We should all bestow our medals for meritorious service
In the midst of a worsening pandemic, strident political rhetoric and painful economic downturn, heroes emerged for us all to honor, and hopefully emulate, in last week’s Best of Miami annual edition of Miami Today. What a very welcome breath of fresh air.
Best of Miami in Crisis Time focused on sterling examples of bright lights in dark hours in many fields – but they were by no means all-inclusive. For every hero we highlighted many more do meritorious and important work beyond the spotlight.
They are beacons of light and hope when times seem most difficult. If they can do it, we all collectively can do it.
Take ten Best of Miami examples of excellence in difficult days:
When the pandemic struck, Sabrina Cohen, who is herself in a wheelchair, launched with her own foundation virtual adaptive training for those living with paralysis and other physical disabilities. The free five-day-a-week program is aided by adaptive fitness instructors to keep those with physical disabilities active and healthy.
Firefighter and registered nurse Salvatore Frosceno, who is Miami Beach’s infectious disease control officer and emergency medical services manager, quickly set up a home-bound Covid-19 testing site. As he learned new ways to deal with the disease, he quickly shared them with colleagues in the six fire departments in Miami-Dade County in the common battle against the coronavirus.
The infectious disease specialist at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine who is principal investigator for a vital one-dose Covid vaccine trial isn’t stopping there. Dr. Dushyantha Jayaweera is simultaneously taking on as many clinical trials as possible during the pandemic, reaching out to minorities and the underprivileged to make sure they also participate so that results are all-inclusive.
While the pandemic limits public contact, it can broaden the reach of cultural programs, said Scott Cunningham, founder of the O, Miami poetry festival. So he converted the festival to go fully online. “We have been trying to adjust to this new reality,” he told us, “but we were able to reach people from all over the world who tune in.”
Homestead-based nonprofit Farm Share kept distributing food to those who need it most. Its statewide inventory operations manager, John Delgado, self-imposed quarantine for the coronavirus, living in a tent in his own backyard so as not to potentially infect family members with pre-existing conditions. He’s done that 15-day quarantine every time he went to a community to distribute food – and he has kept up those needed distributions despite that personal hardship.
Even though diabetes makes her especially vulnerable to potential symptoms of Covid-19, West Kendall Baptist Hospital CEO Lourdes Boue did not miss a single day of work at the hospital. “I’ve been humbled by the courage and compassion I was able to witness these last several months,” she told us. “For me, if they were there, how could I not be?”
While enrollment in most Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired programs dipped in the pandemic, vocational rehabilitation gained. That’s especially close to President and CEO Virginia Jacko, who used that program to reinvent herself years ago as a Purdue University administrator who was losing her sight. She became a Lighthouse client and later, totally blind, its top executive. She takes special pride as each vocational rehabilitation graduate is also hired.
The pandemic played havoc with the Miami-Dade Public Library System’s Homework Help Program, in which 100 certified teachers had tutored students at 27 libraries. But program coordinator Marjorie Lopez put the entire program online over spring break weekend, testing online delivery platforms and developing a plan. Then she began a campaign to train tutors for digital programs in three languages. The effort now serves more than 800 students a week with one-on-one virtual tutoring.
Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami Beach is famous for its food. Owner Steve Sawitz is far less famous, but he made sure when he shut down the restaurant in accord with government edicts that he kept every single employee on payroll and contributed to community efforts even though Joe’s closed during its most lucrative season. He also set up a loan program to help staff during tough times. And when the restaurant finally did reopen, it routinely contributed to first responders.
When the pandemic struck, director John Stuart quickly pivoted one of Florida’s largest 3D printing labs at Florida International University’s Miami Beach Urban Studio to make 11,000 face shields for essential workers. The lab quickly had printers up and running, producing the shields for Baptist Health System, Miami-Dade and City of Miami firefighters, and workers across Florida who care for adults with special needs.
None of these outstanding contributors to their community is likely to get an award for these efforts. They didn’t expect any honors going in and don’t look for medals now.
And they are not alone. Thousands of teachers go above and beyond in classrooms as they face degrees of personal health danger. Wage earners continue to provide service to the rest of us behind store counters and in restaurant kitchens and on police beats and in other essential roles where they can’t completely duck health peril. They can minimize risks, but to some degree they all face them. None of them is in line for a medal, either.
In fact, there are no formal honors for any of the people whose contributions combine for the feel-good stories of community life.
These heroes are there every day in many fields, not just in the pages of Miami Today. We should look beyond political contentiousness and pervasive scare headlines and focus more on the routine but vital fabric of a community full of heroes large and small who help us all stand tall in turbulent times.
These everyday heroes provide role models and give our community, and our nation, realistic hope for our future.
There’s a way we can amplify the good we see not just in Best of Miami but daily in routine life. It’s a very simple formula of giving our own medals for meritorious service.
When we meet these heroes, whether it’s behind the store counter or in the hospital or on our city streets, just say “Thank you very much.” Thank you is a medal to build on.