Board of Directors
Suzanne L. Bracci – President
Term expires May 2020
Suzanne L. Bracci has been an active member of the Character Council of WNY and its initiatives since 2010. She joined the Board of Directors in October 2013, was elected to the positions of Vice President in June 2014 and President in June 2016. Suzanne holds a Bachelor and Master Degree from Canisius College and a Certificate of Advanced Study and NYS Certification in School Counseling. Suzanne spent the first 15 years of her career in business-related positions and the last 15 years in education-related careers as a middle school counselor, life coach/trainer/speaker, and educational consultant. She finds her current position as WNY Regional Director for CITRS (Character, Integrity, Trust, Relationships, Success) to be very rewarding as she now has the honor of working both in her volunteer and career capacities in character development and helping people to be their best selves.
Suzanne has been interested in character excellence as far back as she can remember. From receiving a good citizenship award in the eighth grade, to her contributions for two decades as a religious education teacher, to her extracurricular positions at JFK Middle School as co-chair of the Friends of Rachel Club and PBIS Committee (both dedicated to promoting positive behaviors such as respect, responsibility, and kindness), she has dedicated much of her life to developing and celebrating positive character and moral excellence in our community.
Suzanne lives in Clarence Center, NY with her husband, Michael, and has three grown children, Alexa, Justin and Amanda. Together they are striving to be a family of character excellence.
Suzanne is honored to serve as president of the Character Council of WNY and is committed to the council’s mission of “Creating a Culture of Character” in our community. For we know that when we are a “Better ME,” together we are a “Better WE,” and the result is a “Better COMMUNITY.”
Suzanne invites anyone interested in knowing more about the Character Council of WNY to contact her through the council’s website or (716) 202-0702.
Matt Smith – Vice President
Strategic Planning Facilitator
Term expires May 2020
Matthew Smith joined the Character Council of WNY Board of Directors in June 2013. Matt is an Operations Project Engineer in the Commercial Aircraft Division at Moog in East Aurora, NY. Matt holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from GMI Engineering and Management Institute (now Kettering University) and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from SUNY Buffalo.
Good character has always been important to Matt. Character has been instilled in Matt through his family, friends, teachers and coaches from an early age. Matt was raised to always do the right thing, and help others whenever possible.
Matt was introduced to the Character Council of WNY through a program designed to help displaced executives. Suzanne McKenney came in as a guest speaker and gave an amazing speech that just connected with him and those in the group. Her energy, enthusiasm and knowledge of character were infectious. The following week we started developing elevator speeches using character qualities as the foundation and it was amazing how much better they were. Character is such a vital piece of who we are and what we do but rarely do you hear much about it except when someone does something wrong. When you start looking you see character all around you, in every case character makes people better. Since that chance meeting, Matt has been actively connected to the Character Council of WNY, promoting good character wherever he goes.
Matt lives in Amherst, NY with his wife Sarah and three daughters, Emily, Olivia and Sophie. Together they are striving to be a family of character excellence.
Matt is a past deacon and elder at University Presbyterian Church, past president of the Amherst South Rotary Club, board member of the Independent Heath Family Branch YMCA and Chair of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership .Manufacturers Council.
Matt is honored to serve on the Board of Directors for the Character Council of WNY and is committed to the council’s mission of creating a culture of character in our community.
Pete Simon – Treasurer
Champions for Character Liaison
Education Committee Liaison
Finance Committee Chairperson
Term Expires: May 2020
Peter Simon serves as the Character Council’s Treasurer, Finance Committee Chairperson, Champions for Character Liaison and is also a member of the Education Committee of the Council. Peter is a retired teacher from the Lake Shore Central School District, where he taught for 33 years. During his time at Lake Shore, Peter coached JV baseball, served as a member of the Teacher’s Union negotiations team as well as on a variety of committees. Peter is a graduate of Buffalo State College, where he earned a BS and Masters of Education degrees. Peter was born in Minnesota and later moved to Buffalo, and currently resides in Hamburg with Paula, his wife of more than 30 years and they have three adult sons, Matthew, Joseph, and John.
