WATERTOWN — In a portion of the ballroom at the Hilton Garden Inn Thursday, the 2019 “Community Health Hero” Awards were given to north country individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to improving the health and wellness of their community.
A collaboration between the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization and North Country Health Compass Partners, the Community Health Hero Awards are given in observance of National Rural Health Day, which falls on Nov. 21 this year.
“We decided to expand the nomination pool a couple years ago to community members that support the physical, but also the mental and the emotional wellbeing of their community,” said Pat Fontana, population health director for the FDRHPO as he addressed the audience. “Men and women of good character who inspire the people they meet, who improve the physical, mental and emotional health of their neighbors, friends and family.”
One Health Hero was chosen each in Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties, with the honorees presented with a plaque after being introduced by their nominators and guest speaker Dan Myers, himself a 2017 Community Health Hero.
This year’s Community Health Heroes were Dr. Rohit Barreto of St. Lawrence County, Family and Obesity Medicine Physician at Massena Memorial Hospital, Dennis Crowley of Jefferson County, retiree and community volunteer, and Anna Platz, MPH of Lewis County, public health specialist for Lewis County Public Health.
The first to receive their award was Mr. Crowley. Though he is now retired, he keeps busy volunteering for a variety of organizations including Cornell Cooperative Extension, Hospice of Jefferson County, and the Watertown Family YMCA. As a cancer survivor himself, he was instrumental in establishing Jefferson County’s only cancer support group.
Mr. Crowley was presented with his award by Michelle Graham, 2018 Community Health Hero and senior director of health and wellness at the Watertown Family YMCA.
After accepting his award, Mr. Crowley made sure to point out a special table of attendees — members of his cancer support group.
“The most rewarding part of doing volunteer work is watching people improve their lives,” he said.
Ms. Platz, a Lewis County native, is currently involved in many initiatives including Community Crisis Response Team, Diabetes Prevention Program, Comprehensive School Physical Activity programs, and the Naturally Healthy Lewis County app.
She was nominated by not one, but four people, for this award: Ashley Waite, director of Lewis County Public Health, Ryan Piche, Lewis County manager, Eric Virkler, director of Lewis County Industrial Development Agency, and Brittany Davis, marketing and communications specialist with the Lewis County IDA.
After expressing her gratitude for the award and being a part of her team and the work being done in the community, Ms. Platz took some time to thank some special people in her life as well — her parents.
“Their support has been instrumental to any success that I’ve had so far,” she said. “My mom gave me a bracelet that says, ‘Be the change,’ and I wear it every day, it’s a great reminder.”
Nominated by Tina Corcoran, senior director of public relations and planning for Massena Memorial Hospital, Dr. Barreto is a physician at Massena Memorial Hospital where he specializes and is board-certified in Family Medicine and Obesity Medicine.
Originally from Toronto, Ontario, Dr. Barreto travels about 10 hours to and from Massena each week to conduct his work and visit with patients. He was also key in developing the hospital’s Center for Lifestyle and Weight Management and is actively engaged with the community and his patients via “What’s App.”
“I think if everyone realizes we’re not too big or too small to make a difference, we’d all be surprised at what we can do,” he said.