Bracci Suzanne-low resSuzanne L. Bracci President

Character Carnival Chairperson
Term expires May 2017


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, a Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) from Canisius College, a permanent NYS Teaching Certificate in School Counseling, and a NYS License as a Mental Health Counselor. After 15 years in business related careers and 10 combined years as a middle school counselor, life coach, and educational consultant, Suzanne now owns her own business: Stress Management and Wellness Solutions, LLC.

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 over the past 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 spent many hours the last few decades promoting character and moral excellence in our community.

Suzanne lives in Clarence Center, NY with her husband, Michael, and three teenage children, Alexa, Justin and Amanda. Together they are striving to be a family of character excellence.

Suzanne 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.

Courtney Santasero-Vice President

Term expires May 2019

Courtney Santasero began her involvement with the Character Council of Western New York in Fall 2015 through her involvement with the Character Carnival planning committee and has ever since been tied to the organization. She was originally introduced to the organization through her work with the University at Buffalo Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention which conducts research on issues related to bullying and school violence.

Courtney is currently an undergraduate student at the University at Buffalo studying Psychology, Education, and Counseling. In the coming years, she plans to attend graduate school for studies in School Psychology and Educational Leadership and Policy. Aside from her studies, she works at UB for an academic advising office and as an academic tutor. She has also completed research at the UB Research Institute on Addictions in downtown Buffalo under the mentorship of Dr. Amanda Nickerson and looks forward to gaining more experience through upcoming internships in local schools. Courtney is a member of the University at Buffalo Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program and the University at Buffalo Daniel Acker Scholars Program.

Courtney’s passions lie in cultivating positive environments in schools conducive to learning and growth and believes that character education is a key element in achieving this goal. Her work with the Character Council is a much appreciated opportunity to positively impact the WNY region’s developing youth through education. It is an honor for her to be able to give back to the local community for such an honorable cause. She serves on the Character Carnival, Youth Conference, and Scholarship and Grant committees for the organization.


Pete Simon – Treasurer

Champions for Character Liaison
Education Committee Liaison
Finance Committee Chairperson

Term Expires: May 2018

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.

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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 -Secretary
Term Expires: May 2018

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 is 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 25 years, Paul.

Brittany Cheney
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.

Nicholas Dewitt
Term Expires May 2019

Nicholas Dewitt joined as a board member of the Character Council of WNY in August, 2016. A graduate of Canisius College, Nick received his Master of Business Administration degree in Finance. Nick is a Vice President of M&T Bank and is responsible for overseeing the risk management program for the Business Banking division.

Nick’s primary interest in the Character Council of WNY is to help spread awareness around the importance of strong character development. Nick’s passion is to lead and inspire others to support our community through giving, volunteering, and modeling good character.

Nick resides in Buffalo with his daughter, Gianna. In his spare time, Nick loves to read, golf, and travel.

Mary Ruth Kapsiak

Mary Ruth Kapsiak

Mary Ruth Kapsiak Ed.M.,S.D.A

Term expires May 2019

Mary Ruth joined the Character Council of Western New York to continue her desired involvement with students. She is currently working with the scholarship and other committees. Mary Ruth recently retired from the Buffalo Board of Education after serving nine years as Central District Representative. She served as President of the Board for Three years; Vice President of Student Achievement, Vice President of Executive Affairs, and Chair of Educational Support. She also served as Area 1 Director of the New York State Caucus of Black Board Members 2013-2016.

Ruth was a special education teacher and reading teacher at Community School #53 in Buffalo. Prior to her experiences at School #53, Mary Ruth was a reading teacher for grades pre-kindergarten through six at Broadway Village Elementary # 57 where she conducted assessments and evaluations while teaching the Orton-Gillingham method of teaching reading. In September of 2002, she worked as Adjunct Professor in Reading at Medaille College. Mrs. Kapsiak was appointed as Assistant Principal of Stanton Academy #31. In 2004, she was appointed Assistant Principal at Dr. Lydia T.Wright School of Excellence # 89. She ended her career with the Buffalo Public Schools as Supervisor of Elementary Education in 2006.

