Miami-Dade Workers Honored By United Way

The Miami Herald
Section: Neighbors EA
Edition: Final
Page: 37E

An elementary school teacher, a middle school choir director and a construction rehabilitation specialist were among the eight Miami-Dade public servants who received the Green Family Foundation United Way American Values Award. They also received a $2,500 check on behalf of the Green Family Foundation. The awards ceremony was held at the Actor's Playhouse at Miracle Mile on Sept. 10. .

The United Way award was created in partnership with the Green Family Foundation to recognize public service employees who perform their professional duties with excellence and go above and beyond in helping their community through volunteer service.

The eight Green Family Foundation United Way American Values Award recipients:

MIGUEL BALSERA, teacher and after-school care program co-manager, Rockway Elementary:

Years ago Balsera walked the halls of Rockway Elementary as a student; today he walks them as a teacher. He has been described as a ``dynamo'' because of his energy and motivational manner. His students don't just love him; they respect him and work hard to excel to make him proud.

To the ESOL students who make up a large part of his classes, he is a protector and a champion. During the holidays, he makes sure all of his students have a turkey on Thanksgiving by organizing food drives and obtaining food donations from grocery stores.

He regularly visits an orphanage in Homestead and works closely with his church youth group - teaching young people the spirit of volunteerism.

For the community, Balsera participates and plans many activities to help those in need, and he always includes his students.

MARTHA CHANG, activities and chorus director, Glades Middle:

As she walks the halls of Glades Middle, Chang greets each student by name. She knows almost all of them and cares for each as if her own.

As the activities and chorus director, she brings an energy and enthusiasm to her responsibilities, working diligently 12 to 14 hours a day to help students excel in school and enjoy it at the same time. As coach of the girls volleyball and softball teams, she has led the teams to many victories and promoted teamwork and excitement for the players and school.

In her role as the activities director, Chang has helped teach students how to give to those less fortunate, organizing many events where the students could give back to the community. Chang encourages her students to understand and accept each other - and has led the children in the chorus to perform special arrangements for Hispanic Heritage Month, Black History Month, and Chinese New Year.

LEONARD FREEMAN, construction rehab specialist, Miami-Dade Housing Agency:

Because of his deep compassion and concern for the frail elderly, the economically challenged and the disabled, Freeman dedicates most of his free time to helping those in need.

In his role as the construction rehab specialist, Freeman is considered to be an outstanding employee - enthusiastic and motivated and happy to tackle any tasks that are given him. He was instrumental in the HOPE VI project - in the areas of technical design, development and construction management, as well as in helping the affected residents through difficult times by personally addressing their concerns and fears.

Each year, he visits several elementary schools on career day. His hopes to teach the children the importance of making the most out of one's life - talking to them about his experience in the military as well as his career today as a construction rehab specialist. Freeman has served for more than 30 years through both active and reserve military service, as an electronics technician in the Special Forces and as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot.

RENE GORDON, assistant public defender:

Gordon is ``Mother Love,'' a true champion to children in trouble, working to ensure that children in the juvenile justice system are served fairly and given the best opportunity for a better future.

As an assistant public defender in the juvenile division, it is Gordon's job to defend children who come through the court system. Her dedication to helping youth began before she became an attorney, when she ran a halfway house for boys in trouble.

Gordon also attends school staffing sessions, lobbies for the schools to address the issues of truancy and academic needs, writes to and visits clients in residential programs, and spends time with clients who are hospitalized - all on her own time.

On Saturday mornings, Gordon takes time out to read to children in the public library at the Caleb Center and for the past several years has mentored two teenage girls.

RENEE KILPATRICK, instructor of communications, Miami-Dade Community College:

Kilpatrick uses a variety of creative teaching strategies to enable students to recognize and accept personal, academic and cultural differences.

While teaching her students to understand and appreciate each other regardless of their race, ethnicity or religious beliefs, Kilpatrick openly expresses appreciation for her students' own diverse cultures and provides opportunities for them to enhance their cultural experiences at the campus.

When it comes to the community, Kilpatrick is generous with her time and heart. She serves as a mentor to young men in the community recovering from drug addiction and uses her talents and expertise in writing to help those who are less fortunate prepare their resumes and practice their interviewing skills. Through her church, Kilpatrick reaches out to the economically disadvantaged who want to go to college; her help was instrumental in getting one young woman a $10,000 scholarship to attend Florida State University.

MARLENA P. LEWIS, secretary, Veteran Affairs Medical Center:

Secretary for the Audiology and Speech Pathology Service in the Veterans Administration Medical Center, Lewis has changed the way patients are treated when they come to the center.

From bringing in fresh plants and flowers to make the waiting area more enjoyable to personally attending to problems or concerns that a patient might be facing, Lewis makes it her mission to see that each patient has apleasant experience.

Lewis has worked to improve the clerical process in the clinic and medical center to make access easier for patients and employees. She created directional maps for the patients so they could navigate the center quicker.

In the community, Lewis volunteers for the Multiple Sclerosis Bike Tour, helps with filing at the Air Base Elementary where her daughter is a student, and gives to United Way, Goodwill Industries, Disabled Veterans, WMCU Christian radio station and Trinity Broadcast Network.

LOURDES LOZANO, public assistance specialist supervisor, Department of Children and Families:

Lozano shows clients that she respects them and their feelings, concerns and fears.

Lozano directs a unit of six caseworkers, a senior worker and a part-time clerical staff. Under her leadership, her small staff has out-ranked most other units in ensuring that the client's benefits are provided on a timely basis and with the utmost accuracy.

Lozano has led the Opa-locka service center team in various client outreach activities and with the help of community partners, she hosted 100 kids with back-to-school supplies and a special luncheon for 75 clients in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Needy children have received toys for the holidays and more than 40 families were able to enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving feast because of Lozano and her team.

She also is involved in La Liga Contra el Cancer and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana.

JAMES WILLIAMS, officer, Miami-Dade Police Department: A police officer for more than 27 years, he has worked in almost every capacity from uniformed patrolman to gang detective, from auto theft detective to his present position as neighborhood resource officer.

He has initiated special programs for the community, such as crime prevention in and around the workplace, self-esteem and motivation programs focused on students with a high potential of dropping out, crime watch bicycle patrol, and a youth crime prevention program for Police Explorers.

Williams also serves as a Boy Scout leader, a volunteer for the Special Olympics, and a trustee of the New Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.