Michael Doliszny: Russ Berrie Making a Difference Award Winner
As a 2019 “Russ Berrie-Making A Difference Award” finalist, the Foundation honors individuals who perform extraordinary community service or unusual acts of heroism in our state, and those who have made a significant difference to the well-being of society. Through his hundreds of volunteer service hours over the past 5 years, the creation of an application to assist smart car drivers, and his computer skills training program to aid older veterans in improving their employment opportunities, Michael’s generosity of spirit has made New Jersey a better place. On Friday, May 3, he was one of nine New Jersey citizens to be given this award.
As a high school student, Michael saw an opportunity to support a sustainable environment in Cape May County to benefit communities, homeowners, and tourists. For his Eagle Scout project, he created an iOS mobile app to locate electric car charging stations. Michael’s project, which utilizes technology, required no purchases or building construction from the county. The mobile app was donated to the County and the local Chamber of Commerce for public service use.
In the fall of 2018, Michael decided to go above and beyond the Eagle Scout project. Concerned about high unemployment in the Cape May area among veterans, he met with veteran leaders and learned that many older veterans were intimidated by the use of computers and struggling while searching online for jobs or accessing VA benefits. He initiated a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Atlantic Cape Community College and the local volunteer veterans council to create a basic computer skills program, with a customized need-based curriculum designed to improve the unemployment and under-employment rates of older veterans throughout Cape May County.
The program was designed to teach them how to easily access their VA benefits online and apply for jobs with local businesses. He secured an agreement with the community college to use its lab, and he helped recruit an instructor for the courses. He raised almost $19,000 from citizens and small business to launch the program, which allows 375 veterans to take classes over a one-year period. Michael demonstrated a unique and uncommon ability to motivate and rally people from diverse demographics, professions and backgrounds to come together to support our veterans.