Mary Ruth has earned several degrees including a Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communication, University at Buffalo; Certificate of Completion, Orton-Gillingham Method for Reading from the Gow School in South Wales, N.Y; Masters of Science in Exceptional Education, from Buffalo State College; Masters of Science, Reading, Canisius College; and completed her certification in School District Administration from Canisius College.

Mary Ruth has served on numerous Boards in the past and is still active in the community. She is a member of The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Diversity Council, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. where she has served as Vice President and now is President Elect, Erie County Chapter of the Links, Inc. serving as the Assistant Secretary, and a proud former Trustee of St. John Baptist Church where she is still actively involved on several committees.

Being involved in the community and in the education of all students has been her desire and focus. Fostering a climate of positive culture, relationships, and character is key in developing communities of which we can be proud.

Mary Ruth resides in Buffalo with her husband, James M. Kapsiak, a retired educator.

Suzanne McKenney

Suzanne McKenney

Suzanne S. McKenney-Past President
Term Expires: May 2018

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.

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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.

Mitchelle Bruce-7Lo Res

Bruce Mitchell

Scholarship and Grant Chairperson
Term expires May 2019

Bruce D. Mitchell devoted two decades of his life to the betterment of his adopted Hamburg community.  Upon his retirement from the Hamburg CSD in June, 2012, he promised that he would re-engage with the CCoWNY after acclimating himself to the rigors of retirement.  Like Horton the Elephant (“I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant faithful one-hundred per cent”) he now wishes to serve on the Board of the CC0WNY.

Bruce was graduated from Ridley College, St. Catharines, Ontario (1969) and Colgate University (1973) with a BA in Social Relations.  Upon graduation, he performed field research among the four-dozen remaining rural schools in Prince Edward Island, Canada for Drs. Edmonds and Bessai.  After 20 years of volunteer work with various youth organizations, he exited the business world and received his MS in Counseling from Canisius College in 1991. 

Among the founding participants at the Hamburg Family Support Center, he served as a counselor at Armor Elementary School in Hamburg, New York, for almost 19 years.  He is a proud professional and an active member of the ASCA, ACA, NYSSCA, WNYCA, WNY Elementary School Counselors Consortium, and Chi Sigma Iota. 

While a school counselor, he was a founding member of the Parent-Child Connection and among the very earliest participants (and presenters) in the Character Council of Hamburg (WNY).  Bruce received the Canisius College Counselor of the Year Award in 2002.   He serves on the SUNYAB School Counseling Advisory Board. 

A well-received guest lecturer at area colleges and universities, he has been a member of the adjunct faculty (Graduate School of Counselor Education) at Canisius College since 2008.  He has repeatedly demonstrated a unique ability to work with students of any age.   He has promoted character development, conflict resolution skills, and peace-making throughout his entire adult life.  His enthusiasm for the mission and work of the CCoWNY is well-known among its leadership. He variously served as a youth advisor, instructor, council member, and deacon at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Eggertsville for over 30 years.  As a founding member of the Amherst Soccer Association (1978) he served as president and AIM tournament director for 14 years.  He presided over the Buffalo & Western New York Junior Soccer League from 1992 to 1996.

He frequently shares his perspective on the world via WBFO-FM, the Hamburg Sun, the East Aurora Advertiser, and the Buffalo News.  He plays the guitar (“with great enthusiasm and less skill”) and enjoys writing and gardening in his spare time.  Despite his years, he plays rugby on an annual basis at his alma mater. Bruce married Sally Cowan of Victoria, British Columbia in 1970.  They have two children, four grandchildren, and a lumpy Labrador.  He has resided in East Aurora since 2009, where he serves as an alternate on the Village Zoning Board of Appeals.  His volunteer work now extends to the Knox Farm State Park and Vidler’s 5 & 10, where he worked as Santa Claus in 2012.

 Denise Pacer
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. 


MSmith Matthew LOW RESatt Smith
Term expires May 2018


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.


 Additional Board Members
Nick Silvaroli