7 honored with 1st ‘Outstanding Employee Award’ by N.J. Utility Association

The compaint call: It’s one that no one really wants to make — and, certainly, no one at a utility company wants to take.

At New Jersey American Water, the job of answering often falls on Andrea Castro — who often provides a master class in customer service that leaves consumers satisfied and her colleagues beaming.

In her role as water quality and environmental compliance lead, Castro serves as the department’s lead customer service liaison for water quality complaints and, more recently, with the implementation of the state’s new lead service line replacement legislation. NJAW officials say her deep expertise in water regulations, combined with her customer relations skills and genuine care and concern for customers, makes a positive impact on customers — and provides valuable training for other employees in the company.

It’s for those reasons and more that Castro was one of seven utility employees across the state who recently were recognized at the New Jersey Utilities Association annual conference with the first Outstanding Employee Award.

State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-Hillsborough), who helped get a resolution declaring the honor approved unanimously in the state Senate, said the award is an attempt to recognize a sector often taken for granted.

Zwicker said the honor is to recognize critical energy and utility infrastructure workers for their service during the pandemic — and during the extreme weather events that come all too frequently.

“(You) had to ensure in this unprecedented health crisis that the water was flowing, and the electricity was going, and the heat and the air conditioner was still there,” he told a small crowd at the ceremony.

The following seven people were honored:

  • Castro, New Jersey American Water;
  • Tom Brizzolara, director, public affairs, Rockland Electric Co.;
  • Anne-Marie Peracchio, managing director of marketing and energy efficiency, New Jersey Natural Gas;
  • John Meehan, operations manager, Jersey Central Power & Light;
  • Mike Stephens, Southern division supervisor, Aqua America;
  • Michele Tilley, director, budgets and rates, Middlesex Water Co.;
  • Ivonne Wojtowicz, project engineer, Veolia.

Zwicker, who was joined by state Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-Westwood) during the award ceremony, offered a number of notes of thanks.

“We, as consumers of utilities, take you for granted until something goes wrong,” he said. “And then, we, of course, demand that it’s fixed immediately. We demand that we have reliability.”

Of course, more than anything, we just want a listening ear at the other end of the call. At NJAW, that’s often Castro, who serves the company in so many ways.

A native of Colombia, she serves as the company’s lead for Inclusion, Diversity & Equity issues, helping the company create a workplace where employees can feel safe in bringing their authentic selves to work.

It’s these types of efforts and actions that made Zwicker proud to announce the first class of honorees — while offering a salute to the sector as a whole.

“What you’re doing — and your teams are doing, and your companies are doing — is ensuring that the reliability, the affordability and the innovation is there to keep the lights on and make sure that the heat and A.C. is there, that the water is clean,” he said.

This comes at a time of unprecedented challenges in the sector, Zwicker said, pointing to the future of natural gas and hydrogen, the electrification of buildings, how to keep our water clean in an era of microplastics, advanced nuclear — and even, potentially, one day, fusion.

“This is a critical time,” he said. “This year, next year and in the next few years. There is innovation that needs to happen. There is public policy that needs to happen. There are debates that need to happen about what we’re going to do to ensure that we have clean, safe and reliable utilities here in New Jersey.

“Thank you for the work that you’re doing. I look forward to working with you in partnership over the years ahead.”