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2017 Jefferson Award Recipients

Thomas Ahl, Jefferson Award Winner

Thomas Ahl

IT director, HVHC Inc.

Thomas's ability to create a vision and inspire others to offer their services and come together for a common purpose has made a difference in the community and impacted the lives of all who have served. His services over the years have included a complete remodel of a youth center organized with 100 percent volunteer efforts. Not only was he responsible for coordinating the volunteers, but he also raised the funds and set a vision to create more resources and training. Thomas was often the lead plumber, electrician, interior designer, construction supervisor, and audio/video and lighting engineer, which was a huge undertaking.

In 2016, his vision focused on the local community surrounding Luz de Vida Church in Texas and providing the youth with a safe, family-focused atmosphere to hold events. To do this, he partnered with the 2016 International Youth Convention (IYC2016) in the "Impact San Antonio" project. It all led up to a two-week window where hundreds of teens ascended into the local community in San Antonio and touched the lives of thousands of individuals through their love and compassion.

Cathy Battle, Jefferson Award Winner

Cathy Battle

Respiratory therapist, Forbes Hospital, Allegheny Health Network

Cathy believes that one who has been blessed in life should help and encourage less fortunate people, especially families with children and seniors who are living on the fringes of society.

After learning that one in three American families struggle to provide diapers for their babies, Cathy and her husband, Pastor Phillip Battle Jr., started the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank. Since 2012, the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank has supplied 360,000 diapers to more than 37 agencies. These agencies have distributed their supplies to 2,600 families in need, which included 3,000 children and 155 seniors in 2016 alone. The Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank also distributes baby wipes and other basic needs to partner agencies.

In addition to her work at the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank, Cathy also lobbies in Washington D.C. on behalf of the diaper crisis, and engages congregations, civic groups and collegiate students in conversations that focus on lifting all humanity out of poverty.

Cathy's mission is to raise the public's awareness of the diaper crisis throughout Western Pennsylvania, ensuring that every child and senior citizen has an adequate supply of diapers to remain clean, healthy and dry.

Rhonda L. Bolding, Jefferson Award Winner

Rhonda L. Bolding

Senior customer experience analyst, Highmark Health

For more than 20 years, Rhonda has been a volunteer, advocate and leader for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. While she dreams of the day that a cure is discovered, her advocacy is primarily driven by her love for children and her desire to see the day when no child has to suffer the way she did.

Rhonda dedicates countless hours and resources to raising awareness, fundraising and sharing educational opportunities in support of the 1.6 million inflammatory bowel disease patients who suffer each day. She was the planning chairman for the organization's largest fundraiser, Take Steps for Crohn's & Colitis, for three consecutive years, helping the organization raise nearly $600,000, with incremental growth each year.

Rhonda is selfless and has spent most of her life serving others. She serves on the board of directors for the Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia Chapter of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. Additionally, Rhonda serves on the board of directors for the Ivy Charitable Endowment — an organization that serves the underprivileged Southwestern Pennsylvania African American Community — and volunteers at the Highmark Caring Place, Allegheny Traditional Academy and United Way. Through her membership with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., she participates regularly in numerous service projects that address community needs in five target areas: Educational Enrichment, Health Promotion, Family Strengthening, Environmental Ownership, and Global Impact.

Shannon Bucci, Jefferson Award Winner

Shannon Bucci

Clinical nurse, West Penn Hospital, Allegheny Health Network

After losing her 35-year-old sister to sudden cardiac arrest at a local ball field, where an automatic external defibrillator (AED) was not available, Shannon wanted to create an event to increase awareness of this serious condition and raise funds to help her local ball field house an AED.

As a memorial to her sister, Shannon created the "Maureen Knapp Memorial 5K Run/Walk," which was held for the first time in July 2016. The memorial event collected more than $18,000 and all of the proceeds were used to purchase and donate 14 AEDs in waterproof cases to ball fields throughout Allegheny County, in addition to locations in Butler and Westmoreland Counties. Along with an AED, each site also received certificates for four individuals to be trained in CPR and the use of an AED.

