was awarded this medal by Knicks Legend John Starks at center court. She also received a $2,000 check to go towards any charity of her choice. 



In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, many civilian heroes made an impact as they sprang into action to assist their neighbors. On Friday, December 23rd, Ellen Abbate was honored with the Sweetwater Clifton award for being a Good Samaritan, Staten Island native and long time Red Cross volunteer. Before the storm hit, Ellen and her Red Cross “disaster action” team gathered supplies including blankets, snacks and water which they distributed in the hardest hit neighborhoods once the storm passed. They drove through communities like midland beach and south beach, offering assistance to storm-weary residents wherever they could – under the direction of Ellen’s leadership. In reflecting on these events, Ellen stated “I volunteer because I believe in service, and because I love this borough and this city.” Ellen Abbate was presented with the medal by Knicks Legend John Starks and received a $2,000 donation that will go to the Red Cross. 




On Friday, November 30th, The New York Knickerbockers recognized Peter Vadola, Dale Mapp and Danny Idiaquez of Midland Beach, NY, the recipients of the Sweetwater Clifton "City Spirit" Award for the month of November for their heroic efforts to usher more than 200 Staten Island residents to safety after Hurricane Sandy devastated the area. The award, named in honor of Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton, the first African-American to play for the Knicks, recognizes individuals who have made a significant difference in the lives of others. Each month, winners are chosen by members of the Knicks front office staff and honored at center court during a Knicks game with a $2,000 donation in their names made out to a charity of their choice.

More than five feet of water flooded the streets of Midland Beach on Staten Island shortly after Sandy struck. As Peter Vadola worked to get his family to safety, he discovered an eight-vessel motorboat and decided to use the boat to help others in need. After rescuing Dale, Danny and their families, they then decided to assist Peter in bringing people to dry land. The men worked day and night, canvassing the neighborhood, helping those who were trapped in their homes and vehicles. In total, Peter, Dale and Danny had helped more than 200 people to safety.

As the Knicks took on the Washington Wizards, Peter Vadola, Dale Mapp and Danny Idiaquez accepted the Sweetwater Clifton City Spirit Award presented by Knicks Legend John Starks at Madison Square Garden.



On Friday, November 9th the New York Knicks honored four special individuals on court for their heroic actions during Hurricane Sandy on Monday, October 29th. These Individuals were honored with the “Sweetwater Clifton City Spirit” Award in honor of Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, the first African American to play for the Knicks. This award recognizes those who have made a difference in our lives.

Jon Candelaria of New York, looked out the window of his Upper East Side apartment and witnessed a taxi trying to make his way into the entrance of the FDR drive, but whose progress was halted by dangerous flood waters that were rapidly filling up the vehicle. Without hesitation, Mr. Candelaria left his apartment and raced to assist the cab driver, who by that point was stuck in frigid water up to his chin. During a moment when the wind had subsided, Jon pulled the cab driver from the taxi, hoisting him over his shoulder to carry him to safer grounds – putting his own life on the line to rescue a fellow New Yorker. He was honored with the Sweetwater Clifton Award by Knicks Legend John Starks.

The other individuals that were honored at the game were of Garden of Dreams partner organization, NYU Langone Medical Center. Gail Geraghty, a senior pediatric nurse clinician who oversaw the many nurses that tended to their small patients in the NICU, and then made several trips down the stairs with the groups responsible for getting the babies safely transferred to another hospital while hurricane sandy raged outside. Doctor Pradeep Mally is a pediatrician and neonatologist, responsible for medical care in the NICU. He helped oversee the immediate care of the babies when the power went out, and then participated in the teams that walked the preemies down the 9 flights of stairs when the hurricane caused evacuation of the hospital. And lastly Erica Chong, who was one of the several respiratory therapists who helped manage NICU ventilators to ensure the batteries lasted while transport teams organized, and joined the teams that brought these critical babies down the 9 flights of stairs during the evacuation. These heroic individuals were honored at half court by Knicks Legend Walt “Clyde” Frazier.