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Niki Russo ’16, Avis Spirit Award Winner

Posted in: Alumni Profiles

Photo of Niki Russo holding her Spirit Award.

Niki Russo ’16 wears many hats: a substitute school teacher in Union City School System, an alumna of Montclair State and Phi Sigma Sigma, and a former camper, counselor and current fundraiser for Comfort Zone Camp. Recently, Russo added another hat to her collection: a New York Yankee’s cap, as she accepted her Avis Spirit Award at Yankee Stadium.

The Avis Spirit Award is given to people who exemplify their “We Try Harder” theme. For Russo, it was given in recognition of outstanding dedication to the community and a commitment to helping others.

Comfort Zone Camp, a place for children to grieve the loss of loved ones, is a cause close to Russo’s heart. After attending her first camp after the loss of her father at age 11, Niki again found Comfort Zone Camp again on campus at Montclair State along with Phi Sigma Sigma sisters who volunteered their weekends there.

Joining Phi Sigma Sigma the following fall, and spreading news of Comfort Zone throughout the Greek system, Russo found a parallel between a cause close to her heart and her life on Montclair’s campus, feeling like she finally found her calling.

In her time at Montclair as a psychology major, Russo not only learned how to help and educate children in textbooks, but also by example. She credits Professor Jessica Wohlstetter with being one of the best educators she ever had, and says she will implement some of Wohlstetter’s techniques in her own future classroom.

Dedicated to improving the lives of children in and out of the classroom, in the past years, Russo has lost count of the close to 30 camps she has attended and raised over $10,000 for Comfort Zone. She aims to help children attend these camps free of charge, just like she was able to as a child.

Russo says, whether in non-profits, teaching, fundraising or counseling, work can get discouraging when you run into walls.

To people who want to succeed in her field she says, “You have to keep pushing through because one day at least one person will benefit and live a better life because of all your hard work and dedication, and I promise touching that one person will be something you carry in your heart wherever you go.”