Lehigh Valley

Allentown Human Relations Commission honors those who work for community

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - City residents who demonstrate leadership and contribute to the community were recognized Tuesday night at the Allentown Human Relations Commission awards ceremony.

Winning the overall Excellence award was Milagros Canales, who has given back to the community in numerous ways, including opening up her home to people who need food or shelter, hosting several block parties each year and directing the Snow Angels, a youth based program which teaches leadership and assists the elderly.

Canales, the first woman of color to serve on the St. Luke’s Hospital Board, is known for her work in “building a bridge between the police and the community” and her assistance in redeveloping city parks, organizations and communities.

Commission Chair Jessica Lee Ortiz described Canales as one of the city’s “hidden gems,” who has “dedicated her time to everyone, anyone and everything except herself.”

Ortiz said that excellence is a “quality that people really appreciate, because it’s so hard to find.”

Taking home the Rising Star Award was Jenny Martinez, who does volunteer work in the community and participates in various clubs, including Students Against Destructive Behavior. Martinez, who Ortiz said “starts off by lighting up a room with her personality and smile,” is an ROTC leader and member of the band at William Allen High School.

Michael Lorenzo, who has planted trees in and volunteered throughout the community, won the Leadership Award. Lorenzo is an ROTC leader at William Allen High School and participates in many school clubs. Ortiz said that Lorenzo was a role model to his peers.

The Citizenship Award went to Phyllis Alexander, who holds community workshops and frequently does volunteer work. Ortiz said that Alexander is “considered to be an inspiration to the people of her community.”

Knoxley Brinx Samms, a community leader involved in numerous local churches, camps and business organizations, earned the Humanitarian Award. Samms has organized youth event and award ceremonies throughout the city and participates in events to feed hungry people and “helps to provide for the less fortunate,” Ortiz said.

David and Janet Keshel together won the Lifetime Achievement Award for, among other contributions, their work for the Mountainville Crime Watch group. David is the president of the crime watch and Janet has assisted him and has been a volunteer for over 15 years. She has held fundraisers for the crime watch as well as for the community police and fire departments.

Victor Martinez, who has aided the community by giving out dinners and money to the less fortunate, won the Business Person of the Year Award. Among his contributions to the community was organizing a fundraising and donation drive for Puerto Rico hurricane victims that collected over $50,000. Martinez has also spoken on behalf of causes such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and ending domestic violence.

Linda Vega received the Community Leadership Award for her work in the arts community as the founder of the non-profit community and arts center Rilyc, which mentors students in the arts. The group provides a platform for students to write poetry, do stage work and perform music and dance.

The Allentown Human Relations Commission was created as part of a 1960’s ordinance passed by the city that prohibits discrimination and seeks to ensure equal opportunity for all citizens in employment, housing and public accommodations. The commission is in charge of implementing the ordinance.

Mayor Ed Pawlowski congratulated the award winners, saying that it was a "tremendous night" and that the award recipients have made a "huge mark" on their communities and have "gone out of their way and made a difference in the lives of others."

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