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Person of the Year

‘She’s on a divine mission’

Dr. Zodelia Williams's vision is to empower the community

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“She’s a powerhouse,” said Dr. Audrey Kirkland, board president of 3D’s Aftercare Inc. “She’s a wealth of knowledge and a person who’s very willing to share her knowledge and experiences in order to make someone else have a better future.” 

Kirkland was speaking of Dr. Zodelia Williams, the Herald’s 2019 Person of the Year, the founder and executive director of 3D’s Aftercare Inc., a nonprofit launched in 2000 to care for children after school while their parents are at work. She opened 3D’s Community Empowerment Center, on Seaman Avenue in Baldwin, last year, and it has become a true hub in the community. 

The nonprofit, previously headquartered in Queens, aims to empower children through a wide variety of programs and events that promote higher self-esteem and an understanding of responsibility. Anyone can register their children with her morning, after-school or extended night care programs, which run every weekday between 7 a.m. and midnight.

“It doesn’t stop — it’s 24/7 with her,” Clarence Cunny, who serves on the 3D’s executive board, said of Williams. “She’s always busy. I try to tell her you got to take care of yourself, otherwise you can’t take care of other people.”

But the work doesn’t stop there. “Dr. Zoe,” as many know her, and 3D’s board members provide homework help and tutoring, STEAM activities and family-style breakfasts and dinners for children during the programs so that once they head home, they can spend time with their parents. She is also a big advocate of teaching life skills such as sewing, cooking and financial literacy. 

“These are life lessons,” Cunny said. “These are things they’ll continue to use throughout their entire lives.” 

A social worker by training, Williams also partners with and invites other organizations to hold events in the community space, such as the Save Our Daughters Too annual Red Carpet Ceremony and a seminar on how to safely interact with police hosted by a former NYPD detective. 

You can find her volunteering tirelessly at the center seven days a week, whether it’s for after-care, college-readiness programs or regular weekend events like Middle School Mingle and Teen Café. Hot meals for the children are often donated by Benjamin Bodley, owner of Benny B’s, a nearby restaurant in Baldwin. 

Nothing brings Williams more joy than putting smiles on children’s faces, Kirkland said. “She’s just nonstop. She’ll say, ‘OK, we need this,’ and then figure out what it takes to get it. She definitely puts herself second for the sake of the mission of 3D’s.”

Williams, 48, a Freeport resident and Baldwin native, created 3D’s after she was inspired by her challenges as a single parent. 3D’s is named for her three children: Dwight, Danielle and Daria. Her work illustrates how to overcome adversity and contribute to the well-being of children — and, ultimately, the families and communities — around you. 

“She makes time for people even if she doesn’t have time,” Cunny said. “She addresses their personal needs; that way she’s constantly giving of herself. She embodies the best traditions of 3D’s. Even outside the organization, she tries to do her best to help her fellow man on a personal level. And she’s a great friend on top of that.” 

The center also offers mentoring, parent-involved programs, English as a Second Language courses and summer camp. Additionally, throughout the years, 3D’s has fed more than 1,000 people at its annual Thanksgiving community event, and donated more than 500 backpacks to students in back-to-school drives. Overall, the center aims to foster growth and positive development in children, especially through a focus on social-emotional learning. 

Having adopted the sobriquet “modern-day Harriet Tubman,” Williams focuses on providing a safe space for children and adults to free themselves of circumstances or challenges that hinder their development. Those close to her say she is dedicated to encouraging children and giving them the tools to make their dreams come true. 

And 3D’s hosts events for people of all ages. Senior citizens are invited to attend the Aged Like Fine Wine 55+ Club and take part in sip-and-paint parties. 

“She has a heart for children and for seniors, but she has the vision to empower the community,” Kirkland said. “Particularly through the children, but the community altogether, and anyone who has a community need — she is there for that.” 

Williams’s commitment to uplifting others is evidenced by her social work and public service roles. For almost 20 years, she has served as a New York City Department of Education pre-kindergarten social worker, in addition to being a Girl Scout co-leader of Troop 2305 in Baldwin. She is also an applied behavior analysis provider for autistic children, a home care provider for the elderly, a member of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., a Sunday school teacher at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Roosevelt, and she works with the Nassau/Suffolk Association of Black Social Workers. 

“She’s very resilient and passionate,” Kirkland said. “She always finds a way to overcome obstacles, and a lot of that is founded in her spiritual belief as a Christian. That’s something that she holds very dear to her, and she relies heavily on it.”

Though Williams wears many hats, she is also a member of the Local Planning Committee, a team of residents working with consultants and state representatives to plan the revitalization of downtown Baldwin. 

“If I had to describe her with one word, I’d say enthusiastic,” Cunny said. “She’s on a divine mission . . . She moves with such fervor and gumption that it’s infectious. Other people will get involved when they see her working. Then one person reaches another person, and another person, and then before you know it, you have a community helping others, and that’s how you effect change with the community at large, Nassau County and the world.” 

A lot of people are drawn to her pure intentions, Kirkland said. “She’s able to help people and guide them in a direction in a very non-judgmental way. A lot of children feel comfortable to share with her how they’re feeling, and in that way, she’s able to keep them on the right track.” 

Williams’s motto, Kirkland added, is “Saving the world one person at a time.”

“She thinks, ‘We have the power to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud,’” Kirkland added. “Some people don’t look for the good in people, but she looks for, and is expecting, the good in people.” 

Board members are always seeking people or groups who are willing to help, either with volunteer time, grants or donations. Williams uses much of her own money, too, to keep programs afloat. 

Kirkland said the nonprofit needs a vehicle to transport children to and from certain events, as well as updated technology such as computers for the children. To find out more, go to 3D’s website, 3dsaftercareinc.org. 

State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin and Sen. Todd Kaminsky recently awarded 3D’s a $10,000 grant for STEAM program funding. 

“What Dr. Williams has done for the Baldwin community, creating a safe, inviting place for children to grow their interests outside of school, is truly remarkable,” Kaminsky said. “Her devotion and commitment to making Baldwin a better place to live makes her an ideal pick for Person of the Year.”

“Dr. Zoe continues to be a force of nature . . . and will go above and beyond when it comes to helping the residents of Baldwin and the surrounding communities in need,” Griffin said. “I am elated that she is being recognized as the 2019 Herald Person of the Year, and look forward to seeing her continue to shine as she makes such a profound impact on the community.” 

In October, Williams, Cunny and other board members hosted 3D’s Unsung Warriors Gala in the ballroom of the Coral House, where they recognized, thanked and paid tribute to the people who Williams said impact the community in a powerful way, but often slip beneath the radar. Griffin was an event honoree.

“It really was just, as soon as I walked in the door, such a special place,” Griffin said of 3D’s at the gala. “There should be more places like that — a place that just wants to help people and take care of people.” 

“Many times people say to me, ‘You’re so selfless — there aren’t many people like you,’” Williams told the room of more than 150 people. “And I believe that selfless people are the majority. People just don’t know that we’re selfless, because we’re so busy working that we never get a chance to say what we do or who we are.”