Two decades ago, Camden County hoped to recognize residents who spend significant time and energy throughout their lives toward helping others.
Having honored over 500 residents since its inception, the county once again has recognized 13 selfless contributors at the 2020 Camden County Freedom Medal Ceremony Jan. 22.
The award, created by the Freeholder Board in 2001, is presented to civic leaders who demonstrate the ideals and actions that reflect the principles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Each year since 2001, we ask the community to help us identify Camden County residents who exemplify the ideals indicative of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr.
“This year we are honoring 14 selfless individuals who have made significant contributions to their community. We gather to celebrate them in hopes of their message inspiring others to serve the public interest.”
According to the MLK Freedom Medal Committee, nominees must be exemplary citizens living in Camden County who have demonstrated significant contributions in the areas of community service. Any individual is eligible to submit a nomination, but residents should not be nominated simply for exemplary employment performance.
During the ceremony, a member of the freeholder board briefly introduced each of the 13 recipients, before a short video illustrating the person’s actions, background and hopes moving forward.
Voorhees Township had two recipients of the Freedom Medal this year: Michael Mignogna and Rubab Sameer Sarfraz.
Mignogna has served on the township’s elected committee since 2003 and is best known as mayor of Voorhees Township since 2005. Originally from Camden City, Mignogna has spent his entire life in Camden County after moving to the area nearly 40 years ago.
One of the most talked about reasons for his nomination and recognition for the Freedom Medal is his past and continued dedication toward inclusion of all nationalities, sexual preferences, religions and more within Voorhees Township.
“The mayor of a town clearly not only sets the standard for policies in the community, but they also set the standard for personality in the community,” Freeholder Jeff Nash said. “Voorhees Township is one of most diverse communities in the county, if not in the entire state of New Jersey, and [Michael] Mignogna, as mayor, has embraced as a strength the diversity of his community.”
Nash highlighted Mignogna’s willingness to attend every possible event in Voorhees to show support from elected officials, no matter their race, ethnicity, religion or other potential differences.
According to Nash, most remarkable was Mignogna’s and the township’s willingness to move forward and enhance the Muslim American Community Association Mosque in Voorhees Township years ago, despite the ongoing national conversation about a potential Muslim ban.
“It was important to Mike, it was important to Voorhees Township and it was also important to Camden County,” Nash noted.
During the presentation, Mignogna said he was taught by his parents at an early age to always help others and remembers their emphasis on community service. Having never forgotten to do so in his own life, the mayor said he would certainly recommend the same for others.
“I would suggest getting involved early and making it a part of your life,” Mignogna said. “It’s been a part of my life … and one of the things I’m most proud of is being a champion of diversity.”
Voorhees Township was one of the first communities in South Jersey to start a diversity committee. Currently, Mignogna is also a member of the Voorhees Theatre Company, Alicia Rose Victorious Foundation, Voorhees Relay for Life and more.
Sarfraz has lived in Voorhees Township since 2013, when she emigrated from Pakistan. After moving to the United States — where she was so graciously accepted — she made it a point to reach out to the community and make a difference in the lives of others.
“The beauty of Camden County is that there are so many different communities living together, enjoying their cultural and religious diversity and celebrating their cultural and religious freedoms,” Sarfraz noted.
“When I came to this country seven years back, this country welcomed me with an open heart, so on that day, I decided that I should give back by reaching back into the community and working selflessly for those in need.”
Over the years, Sarfraz has organized fundraisers for national and international disasters such as tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes. She also represents the Pakistan American Society of South Jersey as an executive committee member and is a member of the Pakistan American Congress.
Sarfraz also has connected with outreach programs to provide financial assistance and additional help to the homeless and others in need across various Camden County municipalities, most notably Camden City.
“I hope, wish and pray that I can keep up with my promise like Dr. King to serve the community and promote peace and love,” she noted.