Shannon and her family are planning a similar event for the 15th anniversary of their loss, with the goal of purchasing additional AEDs to be provided to local youth athletic facilities and community parks.

Rick Francis, Jefferson Award Winner

Rick Francis

Facilities technician, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia

Rick's desire to help the homeless in his community led to the creation of the Latrobe Street Mission, an emergency shelter for men, women, children and families in need, located in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

The Mission is funded not only by volunteers, churches and grants, but also an onsite thrift store, which financially supports its operating costs. With an average occupancy of 45 to 50 people per night, the Latrobe Street Mission could not feed the hungry or shelter those in need without the help of the more than 100 individuals who volunteer there each year. Since its opening seven years ago, Rick has spent countless hours donating his time to ensure the homeless and less fortunate have access to a hot meal and a warm bed to sleep in at night.

Hector Gonzalez, Jefferson Award Winner

Hector Gonzalez

Territory director, Visionworks

Hector has been feeding the homeless for more than 25 years, following words of wisdom from his father on a trip to New York City in 1974. Since then, it has become a life passion and mission for Hector. Following the trip, Hector started feeding the homeless weekly, out of his own pocket, but he had a dream to feed more. After winning a Jefferson Award in 2010, Hector used his reward money to start an organization called Hope for the Homeless through his church.

Today, Hope for the Homeless is a nonprofit corporation, working to provide food, clothing, guidance and shelter for the homeless on the streets of Miami, Florida. The organization is connected to many facilities that provide shelter and guide the homeless to vacancies as they become available. It also organizes many church events to raise funds for its mission, with the goal to eventually open up a shelter where all homeless are welcome for the night. Hope for the Homeless feeds more than 900 homeless on a weekly basis. In 2016, the organization successfully placed 14 homeless in permanent housing. Currently, there are about 75 people volunteering their time to Hope for the Homeless.

Myla Granadino, Jefferson Award Winner

Myla Granadino

Strategy consultant, Senior Markets, Highmark, Inc.

Growing up, Myla always had the desire to serve her community, often leading her school's outreach programs in the Philippines. Her aspiration to create a positive impact continued when she moved to Pittsburgh in 1996. She strongly feels that it is an important part of her being. Serving is what brings her the most joy.

For the past 15 years, Myla has volunteered for numerous community events in Pittsburgh, such as the United Way Cleaning Drive, Soaringwords' Quilt Decorations, the Pittsburgh International Children's Festival and the Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community. In 2013 and 2017, she spearheaded a fundraising effort called "Feast for a Cause" to benefit typhoon victims in the Philippines. Myla raised more than $7,000 with the help of family and friends. She has dedicated her personal time and provided hands on assistance to lead several efforts including Gift Giving, Disaster Relief, and Share a Joy projects in her hometown in the Philippines.

Additionally, for the past five years, Myla has passionately championed Pennsylvania Women Work (PAWW), a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering women in career transition and helping them achieve economic self-sufficiency. She is a member of the organization's Corporate Advisory Committee and is a mentor in its 3 Cups of Coffee® program. Myla also co-chairs and helps coordinate events that raise much-needed funds that allow PAWW to continue to serve hundreds of women each year.

Cindy Harter, Jefferson Award Winner

Cindy Harter

Clinical coordinator for electrophysiology, Allegheny General Hospital, Allegheny Health Network

Cindy helps those in need of food through an organization she helped establish called the HOPE (Helping Other People Eat) Pantry, located in the Zelienople Church of the Nazarene, north of Pittsburgh. The HOPE Pantry is a separate entity from the church and supplies food to individuals who meet the federal guidelines for low income, but do not qualify at other food banks due to the geographic location of their homes.

Families who visit the HOPE Pantry have the opportunity to choose their own food, which enables them to select food items that their family will eat and reduces waste. On average, most families who visit the pantry walk away with 8 to 10 bags of food each visit. While they wait their turn to shop, the HOPE Pantry serves coffee and doughnuts, allowing time for the organization to share information with families about other local resources.

