TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The Tompkins Chamber has announced the winners of its annual awards recognizing people, businesses and non-profits making a contribution to the local community.

Tompkins County Public Health Director Frank Kruppa, the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, Stephanie Holzbaur of Serendipity Catering and The Backlot, and the Mindwell Center are all being awarded for their work in 2020. They’ll be recognized at the Chamber Annual Meeting and Celebration on May 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Coltivare, or viewable at home (registration here).

Noel Desch Key Person of the Year

Kruppa obviously rose to prominence locally when he was thrust into the spotlight as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Tompkins County and globally in March 2020, earning him the Noel Desch Key Person of the Year award.

Since then, he’s been a nearly constant presence in the lives of Tompkins County residents paying attention to the pandemic response, leading the way on testing, containment and the vaccination distribution, often in concert with Cayuga Health System and others from the health department.

“Throughout 2020 and beyond, Mr. Kruppa and his team collaborated with numerous key community and regional partners to support one of the most effective community responses to the pandemic in the nation,” read the award announcement. “For these reasons and many more, Frank Kruppa is the Noel Desch Key Person of the Year.”

Not-for-Profit of the Year Award

The Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) won the Not-for-Profit of the Year Award, earning it through its “critical services throughout the pandemic, reaching children, seniors and the community at large—all while working to address systemic racism and advance social justice initiatives.”

Though the center was closed for several months during the summer, it eventually reopened on a limited basis and became involved in helping address the pandemic’s impacts on the community, notably through the first targeted vaccination clinic and their in-house education programming.

“GIAC is to be commended for their response to not only COVID-19 and related budget impacts but fighting systemic racism through education and working to inspire positive change throughout 2020,” read the announcement from the Chamber.

Entrepreneur of the Year Award

Stephanie Holzbaur, of Serendipity Catering and the Backlot, was picked as the Entrepreneur of the Year, a particularly difficult feat during a year of such economic tumult.

Holzbaur, according to the Chamber, was picked for “demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity, as catering businesses were among the most severely impacted by pandemic restrictions,” as well as Holzbaur’s community involvement beginning when she founded Serendipity and continuing today.

She also managed to open The Backlot in 2020 in the South Hill Business Campus, a creative pivot and a way to provide a gathering place for people to eat and drink while still safely remaining distanced and outdoors.

Distinguished Business of the Year

Another business that debuted in 2020 was the Mindwell Center, a new mental health services and therapy firm, which was also selected as the Distinguished Business of the Year.

“In response to a specific and substantial community need—access to effective, quality mental health care, and removing stigma regarding mental health concerns,” the announcement read. “MindWell founders Aaron Rakow and Sarah Markowitz have introduced a new model of treatment to our community and expanded their staff and services considerably in a short period of time.”

Facing COVID-19, a series of nationwide protests against police brutality against Black people, and economic downturn, the Chamber congratulated Mindwell on its contributions and growth during tough times for mental health.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com