Harckham Honors Two Area Leaders at Black Women’s History Month Celebration

Sen. Harckham with (l-r) Peekskill Mayor Vivian McKenzie and Caring for the Hungry and Homeless of Peekskill (CHHOP) Board Chair Dr. Valya Dessaure. Credits: Office of State Sen. Pete Harckham / Tom Staudter

New York State Senator Pete Harckham commemorated Black Women’s History Month this week by honoring two prominent leaders from the 40th Senate District—Peekskill Mayor Vivian McKenzie and Caring for the Hungry and Homeless of Peekskill (CHHOP) Board Chair Dr. Valya Dessaure—during a special ceremony held at the John C. Hart Memorial Library.

The two honorees received special Senate proclamations, and the event brought together family members, friends and several special guests, including Westchester County Legislator Colin Smith and members of the Peekskill Common Council.

To see a video of the award presentation, click here.

“Throughout their careers, these two individuals have benefited our communities in many, many ways, and in doing so they exemplify a model of remarkable achievement and ready willingness to help others,” said Harckham. “I am so grateful for the work that both Mayor McKenzie and Dr. Dessaure continue to do for all of us—it is truly inspiring. On behalf of the New York State Senate and residents of the 40th Senate District, I offer my sincere thanks to them for making a real difference in so many lives.”

A life-long resident of the City of Peekskill, McKenzie graduated from Peekskill High School and received a bachelor’s degree in Management from Binghamton University. After a 27-year career in the insurance field, she retired in 2012 to pursue her own business interests, owning and operating both Bridge E’s Place and Kathleen’s Tea Room in Peekskill.

McKenzie made history in 2021 when she was elected to serve as Peekskill’s first African-American woman mayor, following her earlier service as Common Council member and deputy mayor. Today, she serves as a co-leader for the Self-Empowerment Girls group at the Kiley Youth Center and as a Girl Scouts troop leader. McKenzie also participates in the Peekskill Individualized Experience for Seniors program, which helps graduating high school seniors find employment and post-secondary educational opportunities.

Dessaure earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Bridgeport, a master’s in Community Health Administration from Long Island University and a doctorate in Public Health Administration from Walden University. She retired from the Westchester County Department of Health (WCDH) after 31 years, serving as a Supervising Public Health Nurse for more than twenty years and overseeing the WCDH nurses working at the Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities, as well as the Westchester County Jail.

A certified Substance Abuse Counselor, Dessaure has served as a Trained Facilitator for the Alternatives for Violence project since 2022. For many years she served as a Lecturer and Adjunct Professor for Mercy College’s School of Health and Natural Sciences and the College of New Rochelle School of Nursing, while continuing to work since 2012 as a per-diem residence nurse for Community Based Services in Yorktown Heights. She chairs the Mission Ministry for the Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Peekskill.

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