10 Honored With Annual United Way Award

Miami Herald, The (FL)
Section: Neighbors WE
Edition: Final
Page: 22WE

A Miami-Dade police lieutenant, six public school educators, a clinical social worker, a domestic violence specialist and a college professor were among the 10 public servants who won the fourth annual United Way Green Family Foundation American Values Award. The award recognizes public service workers for their excellence on the job and willingness to go beyond their normal duties to serve the community. Each winner got $5,000 from the Green Family Foundation.

The awards were presented during a dinner March 24 at the Biltmore Hotel, with Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas as the keynote speaker.

Here are snapshots of the 10 award-winning public servants:

Leslie Cooper, teacher, Richmond Heights Middle School:

This South Dade resident uses music to reach her students. In addition to her regular work at the school, she is the Fine Arts Department Chair and chair of the Educational Excellence School Advisory Council. She works as a disc jockey at Miami Children's Hospital Radio Lollipop, which provides entertainment for sick children. Cooper also is a member of the Junior League of Miami and an assistant chair to the WLRN-Ready to Learn Committee. She recently volunteered time to introduce an early childhood music curriculum at a school for teen-age mothers.

Earl Davis, specialist, Miami-Dade Public Schools:

Davis is an intergroup relations specialist, providing leadership to groups of Haitians, Hispanics, White Americans, Jews and African Americans. He does conferences and workshops to help students achieve and improve their self-esteem. He often shares his experiences in the civil rights movement with students, and is a certified trainer in the Kingian Nonviolence Program. For 25 years, Davis also has used his Miami home as a meeting place for the Beta Club, whose young members get tutoring in language arts and social development - a program that has helped send thousands of young men to college.

Beth Rosenthal Davis, teacher, Jack D. Gordon Elementary:

For the past three years, Davis has been named the school's Teacher of the Year by her colleagues for her ability to get her students engaged in science. This South Dade resident also has excelled outside the classroom. One summer, she did after school tutoring jobs to raise enough money to send a needy students to a baseball camp. At Christmas one year, she adopted a needy family of six and got gifts for all of them. For the last seven years, she has organized schoolwide programs to feed the homeless, and also started Kids 4 Kids: Fill a Backpack, which helps homeless students start the year with a new backpack filled with supplies.

Fernando Deheza, life zone community liaison, Department of Children and Families:

Deheza, a North Miami resident, works as a trainer on domestic violence and child abuse issues for the department. He works to make victims more self-reliant and has an extensive network of contacts to help them. Deheza teaches life skills to middle and high school students and offers domestic violence workshops for students, law enforcement officers, religious groups and community leaders. He also taught life skills to inmates and teaches classes at the women's correctional facility. In addition, he coordinates training on domestic violence for the elderly and will soon start life skills classes for developmentally disabled adults.

James DiBernardo, Lieutenant, Miami-Dade Police Department:

A 20-year police veteran, DiBernardo has become known for identifying problems and finding creative solutions. He was the driving force behind the D.U.I. Mobile Education Center, which aims to reduce alcohol-related car wrecks involving youngsters. He created a program in high schools called ``Don't Let Alcohol Be Your Last Taste of Life,'' which targets events such as holidays, graduations and prom, getting the grants to start and than expand the program. The North Miami resident also won grants to create Business Against Narcotics and Drugs and the Gang Resistance Education and Training program, a prevention program for middle school students. DiBernardo was recently elected by Mothers Against Drunk Driving to be the state public liaison to the legislature and he won the 1998 Miami-Dade County Medal of Merit and the 1996 MADD William Craig Memorial Award.

Manuel Duasso, professor, Miami-Dade Community College:

Since he started at MDCC in 1994, Duasso has been lauded by students in the six writing classes he teaches. Despite a visual disability, he inspires his students. In addition, the South Dade resident has developed a pilot curriculum as part of MDCC's Virtual College, using technology to increase communication between teachers and students. For four years, he has been co-organizer of the ``Spooky Writing'' event, and started a Valentine's Day poetry reading for faculty and students. He also coordinates student outings to the Coconut Grove Playhouse to expose more youngsters to the arts.

Melanie Green, teacher, Centennial Middle School:

This teacher of the emotionally disturbed was recently named Miami-Dade's ``Teacher of the Year'' and is now a Florida Teacher of the Year finalist. The South Dade resident also was selected to serve as the school system's only Exceptional Student Education Reading Specialist and is an advocate for all areas of academic excellence. Green also volunteers throughout the community and encourages students to do the same. Her community and educational efforts resulted in March 17 being declared ``Melanie Green Day.''

Connie R. McKinney, community involvement specialist, Phillis Wheatley Elementary:

The North Dade resident works to increase parental involvement at the school, reaching out to at-risk families and often going door to door. She maintains close ties with businesses and residents in Overtown and frequently helps families by providing them with food, shelter and clothing - sometimes taking clothes to the laundry and washing them at her own expense. She walks one group of kids from a neighborhood apartment to school each day, ensuring they have breakfast. She has taken a special interest in a number of kids and recently volunteered to watch two youngsters at 7:45 a.m. so their mother could attend a Wages Training Program.

Sharon Sbrissa, magnet lead teacher, L.C. Evans Elementary:

Along with parents, Sbrissa developed Broader Opportunities, a local advocacy group for the learning disabled. They have worked through the locally produced ``B.O.L.D. Presents,'' where Sbrissa has served as moderator for 17 years and continues to suggest program ideas. When the Dade Partners program began its recruiting campaign, Sbrissa recurited more than anyone. The North Dade resident was one of 2,000 teachers chosen to desegregate Dade schools in 1969, and she has remained at the school where she believes she is needed most. A volunteer at the North Miami Woman's Club for 11 years, she also served as state chair for Literacy in Florida and president of the Friends of the North Miami Public Library.

Antonio Vazquez-Pausa, clinical social worker, Public Health Trust:

The North Dade resident works with chronically ill adult psychiatric patients and with emotionally handicapped children, often visiting people in their homes or in hospitals, bringing reassurance and hope to those who might otherwise be alone. He is an advocate, helping his clients with financial and housing problems and representing those who can't represent themselves. Vazquez-Pausa is at the forefront of the American Foundation for AIDS, working to increase AIDS awareness and prevention. He is an active member of many groups that work to help the homeless and those with AIDS.

Cooper B. Davis E. Davis Deheza DiBernardo Duasso Green McKinney Sbrissa Vazquez- Pausa