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Two Local Women Receive Making a Difference Awards

The Russ Berrie Making a Difference Award has been recognizing New Jersey changemakers for almost 30 years. Established by the late Russell Berrie and hosted by Ramapo College of New Jersey, the awards honor New Jersey residents whose community service and heroic acts have made an impact on the lives of others.

This year, awards totaling $167,500 were recently presented to 12 honorees, including two local women. Kristy Whilden of Elmer was a music educator for 10 years when she learned that she was losing her hearing due to progressive sensorineural hearing loss. She went back to school and obtained a degree in Deaf Studies/American Sign Language (ASL). Kristy and her daughter Hailey co-founded HandsUp Silent Theater in Millville that has produced unique and impactful performances and events for the d/Deaf, Hard Of Hearing, and hearing communities to enjoy as one. Kristy received a $25,000 award.

An award of $7,500 was presented to Trinity Jagdeo of Vineland. Inspired by her lifelong friendship with Alexus Dick, who has spinal muscular atrophy, Trinity founded From We Can’t to We Can when she was just 17 years old. As an author and advocate, she has created a book series featuring real children with disabilities as superheroes and curated fashion shows and other events that normalize and celebrate differences.

To learn more about the 2024 Russ Berrie Making a Difference Honorees, visit