Peter’s interest and concern for the development of good character began long before his actual involvement in the Character Council of WNY. During his many years as a sixth grade teacher, Peter always felt that the teaching and recognition of character virtues was just as important as the teaching of Math, Language Arts or Science, and was among the first educators in his district to integrate character education into his daily lessons. Shortly after retirement, Peter was offered the opportunity to join the board of the Character Council of Hamburg. He welcomed this offer as a natural extension of his concern for the development of good character, only now he could share his passion with his community, helping and encouraging a wider range of the population to recognize and practice the various character virtues.
During his five years on the board of the Character Council, Peter has been encouraged by the growth of the board, and the dedicated work of its members that has helped to increase the focus and awareness of the importance of developing a culture of character in the Western New York community. Peter believes…“It’s up to the people who really care about our country to take a more active role in helping to determine the culture in which our children grow up. With perseverance and cooperation this goal is achievable. TOGETHER WE CAN DO IT.”
Vanessa Rehac – Co-Secretary
Term Expires: May 2020
Vanessa joined the Character Council of Hamburg in 2007. During her tenure, she has served as Corresponding Secretary and Media Committee Liaison, as well as overseeing the updating of the Council website. Currently Vanessa holds the position of Secretary, a position that allows her to tap into her creative side by designing promotional materials for Council sponsored initiatives.
Following her Mom’s example, Vanessa is an active volunteer. In September of 2014, she will begin her 19th year as a Girl Scout Volunteer. In addition to being a Troop Leader, Vanessa has also served the Service Unit Team in many capacities, as well as volunteering on Girl Scout Council committees and as a National Delegate. Vanessa currently serves the Service Unit in a support capacity. She has also served the Blasdell PTA as an officer and event chair and has been involved with numerous fundraisers and charitable events including events for BRAINS, a not for profit that raises funds and awareness for Pediatric Brain Tumor Research, the AIDS Alliance of WNY, and Female Musicians Fighting Breast Cancer.
Vanessa is a graduate of Villa Maria College where she earned her A.A.S. in Retail Management and Marketing and is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication with a concentration in New Media from Empire State College where she was a founding member of the Niagara Frontier Center’s first ever Student Club. She is currently employed by Southtown Teachers’ Center where she uses her skills and experience to help educators, students and the community. Vanessa has four adult children, Brianne, Jessica, Rebecca and Paul Joseph and resides in Blasdell, with her husband of more than 30 years, Paul.
Term Expires 2021
Lucas Joined CCWNY in October of 18′ after being made aware of the open board seat from his former Hilbert College Business Professor, Pat Heraty. Lucas believes that if we can teach and promote good character a lot of other issues will be prevented.
Lucas is also involved with many dog rescues. He runs a “non-profit of the month” competition that has connected him with so many great people.
Lucas is the Owner of Cellino Plumbing & HVAC along with Cellino & Wangelin Group.
Term Expires 2020
Brittany began her involvement with the Character Council of Western New York in January 2017 through her involvement with the Character Chase committee. Brittany is an Assistant Vice President at M&T Bank, currently working as a Branch Manager in the Retail Banking Division. She started with M&T Bank in 2008 and was accepted into the bank’s Management Development Program in 2011. Brittany holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, both from Canisius College in Buffalo.
Character has been extremely important to Brittany from a young age. Three lessons she will always remember her parents teaching her are: be grateful for what you have in life, be respectful towards others, and always do the right thing. She strives to live by these lessons every day and hopes to work with the WNY community to promote great character across all age groups.
Brittany has been involved in several community organizations including Emerging Business Leaders, Buffalo Niagara 360 Professional Development Organization, Cheektowaga Chamber of Commerce, and currently serves as Co-Chair for the United Way Campaign Committee at M&T Bank.
