ST. PETERSBURG – The 10th Annual Footprints Service Awards were held on Sat., June 28 at the St. Petersburg Hilton Carillon recognizing outstanding women for their service and dedication.
The Epsilon Beta Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority hosted the event which, paid tribute to 12 standout ladies who diligently work each and every day toward the betterment of their community and living the organizations motto of “great service, great progress.”
News Channel 8’s morning anchor, Rod Carter was on hand to host the event, his likeable personality shining through as he introduced each speaker.
“It’s hard when there’s people sitting there looking at you,” Carter joked to the crowd. “Usually it’s just me in the studio by myself.”
The morning continued with speakers such as Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Southeastern Region Director Rasheeda Liberty pointing out the purpose of getting involved in making where you live a better place.
“Our communities are challenged today, very challenged,” she said citing a biblical reference of reaping what you sow. By planting what she refers to as “good seeds” in the ground, Liberty hopes to foster a change in the painful reality of deteriorating neighborhoods that are often left forgotten. “It’s very painful to see, but when we continue to show up, give back and not abandon our community we can really see the work come out of the ground.”
After prayers, musical interludes and a brunch of champions, keynote speaker and honoree Melonie Harris told of a life of emotional and physical battles. Inducted into the Theta Upsilon Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho some 14 years ago while she attended the University of South Florida studying sociology, Harris met many women who inspired her life and career choices. But the years after graduation were marred with medial issues that threatened to drain her emotionally and would shake the faith of most devout worshipers.
A few years into her marriage Harris was battling the universal question, “What’s my purpose in life?” A short time later the nearly six year battle began that would lead Harris on a spiritual journey that would guide her to the answer she so desperately was looking for.
“When I say be careful what you pray for, I truly mean it,” emphasized Harris who divulged she was diagnosed with kidney renal failure just six months after posing her question in a prayer. “My doctors were amazed I was still living.”
Harris went on dialysis. For eight hours each day over an eight month period she cleaned her blood and watched as she not only lost her weight, but her strength and her ability to hold a job. She was on countless medications and had some 15 seizures that restricted her brain function.
But her belief in God and his will kept the fight alive in Harris and she persevered. She believes her prayers were answered with the news that her old sorority pal who lived in Texas at the time was willing to be tested and undergo the donation of one of her healthy kidneys. She was a match.
But a year after organ transplant there were complications and Harris had a stroke. She fought her way back to recovery but still had years of battling ahead of her as she endured the death of her father and the turmoil of a premature baby.
“At that time I thought ‘Lord, what else?’” said Harris who believes God put her through the trials to reveal to her what her purpose in life is, to spread her story to whoever she can. “Don’t waste your pain.”
Another award recipient who showed her dedication and love for the St. Petersburg area, especially the children within it, is Shirley Proctor-Puller who passed away just last year. Her commitment to the community as a Pinellas County educator, Sunday school teacher, and a loving patriarch of the family was evident in every aspect of her life.
Angela Collins, a member of Sigma Gamma Rho, spoke of Puller’s higher direction of mind, calling her an impressive person.
“The first thing that caught your attention was her beautiful smile,” said Collins who spoke of her days as a teacher and her time spent in the community helping others. “Her manner was always serene.”
After retiring Puller could be witnessed living out her life’s calling, serving breakfast at the Ronald McDonald house, passing out books at the Martin Luther king parade. It was her passion and her honor that will be remembered by the community.
Sorority member Gladys McNeil knew her well as a lover of books. After 35 years of service in the field of education, volunteerism, and community service, Puller left a trail for all to emulate with all of her attributes as a role model. An avid reader herself and longtime book buddy of McNeil, Puller believed children were special and spent her life trying to make theirs better.
“Shirley believed that every child deserves a good book and every book deserves a child,” said McNeil who went on to discuss the foundation established in her honor which plans to promote literacy in the community through donating books to children in need.
In fact, after the awards were handed out and the ladies of the day honored, all children attending the event were invited to a table lit with decorative lights to pick out an age appropriate book for their own.
Other honorees included Carrie Anderson, Annie Godbee, and Cheryl Copeland who serves as a music educator. Cynthia Glenn, Carrie Hinton, and Nathleen Nix were also recognized for their contributions to the community. And the morning finished up with paying tribute to Chlocile Sanchez, Sarah Tucker, Delquanda Turner and Arthurene Sims Williams.
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority encourages support of many local and national charities such as the Shirley Proctor-Puller Foundation, Inc. and the March of Dimes. For more information on how you can get involved with Sigma Gamma Rho, check out their national website at seregionsgrho.org.