True Patriots

Steve Jesinski, Sonia Otte and Yliyah Weber-Hawkins pose for a photo
Steve Jesinski, Sonia Otte and Yliyah Weber-Hawkins pose for a photo

Human Resources Consultant Sonia Otte and Production Supervisor Steve Jesinski were called to a meeting in the Hilbert lunchroom Monday afternoon. They thought the location was strange, but followed through. When they arrived they were surrounded by the Sargento family for a celebration in red, white and blue.

"This award recognizes outstanding supervisors who helped me through my basic training and deployment," said Maintenance Apprentice Yliyah (EEL-ee-yuh) Weber-Hawkins who is also a sergeant in the Army National Guard
“This award recognizes outstanding supervisors who helped me through my basic training and deployment,” said Maintenance Apprentice Yliyah (EEL-ee-yuh) Weber-Hawkins who is also a sergeant in the Army National Guard

Jesinski and Otte received the ‘Patriot Award’ from an organization within the Department of Defense: Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, or ESGR. They were nominated by Sgt. Weber-Hawkins as a show of gratitude for their support during his call of duty.

“As a veteran, I am very much honored that Yliyah took the time recognize us for this, but really it’s him who did the work,” said Jesinski. “As a supervisor, it’s my job to help people do their job and that’s all I did. But I do understand the obligation and the commitment to service and country. I was in (the Army) right out of high school, so I understand what that’s like,” he said.

A representative from the ESGR joined the small ceremony in Hilbert along with members of our leadership: CEO Louie Gentine, EVPO Mike McEvoy and EVP-HR Karri Neils. Plant Manager Sandi Howard, Director- HR Marilyn Morrissey and HR Generalist Maria Herrera helped coordinate the event.
A representative from the ESGR joined the small ceremony in Hilbert along with members of our leadership: CEO Louie Gentine, EVPO Mike McEvoy and EVP-HR Karri Neils. Plant Manager Sandi Howard, Director- HR Marilyn Morrissey and HR Generalist Maria Herrera helped coordinate the event.

“I was completely surprised! This is a full-circle moment,” said Otte. “I just wanted to help him. It’s Sargento. It’s who we are. It’s People, Pride & Progress. It’s family. It’s support,” she said.

Otte kept in close contact with Sgt. Weber-Hawkins before and after his deployment, making sure he had time off during his transitions. Otte also organized a Christmas Card collection and assisted in sending out different care packages. Steve Jesinski helped with training to help ease Yliyah back into his job when he returned.

Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Logo

“You’d be surprised. A lot of employers don’t even do just the basic things to help our men and women,” said Allan Cumps of the ESGR. “Some won’t even sign the ‘Statement of Support’ which simply pledges support of Guard and Reserve employees. There’s no monetary exchange, so I don’t understand why they wouldn’t,” he said.

This was the first time members of the Sargento family received the ‘Patriot Award’ which puts Sargento on the path to receive the highest honor the U.S. Government can bestow upon employers: the Freedom Award. Just 220 companies have received the Freedom Award since it began in 1996. It honors employers that go beyond federal mandates to support Guard and Reserve employees.

Sonia and Steve Cutting Cake

“Both Steve and Sonia did what they should have done to support Yliyah and his service to our country,” said Louie. “In the true spirit of our company, they made sure that Yliyah felt good about leaving his role at Sargento and ultimately returning to that role. I’m very proud,” he said. “It’s always nice to have fellow employees recognize each other, and on this level is tremendous.”

Once the shock wore off, Jesinski and Otte cut the cake that was decorated with the American flag. Everyone applauded them, including Yliyah one more time.

“They’ve made a huge impact on my military career,” said Sgt. Weber-Hawkins. “I can’t say thank you to them enough.”

Sargento mutual support statement

Allan Cumps (far left) of the ESGR addressing the crowd
Allan Cumps (far left) of the ESGR addressing the crowd
Steve Jesinski and Yliyah Weber-Hawkins
Steve Jesinski and Yliyah Weber-Hawkins

Steve's employer support of the guard and reserve award from the office of the secretary of defense

Yliyah served with the 829th Engineer Company. While in Afghanistan his unit demolished and deconstructed buildings that went up during the war. His mission denied those materials to the enemy. He was deployed from April to December 2015.