NAACP gathers to honor noteworthy members of community

Oct. 7—BROOKFIELD — It was a night of honors for those attending Thursday night's 57th Freedom Fund Banquet hosted by the Mercer County Unit of the NAACP.

Hundreds turned out for the event held at Tiffany Manor, Brookfield.

Interim President Deanna Yarboro-Brown opened the event by introducing 14-year-old Mia Clemons, who read her poem about the experience of having been a passenger in a fatal bus accident last November on Interstate 79.

Clemons, a freshman at Lincoln Park School for the Performing Arts in Midland, Pa., will be the Mercer County Unit's first participant in the national NAACP's Afro-Academic Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics program. She is a previous recipient of the unit's Young Emerging Leaders Award.

Others honored Thursday:

— James E. Mendez Award: Lunell Dawson. The award is given only to members of the NAACP. Dawson has served in a number of capacities with the Mercer County chapter.

— Frances Hooks Award for Outstanding Leadership: Dr. April Torrence. A Hermitage resident, Torrence is chief executive officer and founder of Zion Education Center in Farrell. Torrence has raised over $2.5 million for educational and employment opportunities for Mercer County disadvantaged families. She also has developed initiatives for other non-profit groups such as The Children and Youth Prevention Empowerment Network and The Operation Lighthouse Project.

— Beautification Award: Dante Marshall. Raised in Sharon and Farrell, Marshall graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. After serving in the Navy, Marshall has concentrated on an art career in Los Angeles, where he lives. He specializes in oil paintings and murals and has painted several murals with local themes in the Shenango Valley.

— Next Generation Leader Award: LaShay Nixon. A Farrell native and a Sharon High School graduate, Nixon started her own cookie business. She also is chief learning officer at the Community Arts Experience, a center in Farrell that helps in a number of programs such as education and health wellness.

— Award of Distinction: Mark Longietti. The outgoing 7th District state representative from Hermitage has represented the area since 2006. Over his career, Longietti has worked with a variety of local organizations such as the NAACP on programs that have affected education and low-income families.

— Trailblazer Award: Rev. Willie Eva Peagler. A teacher at Artman Elementary School in Hermitage for 23 years, Peagler retired from that post in 1993. She also taught at the former Our Lady of Fatima Elementary School in Farrell for 3 years. Peagler still remains active in education by raising funds to buy books for local children and preaches as an associate pastor at Price Memorial AME Zion Church, Youngstown.

— Economic Empowerment Award: Diane Gardner. She has been a financial adviser since 2010 and operates her own financial planning practice in Hermitage in partnership with LPL. She previously had a 12-year career in banking. Gardner holds a variety of posts on local non-profit organizations.

— Philanthropic Award: Tommie Pegues. The founder of, Pegues performs work in a variety of financial fields such as risk management and brokerage work. He was a leader in raising funds for a turf football field and track for Farrell High School.

— Community Service Award: Annette Morrison. A Farrell High School graduate, Morrison is the director of operations at the Prince of Peace Center in Farrell and served 8 years on Farrell City Council. She has served in a variety of capacities at other local non-profit groups such as the Stey-Nevant Public Library in Farrell.