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A celebration of diversity in the workplace

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Merry Mourouzis, who came to the U.S. from Indonesia and has Chinese ancestry, recalled for her White Plains audience an amusing instance of her culture’s language imported to a doctor’s office here. Mourouzis, payroll manager at Hiscox Inc. in White Plains who led the insurance company’s creation of an automated online system for its employee stock purchase program that now is used in 11 countries, was being honored with the Visionary Award at the inaugural Celebrating Diversity in Business event presented by the Westchester and Fairfield County Business Journals.

A visiting friend from Indonesia was feeling ill — “under the weather,” as one would say in American culture. Accompanied by Mourouzis to a medical office, she was asked about her symptoms.

“The wind enters my body,” her ailing friend replied. It’s a common Indonesian expression when someone is not feeling well.

“That’s the beauty of diversity,” said Mourouzis. “To make the world so colorful.” The payroll manager was one of five finalists receiving awards at an evening program that recognized 40 “champions” of diversity in the workplace introduced by Geneive Brown Metzger, diversity partner of Westfair Communications, the Business Journals’ parent company.

Keynote speaker Sheryl Battles, vice president for communications and diversity strategy at Pitney Bowes Inc., said the corporate awards event for the first time in Westchester was “celebrating the power of differences to make a difference.”

Noting the fractious, anxiety-inducing state of public discourse over people’s differences, Battles cited a Chines proverb: “In times of great crisis, some build bunkers and others build windmills.” With windmills, “You have to elevate and get a broader perspective of what is going on” and harness “the winds of change,” she said.

Battles praised the Oscar-nominated movie “Hidden Figures,” the story of three mathematically brilliant African-American women struggling to overcome segregation and discrimination in a high-achieving, predominantly white workforce in the early years of the NASA space program, as an example of “the power of diversity and inclusion to get you even to the moon.”

“When people are included, they own the outcome,” Battles said. Inclusion is “the X factor” in the success of corporations harnessing the power of diversity.

Reynold Alabre, a senior accountant and franchise owner at H&R Block in Bridgeport, won the Outstanding Entrepreneur Award. Alabre, who launched his financial firm Rey Group as a college junior, credited diversity with landing him a job at a critical time when he struggled to find employment in his field.

Lindsay Farrell, winner of the Most Socially Conscious Award, is president and CEO of The Open Door Family Medical Centers headquartered in Ossining. “I got lucky,” she said, when discovering in the early 1980s the nonprofit organization serving low-income residents with improved access to health services.

Leading Open Door for 19 years after working 12 years there as operations director and director of development, Farrell said her life and work are in alignment. “It allows you to do your best work and to be a complete person,” she said.

Marie O’Connor, winner of the Most Promising Millennial Award, last year founded Nordic Cryotherapy in Eastchester, the first company providing cryotherapy treatment in Westchester for quicker physical recovery by athletes and overall health and wellness. A registered nurse with a doctoral degree in nursing practice, O’Connor said she launched the business while pursuing an MBA program at Mercy College that allows her to obtain her degree while running her business. She will graduate this spring.

Jennifer Ruoff was honored with the Standard-Bearer Award for her unpaid work as executive director of the Irvington Diversity Foundation, a nonprofit she helped create that is believed to be the first Westchester organization formed to work with schools, police and the community to foster a community of inclusion.

In a time of divisive political ideology, “We can give the next generation a choice” by offering an ideology “where we treat others with dignity and respect,” Ruoff said.

She cited the logo of the Irvington foundation she leads: “We are all different together.”

The other 35 diversity champions are:

Ntim Abrokwa, sales director, Alumnus Apparel LLC; Fannie Aleman, founder and CEO, MyQTB.com — International Bilingual Business Directory; Katie Banzhaf, executive director, STAR Inc., Lighting the Way; Tyneadrian Bledsoe, CEO, Delia of Behavioral Solutions NY, Inc.; Izora Ebron, associate executive director, Open Door Shelter Inc.; Delia Farquharson, concierge therapist, Executive Medical Solutions; Jorge Garcia, director of New England operations, A Plus Technology and Security Solutions; Danielle Gesualdi, assistant project manager, Skanska USA Building Inc.; Joan Grangenois-Thomas, principal, JGT Public Relations; Jessica Grossarth, partner, Pullman & Comley LLC; LaQuita Harris, employee relations manager, The WorkPlace; Wiley Harrison, president, Business of your Business, LLC; Jacqueline Hattar, partner, Wilson Elser; Michelle Hopson, principal. Hopson Consultancy, LLC; Sabrina Hosang Jordan, CEO, Caribbean Food Delights; Mona Lau, president, M Lau Advisors, LLC; Marcia MacNeill, financial service professional, New York Life Insurance Co. Allison Madison, president, Madison Approach Staffing, Inc. Nora Madonick, founder and CEO, Arch Street Communications, Inc.; Jackqueline Mclean-Markes, dentist and owner, Mcleansmiles; Nelson Merchan, CEO, CLICROI LLC & CT SBDC, and business advisor at Small Business Development Center; Agathe Ngo Likoba, president and CEO, Likoba, LLC; Christopher Oldi, supervising attorney, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley; Nickay Piper, managing director, Piper & Co.; Sharon Rowe, CEO and founder, Eco-Bags Products, Inc.; Mecca Santana, vice president, diversity & community relations/Chief Diversity Officer, Westchester Medical Center Health Network; Jacqueline Vazquez, CEO and event planning specialist, Lifetime Events by Jacqueline; Chanel Ward, associate director, diversity education and training, New York University Kimmel Center for University Life; Jonelle Ward, director of outreach, Alzheimer’s Association, Hudson Valley, New York Chapter; Brandalyn Williams, co-owner, WillYUM Spice, Inc., and makeup artist and owner, WillYUM Enterprises, Inc.;, Evena Williams, senior HR leader, Stamford Health; Desiree Wolfe, senior vice president, director of product management, Webster Bank; Larry Woodward, president and CEO, Graham Stanley Advertising; Joshua Worby, artistic and executive director, Westchester Philharmonic; and Glenn Wu, mortgage loan originator, Tompkins Financial Bank.

Celebrating Diversity in Business was sponsored by Greater Hudson Bank and Stamford Health. Diversity advocates for the event were Arch Street Communications, Caribbean Food Delights, PFK O’Connor Davies, Pullman & Comley LLC and Skanska.

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