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  • Sarah Mariani-Hinman
    Sarah Mariani Hinman
    SVP, Chief Marketing Officer
    Office: (315) 734-2438
    Cell: (315) 269-1113
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Utica National Partners with Local Organizations for Inspirational Event for Area Schools

On Tuesday, September 26, the member companies of the Utica National Insurance Group proudly partnered with Integrated Community Alternatives Network (ICAN), Oneida County Government, Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES, and Westmoreland Central School District to host a special educational event, Overcoming Obstacles. In its second year, the program welcomed over 1,800 ninth grade students from 20 schools within Oneida, Herkimer, and Madison counties.

Students, staff, and volunteers gathered at the Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium and Utica University Nexus Center for a full day of empowering breakout activities and inspirational stories. Students enjoyed a remarkable keynote speech from Erin Gruwell, an educator, esteemed author, and founder of the Freedom Writers Foundation.

On stage, Erin recalled her experience as a first-year teacher in California, where she walked into a classroom full of students who had previously been labeled as “unteachable.” She described how she helped 150 at-risk students change the course of their lives through writing, empowering them to overcome obstacles they faced related to social, racial, and educational issues. These 150 students would later become known as the “Freedom Writers”, and their writings would later be published as a 1999 New York Times bestseller, “Freedom Writers Diary.”

“An essential aspect of helping students grow, learn, and develop in their high school years is letting them know that they’re not in it alone – and that people are there to help them get through the many challenges they face,” said Utica National Chairman and CEO Rich Creedon. “Erin’s inspiring message and the Overcoming Obstacles program are important contributors for enabling young people to build hope, increase resilience, and feel connected.”

The program additionally featured six of the Freedom Writers themselves, who spoke about their personal stories, once harsh realities, and many challenges they’ve had to overcome. The presentations and breakout activities incorporated a range of lessons from building confidence, developing leadership skills, navigating through hardships, teamwork, and much more.  

“As community leaders and leaders in education, we all have the ability to positively influence the lives of the children in our area to help them become the best versions of themselves, and tomorrow’s leaders,” said Utica National Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Sarah Mariani-Hinman. “Erin and the Freedom Writers’ work is so important to us because it assists us in our mission of working closely with schools to create a safe learning environment for all students.”

About Utica National Insurance Group

The Utica National Insurance Group is a nationally recognized group of insurance companies, providing personal and commercial insurance products and services, with the second-largest errors and omissions business in the United States. The Group’s companies sell their products through more than 2,500 independent insurance agents and employ more than 1,300 people countrywide. Utica Mutual Insurance Company, the Group's principal company, was founded in 1914 and is headquartered in New Hartford, New York, with offices countrywide. Find out more:

About the Freedom Writers Foundation

Based in Long Beach, California, the Freedom Writers Foundation focuses on four main programs that improve the education of students around the globe: training educators to teach every student, developing interesting and substantive curricula, awarding scholarships to first-generation high school graduates, and bringing hope by sharing our stories of overcoming adversity through education. More information:


Overcoming Obstacles
Overcoming Obstacles image
Erin Gruwell speaking
speakers presenting to students