This year’s HFNJ Lester Z. Lieberman Leadership Award for Humanism in Healthcare was presented to Michele Adubato, CEO of The North Ward Center in Newark.
Michele grew up in Newark’s North Ward in a family well-known in Essex County for their community work and political involvement. The youngest of the three children of Steve Adubato Sr. and Fran Adubato, Michele says that she cannot remember a time when she didn’t understand that she was there for the greater good. Her parents taught this to her not through instruction, but by demonstrating their values on a daily basis.
Whenever Michele sees people marginalized and not treated fairly, whether because of race, ethnicity, religion or disability, she is motivated to right the wrong. She loved being a special education teacher, but thought that the school could be better run and so went back to get her Master’s degree in School Administration and became the principal there to make the needed changes. And when parents expressed their anxiety to her, year after year, about what would happen to their sons and daughters on the autism spectrum when they aged out of the education system, she founded the Center for Autism to provide the supportive, collegial, encouraging atmosphere they need to live their best lives.
Michele always felt, however, that her life would not be complete without leading the North Ward Center after her father’s retirement. Now its CEO, she is changing the course of the Center, building an even better and stronger community through education, advocacy, and the empowerment of clients and residents – people of all ages who come to the Center from all parts of the city. She is determined that The North Ward Center will become a national model for what a community non-profit should be.
When Michele talks about the school children or seniors or people with disabilities who participate in Center programs and activities, her eyes often well up with tears and her voice gets raspy with emotion. She cares deeply about the people she and her colleagues serve. “I want to live my life as a humanitarian,” she told us. “You get real happiness from giving. It’s part of who I am, not what I do.”
For all these reasons and more, The Healthcare Foundation is proud to have presented its 2019 Lester Z. Lieberman Leadership Award for Humanism in Healthcare to Michele Adubato.