Brittany was born and raised in Hamburg, and currently resides in Orchard Park with her husband Mark.
CHANGE Conference Co Director
Term Expires 2021
Melissa accepted a Board of Director’s position in September 2018, with an interest in continuing her years of dedication to character, whole-self, family and community development within children, adults and communities. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from SUNY Brockport, followed by her Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling from Medaille College.
Melissa currently serves as a Mentor/Coach within an innovative character development initiative underway in the Buffalo Public Schools through a partnership between the school district, CITRS and Character Counts! Her combined 20 years of experience and training have been in the areas of youth development and programming; service-learning; social work and human services; youth and family support services; special events; and school-community collaborations. From 2001-2004, Melissa committed herself to three years of full time service as an AmeriCorps*VISTA, having served one year in Buffalo and two years in her hometown of Tonawanda, NY.
Learning from her mother’s valuable life-long lesson, “treat others as you want to be treated,” Melissa has dedicated herself to volunteerism and community service throughout her adult life. She lives in Depew with her daughter, Katelynn. As a parent, it’s been Melissa’s mission to raise her daughter to be her best self, while caring about others and the world around her. Together they enjoy volunteering and giving of themselves to help others.
Melissa looks forward to serving the WNY community through her Board position with CCWNY.
Term Expires 2020
Denise Pacer joined the Character Council of Western New York in May 2017. She graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a Bachelor of Science and earned a Master of Business Administration degree from SUNY Buffalo. Denise is a Financial Advisor at Ameriprise Financial and is currently pursuing her ChFC®designation.
Denise believes the community plays an important role in personal character development. She is committed to building awareness around character initiatives, being a positive role model, and partnering with the community to promote character excellence.
Denise grew up in Williamsville and most recently lived in downtown Buffalo. She currently resides in Pendleton with her husband, Matt.
Member Schools Chair
Scholarship Committee Chair
Term Expires May 2021
Jerry J. Parisi began his involvement with the Character Council of WNY while serving as an administrator with the Grand Island CSD in 2009 and joined the Board of Directors in February 2018. He believes that character initiatives in schools must systemic, broad ranging, and involve the outside community. Jerry is currently a Native American School Counselor for students in grades 8-12 at Salamanca HS. Jerry has been a High School Counselor and Administrator for the last 18 years. In addition to his role as a school counselor, he is also a Varsity Football coach. The core values that define his personal and educational philosophies are building positive relationships, effective communication, mutual respect, and personal responsibility. Jerry was born in New York City and raised in North Babylon, NY (Long Island).
He graduated from high school having been a member of the football and track teams, as well as numerous clubs and service organizations. He attended the University at Buffalo where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, while a member of the UB Bulls football team, the Psi Chi National Honor Society and the Undergraduate Psychology Association. In addition, he worked as a Resident Advisor in the residence halls and as a Computer Consultant in the Information Technology Labs. He continued his education at UB and received Master’s Degrees in School Counseling and Educational Administration.
As an educator, Jerry believes that it is his job to ensure the academic, social, emotional, cultural and vocational well-being of all his students. His goal is to assist students in developing appropriate personal, educational, and vocational plans, based on their abilities, interests and objectives with the help of their families and community.
Jerry currently resides in Hamburg.
CHANGE Conference Co-Director
Term expires 2021
Desiree Weppner began her involvement with the Character Council of WNY in 2014 through her current position as school counselor at St. Gregory the Great School in Williamsville, NY. Desiree accepted a Board of Director’s position in February, 2018, to become more involved in the character initiative, believing in the need to establish a solid foundation of good character development early on. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling with a minor in Psychology and the Academic Achievement Award in Mental Health Counseling from Gannon University, followed by a Master’s Degree in Elementary School Counseling from Edinboro University.
