Honoring our healthcare heroes

By Holly Kestenis, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The Pinellas County Urban League (PCUL) continues to empower communities and change lives each and every day with their various programs and dedication to making the lives of others better. Last Fri., Feb. 20, they gathered along with the community, at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus located at 140 7th Ave. S., to honor heroes in healthcare.

PCUL Board Chair Alvin Nesmith welcomed those in attendance to the second annual Whitney Young Leadership Awards Luncheon.

“I just want to say, wow – this is impressive,” said Nesmith as he looked out for the second year at a full house.

Before paying tribute to the seven outstanding local heroes, the PCUL awarded a $2,500 scholarship to Lakewood senior and PCUL volunteer Jamal Chaney for his dedication to the community. He maintained a 3.95 weighted grade point average while also lettering in both varsity football and baseball where he was a co-captain.

Although Chaney could have chosen to do anything else in his spare time, he wanted to make a difference.

“Urban league gave me a chance to work with a lot of people,” said Chaney who willingly volunteered to work with adults seeking to learn English. “I tried to help them as best I could.”

Whitney Young was a leader in civil rights, spending most of his career working to end employment discrimination throughout the 50 states. By age 40 Young was the executive director of the National Urban League and in less than five years he was credited with expanding the organization from a mere 38 employees to some 1,600 employees. When he died in 1971, the annual budget had risen from a paltry $325,000 to one of over six million. It is his legacy that lives on in the achievement of others and his legacy in the hard work of the community that was being celebrated over a buffet lunch.

“I learned about all the great architects in civil rights, but Whitney stood out,” said Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin who incidentally was one of the unsung heroes being honored for her work as health czar. Humble in her acceptance of the award, the deputy mayor acknowledged the everyday sacrifices healthcare workers make day in and day out, year after year.  “I was privileged to work with true healthcare heroes who delivered second chances every day,” she said.

Another leading lady about St. Petersburg, Deborah Figgs-Sanders, was honored for her work as executive director of the Childs Park YMCA. With more than 25 years of experience in community outreach, Figgs-Sanders takes a holistic approach to health, incorporating valuable health resources that work toward the betterment of the local community. A few of her many ventures consist of an herb garden that the YMCA children maintain all year, “Ask a doctor” workshops, as well as, personal fitness opportunities such as ZUMBA and adult kick boxing classes.

“I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing,” said Figgs-Sanders who turned 50 last week.

The strong female presence continued with Dr. Sheila Devanesan, a board certified Obstetrician/Gynecologist at All Children’s Hospital. Devanesan is recognized in the Tampa Bay area as an expert related to antepartum and postpartum weight gain, along with childhood obesity. She spearheads the effort to improve healthcare for women, infants, and families in underserved populations.

“I always try to operate from the standpoint to treat a person with my full attention and my full care,” she said. Devanesan tirelessly works to help the underprivileged. “It’s actually disheartening to me to see that there is still so much disparity in healthcare.”

And closing out the women honored on Friday was Mary Murph who for the past 42 years has fought the battle to bring awareness about Sickle Cell Disease to the forefront. Founder and President of the St. Petersburg Chapter of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America (SCDAA), Murph single handedly got the ball rolling and today the SCDAA is based out of Community Health Centers of Pinellas, Inc., and serves more than 135 families in southern Pinellas County.

“It has been a labor of love,” she said. Sickle cell is not an easy disease to work with according to Murph who has spent years watching not only her own family members suffer the effects of the disease, but countless others throughout her lifetime. “They suffer from womb to doom, but we look forward to a brighter day.”

The men of the hour were also recognized for their unwavering dedication to healthcare and helping the underserved and voiceless throughout the community.  Among them was Dr. B. Lee Green. Although he was unable to make the banquet, Green is known for his work with Moffitt Cancer Center where he serves as a senior member. Green focuses his work on recognizing cancer disparities, especially among minority populations.

Board Certified Family Practitioner at Roser Park Medical Center, Dr. Frederic Guerrier hails from Haiti where at 17 he realized his purpose in life. Affectionately known as Dr. G., he also gives of his time every second Tuesday of the month to see patients in need at the Free Clinic. Since 1982, he has never missed a day volunteering at the clinic.

The last honoree to receive recognition was Dr. Reginald Ligon, who has provided dental services for St. Petersburg residents for the last 35 years. He served on the All Children’s Hospital Systems Board for eight years and is very active in the community.

Watson Haynes, President and CEO of PCUL, gave the closing remarks extolling the necessity to continue to strive for excellence in healthcare for all walks of life.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com

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