Past Light of Dawnn Award Winners

2019 Light of Dawnn Award winners:

Ketsy Caraballo, Health Care Without Walls


Ketsy Caraballo is a Community Health Worker and Case Manager Doula at Health Care Without Walls. Her work, as well as her own life experience, are examples of courage and conviction. Ketsy is one of a five-member bilingual team from Health Care Without Walls that works on the Bridges to Moms program, which serves pregnant women experiencing homelessness to address their housing, personal safety, transportation, and food security needs at all stages of pregnancy. Ketsy uses a holistic approach to supporting mothers in her care. Ketsy’s own life has several parallels to those of her clients, which makes her a knowledgeable advocate on behalf of their health and safety during pregnancy. When she was 15, Ketsy was pregnant and experienced homelessness, receiving government assistance and living in shelters until she was able to secure public housing. Ketsy took advantage of resources available to her to advance her career built around serving others: she participated in the BU School of Public Health Resident Health Training Program, took a phlebotomy course at Roxbury Community College, and volunteered at the Boston VA Hospital. Ketsy provides women with an invaluable resource: a staunch advocate who is committed to the hard work and patience it takes to reach their personal goals. Ketsy is a shining example of what is possible for her clients to achieve with the help of someone in their corner. “I live in public housing in a community where I work. I see my clients walking on the street near my house,” she says. “At a certain point, the mothers I help become my family.”

Alma Huerta Dominguez, Boston Area Rape Crisis Center

AlmaAlma is the Bilingual Services Coordinator at Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC). Her coworkers calls is the nerve center, connecting survivors of sexual assault and their families to the programs and services at BARCC that can help them. She is an integral part of the team, connecting survivors and their loved ones with BARCC’s counseling, case management, and legal advocacy programs. An equally important part of Alma’s job is not just what she does, but how she does it: because of her consistently calm and kind attitude, survivors can feel safe with her  on the other end of the phone. Despite her long list of day-to-day responsibilities, Alma goes above and beyond to support the organization and its clients: she comes in early to set up for organizational events, sits on an informal BARCC committee that advocates for immigrants’ protection, and translates communications materials into Spanish. Her ability to move between English and Spanish-speaking worlds is an asset to BARCC. Born in Mexico and raised in a small Florida town, Alma can navigate the intersections of culture, language, and attitudes around sexual violence in order to best serve her clients. One client that Alma remembers drives this point home. She remembers working long hours to keep up with the deluge of calls that came in during the much-publicized Kavanaugh hearings. The client, a Spanish speaker, had seen the hearings on television and had decided to speak up about his own experience with sexual abuse. “This client saw Christine Blassey Ford’s testimony and said, ‘I recognized her pain,’” says Alma. “He said, ‘maybe I deserve to be heard, too.’”

Randy Wiskow, Cardinal Cushing Centers

randyRandy is the Art Director at Cardinal Cushing Centers. He develops the art curricula and provides instruction for all 115 students with intellectual disabilities and autism at Cardinal Cushing Centers’ Hanover school program. Randy welcomes all students with infectious positive energy, in part because it helps him achieve an important goal: developing students’ confidence and expanding their abilities to express themselves through art. “In the studio, I create an environment that allows students to achieve their highest level of success through challenging, innovative art,” he says. The students of Cardinal Cushing Centers were what drew Randy in. He begun running the summer art program at Cardinal Cushing Centers after a job at an ad agency left him feeling unfulfilled. 33 years later, he still eats lunch with the students, goes to recess, and maintains a studio where he can see into his students’ inner lives in a way that many cannot. The story of one student characterizes this innate ability. Randy recalls that during the first time he met Nick, who is on the autism spectrum, “he just paced up and down the room.” Randy knew that what Nick needed was space, safety, and time, and patiently gave Nick just that. After several weeks, Nick slowly opened up and began sharing with Randy his art- and what he shared was astounding. “His work developed into the most unbelievable abstracts,” Randy said. Now, Nick is a professional artist and his work has garnered an impressive following. It doesn’t matter to Randy if his students achieve professional artistic success like Nick. He just feels lucky to help them along on their journeys of self-expression. “Every day is a true joy and blessing,” he says.

Recipients of the 2019 Light of Dawnn Scholarship:

Angelina Botticelli, Boston Arts Academy

Etinnah Garcia, John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science

Dawry Ruiz, Roxbury Preparatory High School


2018 Light of Dawnn Award winners:

Khara Burns, Project Bread

Light-of-Dawnn-Preview-11-KharaKhara Burns has been working for Project Bread for 11 years, first as a Hotline Counselor and now as the Director of the Hotline. But her involvement with this organization and its mission of eradicating the root causes of hunger started long before joining the staff. Beginning at age 8, Khara joined her aunt in walking in the organization’s annual Walk for Hunger every year. “At that age, I didn’t know exactly what we were walking for,” she remembers. But as someone who grew up in a single-parent household that relied on public housing, food pantries, and other types of food assistance to make ends meet, Khara found her professional calling: using her ability to walk in the shoes of a hungry person to understand the particular needs of those who are food-insecure. “Coming from a household where my mom had to seek out those types of assistance, I can approach each caller’s needs from a place of love and understanding, not one of judgment.” Khara and her team of three assist approximately 30,000 callers each year in accessing immediate resources like food pantries, and long-term supports like SNAP benefits to work towards a Massachusetts where no one goes hungry. She goes above and beyond to provide callers with the resources they need to address their multiple needs: in under 10 minutes on the phone, she’s able to develop a relationship with them and is often brought to the point of tears from listening to their stories.