Desiree spent most of her career helping, advocating for, and educating children, beginning with the Boys and Girls Club of Erie, in the position of Social Recreation Director. Next, she went on to work as a Wrap Around Staff Supervisor at the Sarah A Reed Children’s Center in Erie, PA. along with being an Adjunct Professor in the Counseling Department at Gannon University. Later, she took on a position as a school counselor at James W. Parker Middle School in Edinboro, PA. Desiree returned to Buffalo in 2002.
Her continued passion to learn and support children has kept her active in attending educational trainings of many topics related to education and mental health. Desiree participates in the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation and volunteers in her parish and community. Desiree lives in East Amherst with her 3 sons, Benjamin, Riley, and Drew.
Message From The President-Emerita
As we live in a society that often undermines good character, it is prudent that all sectors of the community work collaboratively, forming a strong partnership to safeguard character development. All community stakeholders benefit from the strength of this common concern. Schools, parents, faith centers, businesses, government, and other community groups can create a tremendously powerful support network for emphasizing, requiring and recognizing positive character qualities. Helping to create an atmosphere where quality of character can be effectively nurtured is an honorable quest that deserves our united and untiring attention.
The expectation for character excellence should be foundational, therefore worth striving for with personal intimacy. However, it is also reasonable to strive for quality of character on a societal level… thus working to create a culture of character by raising our young people purposing to embrace character maturation. Teaching character to our youth is a charge that all adults must heed resolutely together. It is our responsibility to nurture distinctive qualities of goodness if we wish our American culture to reflect character excellence. We must work to encourage quality of thought, voice and behavior, firstly and most importantly, by setting a good example ourselves, and secondly, by having high expectations for others to emulate our humble lead.
Therefore, our focus is not just about character education in a school setting and for children, but more about the grander picture… a change to quality of character initiated by way of concerted and determined societal concern and action by, and for, all citizens. Together we can make a difference in changing our culture toward one that is character-centered. The future of America, our children, is depending on us.
I invite you to become involved in our quest for “Creating a Culture of Character!” Make your commitment, first, to lead by thoughtful example, focusing on incorporating quality of character into who you are. Strive, then, to teach the virtues to those whom you are influencing within your walk through life. Maybe you will also choose to join one of our committees working to strengthen and preserve character excellence throughout the Western New York Region. Meanwhile, please feel welcome to contact us with any questions about our mission, character accomplishments, or ways in which you may be able to contribute to our expanding character concern.
Respectfully, Suzanne McKenney
Suzanne S. McKenney is the former President of The Character Council of Western New York, previously known as the Character Council of Hamburg, an award-winning, not-for-profit 501(c)3 volunteer organization dedicated to fostering the development of character excellence for all citizens within the town of Hamburg and surrounding Western New York Region. A founding member of the Council in 2000, Suzanne’s consistent leadership continues to galvanize support for the implementation of character-centered initiatives throughout the regional community, especially within government, education, business, faith, and the media.
As an invited guest lecturer at Medaille College and SUNY at Buffalo, Suzanne has shared her passionate commitment to community-supported character development with undergraduate and graduate level students of education, as well as educational professionals. In tribute to her hometown of Rome, New York, Suzanne was instrumental in encouraging the up-start of the Rome Character Initiative.
Suzanne is also a founding member and past President of The Parent-Child Connection, Inc., an award-winning, not-for-profit 501(c)3 volunteer organization devoted to offering educational programs aimed at enriching parenting skills for families in the Hamburg and surrounding Greater-Buffalo community. Since 1998, thousands of parents, educators, adult mentors and teens have benefited from constructive programming designed to nurture children and strengthen families.
Suzanne graduated from Springfield College in Massachusetts with a BS in Health Fitness in 1982. Her graduate studies at Springfield College were in Exercise Physiology. She is a nutrition enthusiast, and has championed sound nutrition practice and physical activity as it relates to the fight against the “epidemic” of obesity in children through programs featured by The Parent-Child Connection.