Since 1994 The May W. Newburger Women’s Roll of Honor, named after the late activist and elected official who served as the first female North Hempstead supervisor from 1994 to 2003, celebrates women who have contributed to their community or have accomplished significant achievements through public or private efforts.
Desiree Woodson of Manhasset, 48, one of the 2022 honorees, was grateful to be awarded alongside Nazarie Williams, who had a profound impact in Woodson’s formative years when she was growing up in New Cassel, Westbury.
Woodson could not attend the 29th annual breakfast ceremony on June 24 but sent her brother to accept her award.
“I remember as a young girl when my mom was a single mom with three kids, we used to go to the after-school programs where Mrs. Williams used to prepare dinner for us,” Woodson said in an interview. “She was very instrumental and a part of the reason why I grew up and became a service worker in youth programs. So when I saw she was being honored, I would have loved to have attended to see if she remembers me and tell her what I remembered of her.”
Williams was born and raised in Northern Florida near Tallahassee alongside her three younger siblings by her mother and maternal grandmother. She and most of her immediate and extended family members worked as sharecroppers, picking fruit, vegetables and cotton.
“I’m thankful for my grandmother because she taught me a lot of things that I didn’t know how to do or what to do,” said Williams. “That caused me now to do what I’m doing to try to help other people to have a better life and help people who are having problems … I’ve gone through a lot of things with people in this community.”
She learned how to cook at an early age from her mother and as a teenager became the cook for the landowner, meaning she no longer had to work in the fields.
Williams was able to graduate high school but became a single mother at the age of 21. She decided to move to Westbury with her two daughters in 1969 because she wanted better prospects for herself and her children.
In 1970, Williams gave birth to a third daughter, and she instilled in her girls the value of education and work ethics. All three of her daughters earned college degrees: one with an AA in Occupational Studies, one with a Master of Arts in Child Psychology, and one with a BS in mechanical engineering. Williams herself graduated from Adelphi University and received an AA degree in social work with a focus in educational studies.
Williams has volunteered for numerous organizations over the years, including the Hicksville/Levittown Head Start program as a teacher’s aide in 1972, the New Cassel Health Center Social Service Coordinator from 1998 to 1999, and the Seventh Day Adventist Food Pantry as a food distributor from 2001 to 2002, and the Westbury United Methodist Church Food Pantry Chairperson from 2014 to the present. She has been an active member of the church for over 52 years.
Williams’ awards and recognitions include the Kiwanas Club of New Cassel Outstanding Community Work Award, Baha’i Center of Nassau County Community Service Award, Westbury United Methodist Men Community Service Award, New York State Assembly Citation, Nassau County Office of the Executive Citation, Office of the Nassau County Comptroller Certificate of Recognition, New York State Senate Proclamation, Town of North Hempstead Proclamation, and the May W, Newburger Women’s Roll of Honor Award.
The award brought Williams back into contact with Woodson, who had a profound impact on the direction of her life.
“I was very glad to be there with the people that were there to support me, my family and the community members from my church,” Williams said about the breakfast. “It made me feel good. I’m also glad that she [Woodson] now says things about what I did for her; what we did for each other and helped me to grow and help her to grow. I’m very proud of that.”
Woodson began volunteering from the age of 12 with the Westbury Youth Services Project before moving to Manhasset as a junior in high school. She has been a resident for the past 30 years.
“It was a big cultural change, but one of the best changes ever,” said Woodson. “I came from an underprivileged neighborhood and the school there. The idea was just to get the kids to graduate high school. There was really no planning for most of the kids beyond that, so coming to Manhasset I had never heard of the word SAT or ACT for that matter.”
Despite also being a single mother to a six-month-old son at the time, Woodson continued volunteering in her new environment and became one of the founding members of her high school’s minority student organization, Voices of Youth. At VOY, Woodson organized fund-raisers for local charities that sent groups of students to college campuses in New York and other states.
After graduating high school, Woodson went to school for nursing but did not finish, but that did not stop her from pursuing greatness.
Woodson had retired from the Manhasset library back in 2008 due to health issues stemming from consequences of bladder cancer. She was diagnosed with bladder cancer when she was 31.
“I am blessed with the fact that it was found early and that they were able to remove half of my bladder,” said Woodson. “I just deal with the consequences of that now, but I’m here to talk about it.”
By 2019, Woodson had had 13 spinal surgeries and had a spinal cord stimulator implanted in her back, which monitors and controls pain. However, through the process of changing the battery and multiple tests, doctors discovered a tumor in her colon.
“I had to have emergency surgery to take care of that,” said Woodson, “but had it not been for doing things on my back, it might not have been discovered when it was discovered, which is what saved my life.”
Despite all of these challenges, as well as being a single mother to her son Todd, 31, and daughter Jahnaee, 23, Woodson continues to volunteer to help her community.
Woodson is currently the chairwoman of the Board of Directors of the Manhasset/Great Neck EOC Hagedorn Community Center and a board member of the Manhasset School District’s Teacher Resource Center. She is also a tenant commissioner for the Town of North Hempstead Housing Authority.
Woodson’s awards and recognitions include the National Association for Advancement of Colored People Game Changer Award in 2018, New York State Senate Commendation Award in 2019, the Town of Hempstead Black History Month Honoree in 2020, and the nomination to the Town of North Hempstead Cannabis Task Force and the Nassau County Citizen Police.
“The advice I would give to young women, no matter how young or old you are, we all have something to offer,” said Woodson. “Even when people count you out, just be the change you can be and try to make a positive change in any way you can, whether it be small, big. Whatever it is, we all have something to offer, even when you think you don’t.”
May Newberger, for whom the award is named, would have agreed. She was a member of the New York State Assembly from 1978 to 1986 and a powerful advocate for women’s rights and other issues. She died in Great Neck in 2012 at the age of 92.
This year’s honorees include Moriah Adamo of Roslyn Heights, Janice Chew of Great Neck, Dr. Judith B. Esterquest of Manhasset, Prabha Golia of Manhasset, Marylou Grady of Albertson, Denise Heckelman of Mineola, Arezou Hariri Tolou of Kings Point, Diane Venezia Livingston of Port Washington, Carmen Lloyd of Westbury, Dr. Tess Ma of Roslyn Heights, Maryann McDermott of Williston Park, Dr. Subhadra Nori of Old Westbury, Dr. Cynthia Orellana of Westbury, Maria ‘Cina’ Agostiho Palumbo of Mineola, Moji Pourmoradi of Great Neck, Lily Soo of New Hyde Park, Nazarie Williams of Westbury, and Desiree Woodson of Manhasset