Mao Kang, UTEC, Inc.


Mao Kang is known to some as the unofficial “Mayor of Lowell.” When the UTEC, Inc. Streetworker ventures into Lowell looking to help young people who are seriously gang-involved or at risk, there’s not a street he travels down without saying hi to someone he knows or giving out a bunch of hugs. Throughout his 10-year tenure at UTEC and many more years spent volunteering at various nonprofits, Mao has touched thousands of lives. He is relentless in his pursuit of the best possible opportunities for success for the youth he works with. Mao’s presence can be likened to an incredible bright light, emanating joy, humility, and humor. The reason behind Mao’s drive to serve in this capacity has its roots in his own youth. After fleeing genocide from Cambodia as a child, Mao settled into life in Lowell. Like many of Lowell’s youth, he faced gangs, drugs, poverty, and a wealth of other challenges: “I didn’t know how to speak English, so I got picked on when I was younger. People would look at me differently.” As he grew older, Mao became involved with a gang and addicted to drugs. Things for Mao continued to deteriorate to the point where, “I almost took my own life,” he recalls. It took becoming a Buddhist monk for Mao to find the right track, and after ten years of volunteer service to the Lowell community, he found his calling at UTEC. “It’s more than a job to me. Helping young people is my passion.”

Shalaun Brown, Codman Square Public Charter School


Shalaun Brown is known by many a Codman Square Public Charter School teacher, student, and parent as the person who makes Codman run. She brings order to chaos; her role as Operations Manager is behind-the-scenes that encompasses things ranging from overseeing student transportation to managing the hiring and overseeing all state reporting. Shalaun is the first person at work every day and often the last person to leave at night. For years, she has even worked Saturdays to support their out-of-school-time programming. She’s the first face students, teachers, and staff see every day. Shalaun has an impressive ability to balance the importance of holding a firm line with students with demonstrating deep compassion. “Former students will come back to visit me and say they understand now through their own life experiences the guidance that I tried to provide for them. They know that what I said was coming from a place of love.”

In 2009, soon after joining Codman, Shalaun lost her son Anthony to gun violence. She had lost Anthony’s father to gun violence when he was two years old. These were traumatic, life-changing experiences. Shalaun has kept this part of her life very personal and has channeled her energy into good by focusing her time and attention on building a strong, supportive school community for generations of Codman students. On several occasions, she has opened up to other parents and students who have been affected by similar tragedies and provided support through sharing her own experience and journey to move forward with her life. “Those were definitely dark times then, but being here at Codman with the students, I felt love every day,” she recalls. Keeping the memory of Anthony close fuels her work at Codman. “He walks with me every day. I see his smile every day. I feel encouraged by him.”

Recipients of the 2018 Light of Dawnn Scholarship:

Bilguissa Barry, Boston Scholar Athletes

Kaylene Sheran, ZUMIX

Wooddynne Dejeanlouis, West End House Boys and Girls Club


2017 Light of Dawnn Award winners:

Dawnmarie Salmons, Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston: Edgerley Family South Boston ClubDawnmarie

A Dorchester native, Dawnmarie Salmons has been part of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, Edgerley Family South Boston club since she was 12 years old. Dawnmarie is the Music Clubhouse Director overseeing all of the clubs music programs. When she first started this role at the young age of 18, she was operating music programs out of a small office that could barely fit six students. Today, after a lot of hard work, fundraising, and seeking out partnerships, the Clubhouse now boasts five classrooms, a recording studio, and other state-of-the-art features. Dawnmarie also started a program, Positive Notes, through which she mentors kids to give back to their communities. The program is open to children ages six through 18. “Music is empowering. It’s all about teaching the kids how to give back with the music.” Dawnmarie is currently pursuing a master’s degree from Berklee College of Music in music therapy.

JuanJuan Manuel Cantu, Jr., Hyde Square Task Force

The oldest of three, Juan has always been driven to lead. But, he doesn’t want to just lead, he wants to bring others along with him. Juan is the College Success Coordinator at Hyde Square Task Force. He supports high school students and college students to stick with their educations and overcome hurdles including needing to work full time, supporting families, and financial strains. Now he keeps up with more than 75 youth mentees as they pursue higher education. Through text messages, email, phone calls, and personal meetings, he supports them. Many of the youth he works with affectionately call him “tio.” Juan had not even considered applying to college until his high school English teacher pushed him. He wants to do the same, to push his students to persevere, to get an education, and ultimately, to improve their lives. Juan is now pursuing a master’s degree in Education and Urban Education Policy.

ThaTha Thai, Roca, Inc.

Tha is Assistant Director of Roca Boston, where he has worked for 11 years to disrupt the cycle of incarceration and poverty by helping young people transform their lives. A previous employee of Dorchester Youth Collaborative, Tha was quickly promoted to Lead Youth Worker at Roca and was the obvious choice to build the nonprofit’s new site in Boston. He is the person everyone calls when they need advice, support, or direction. He uses every moment as a teaching moment. Tha plans to return to school to study trauma informed therapy.

Recipients of the 2017 Light of Dawnn Scholarship:

Justina Riopelle, Big Sister Association of Greater Boston

Sominisha Wright, Beacon Academy

Noor Al-saad, Project 351

Read a recap from 2015’s award reception.