This organization has been self-supporting with a small number of volunteers making a big personal difference. Many individuals, who have been previously helped, come back to HOPE Pantry to volunteer in its mission of helping others. Currently, the HOPE Pantry has 165 families registered and serves 300-400 people each month.

M. Nathalie F. Henchey, Jefferson Award Winner

M. Nathalie F. Henchey

Health coach, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia

In 2016, Nathalie restarted the Putnam Chapter of the Autism Society of West Virginia after identifying a 10-year gap in these services in her community. She is now the president of the Putnam Chapter, and is a newly appointed board member of the Autism Society of West Virginia.

In her role, she is responsible for the provision of education, support and connection for individuals and families dealing with autism in Putnam, Mason and Jackson counties, and surrounding areas. Nathalie is also responsible for recruiting community leaders, such as educators, surgeons, social workers and many others to participate in the services that the Autism Society offers.

Her passion for autism awareness and expanded services are driven by her 17-year-old son, Olivier, who has autism. Nathalie wants to make a difference not only for her own family but also for other families facing similar challenges.

Richelle Lehman, Jefferson Award Winner

Richelle Lehman

Night pharmacist, Forbes Hospital, Allegheny Health Network

Richelle uses her experience as a health care professional with over 10 years in recovery, to educate and increase awareness about the disease of addiction. She is serving her third consecutive term as the Vice President of the Board of Directors for SARPH, which is the Pennsylvania State Board of Pharmacy's officially recognized peer assistance program for pharmacists suffering from the disease of addiction, alcoholism and other mental disorders. But her participation on the board is not what makes her work outstanding.

Richelle feels that one of the ways to battle addiction is through education to reduce stereotypes and stigmas. She breaks her own anonymity to do so and shares her experiences with her colleagues to help them understand the disease. To educate fellow medical professionals, she has incorporated her story into a presentation she gives on a volunteer basis with medical students rotating through Forbes. Her involvement on a community level includes various public forums and presentations at Mon Valley Hospital, Belle Vernon and Yough School Districts. Her desire to spread the message and share her story is admirable, as every day there are lives lost to the disease of addiction.

Meggan Merritt, Jefferson Award Winner

Meggan Merritt

Supervisor, Senior Markets, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia

Meggan is incredibly passionate about giving back to her community, and for several years has volunteered her time to community health initiatives and children's programs, including an adult women's softball league, local food drives, youth basketball leagues, local school improvement councils, and homelessness.

Meggan is most passionate about her work for the Boggsstrong Foundation, a foundation formed in memory of her brother, Matt, who lost his battle with Stage IV liver cancer in 2016. The Foundation provides financial assistance for children and families in times of need, such as awarding scholarships to local high school seniors, providing school shoes for underprivileged children, paying utility bills for families in need and various other community outreach efforts. She is also very active with the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research and uses this opportunity to honor her brother by giving back to cancer research in hopes to find a cure, raising nearly $10,000 since she became involved with the organization.

Chivon Murray, Jefferson Award Winner

Chivon Murray

Associate customer service representative, United Concordia

Chivon is the founder, president and leading rescue coordinator of Back in Black Dog Rescue, Inc., an organization she started in February 2016 after seeing how often black dogs were being overlooked in high-kill shelters. Her efforts have saved the lives of 108 dogs, with 96 of them successfully being placed in permanent homes, and the additional 12 in loving foster care.

Chivon saw the need to help move these animals from shelters in the southern states, where black dogs specifically were being euthanized at an astronomically high rate, and bring them to foster and forever homes in the north. In addition to saving the lives of dogs and finding them forever homes, she's also responsible for helping to push for the need to responsibly spay and neuter animals in order to eventually stop the overpopulation problem that causes so many dogs to be euthanized. She spends her free time and money networking with other shelters and rescues, funding veterinary checkups, spaying and neutering, rehabbing and transporting dogs in order to give them a second chance at life.

See all 2017 Press Releases

Contact us for more information or to arrange an interview:

Kristy Cramlet
Highmark West Virginia
304-424-9888
kristy.cramlet@highmarkhealth.org

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