TOFA delivers first-of-its-kind Presidential Volunteer Service Awards
NEW YORK—For the first time in its 12-year history, The Outstanding Filipinos in America (TOFA) Awards feted its very own volunteers at a first-of-its-kind Filipino American community event at the Triad Theater, July 23. The event marked the launch of the Annual TOFA Presidential Volunteer Service Awards.
“The first Annual TOFA Presidential Volunteer Service Awards is a first-of-its-kind in our community. When TOFA got certified last year as a channel for achievement awards signed by no less than the President of the United States, I could not hold my excitement,” said Elton Lugay, founder and CEO of TOFA Awards.
“TOFA is nothing without its hard-working volunteers who work tirelessly year after year, event after event, to make sure that the Annual TOFA Awards at Carnegie Hall run as seamlessly as possible,” Lugay added.
It was a bittersweet moment for the 27 volunteers as each took to the stage to receive the presidential certificate. The first batch of presidential volunteer awards recipients included performing artists Denise Kara Almario, 12 years old, and Art Neeko delos Santos, 13 years old; future nurse and LGBT community production staff Vincent Cervantes; resourceful educator Edchelle Rellama; JCI Queens founder and catering company owner Carolyn Marticio; female impersonator Boots Babushka who is famous as “The Other Pilita”; Zero-Waste, Carbon-Neutral Caterer events coordinator Daniel Oyan; Dagitab Foundation founder Jovic Cruz; and JCI Queens co-founder Donna Bantug.
“Volunteers have been a big part of the Filipino community, whether they go to the Philippines on medical missions, humanitarian missions to help in anti-poverty efforts or whether they are here in big social events such as Independence Day Parades or cultural roadshows,” said Philippine Ambassador Mario L. De Leon, who was consul-general to New York from 2011 to 2016, a staunch supporter of TOFA since its inception.
TOFA Performing Artists began as regulars for the annual TOFA Awards night celebrated since 2011 at Carnegie Hall, except for 2020 when the show went virtual due to Covid-19 restrictions. Over the years, the organization has expanded to the larger community, including Filipino heritage nights celebrated year-round in NBA and NFL games and mainstream venues like Madison Square Garden, Barclays Center, Citi Field and Radio City Music Hall. TOFA volunteers have also served as ticket takers, test checkers during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, parade marshals and even garbage collectors at NYC Pride celebrations.
The second awards presentation had professional flutist Melody Ursua Kelly, music ministers Ron Joseph and Ericah Laxamana; family medicine nurse practitioner Georgio Dano; singer Michelle Pross better known as Michelle Michelle; recording artists Temi Tecson and Rasmin Lumagbas; Geo Rebucas, who is famous as the “Mariah Carey of the Philippines”; and trans singer/songwriter Toni Gado receiving their presidential certificates.
“Events like this [TOFA Presidential Volunteer Service Awards] are very important because a lot of the good work is done behind the scenes,” said Steven Raga, the official Democratic candidate for Assembly District 30. “Not everybody gets a photo and tagged on Facebook sometimes, so we have to acknowledge and not just celebrate and thank them but take pride in them,”
TOFA also presented presidential volunteer awards to long-time partners Dick Carver and Josie Poliquit, whose philanthropy has helped a lot of producers and singers in NYC; Frances Gia Capistrano, part owner of Excelsior Physical Therapy and Rehab; EMB Cargo president Bong Echavez, professional DJ Dennis Almario, former first lady of Talisay Association USA Jocelyn Luna delos Santos; NYC Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications senior engineer Sherwin Reyes; TOFA Board members Vicente Gesmundo – community leader, artist advocate, concert promoter and producer, and M EVENTS founder Miles dela Cruz.
“Whenever TOFA endeavors to promote, produce and present, TOFA team members give of themselves. They give their precious time, their exceptional talents and their invaluable service only to reach out, engage and energize the people of the community,” said lawyer Elizabeth Cueva, human rights specialist with the New York State Division of Human Rights.
Flying in from Los Angeles, Geo Rebucas was the evening’s headline performer. Front acts were young talents Zaira Soriano and Ellis Young with Cueva, De Leon and Raga slated as keynote speakers.