By Jennifer Brislin, Building Kentucky
WellCare of Kentucky hosted its third annual Community Health Champions Awards on Wednesday, Oct. 19, at the Gheens Foundation Lodge in Louisville.
The Community Health Champions Awards honor individuals and organizations throughout the Commonwealth that play a pivotal role in removing barriers, improving outcomes, and supporting community well-being.
“I see our Community Health Champions as examples of the best of Kentucky,” said Corey Ewing, WellCare of Kentucky’s President and CEO. “Each of these individuals has worked to ensure that Kentuckians are physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy – and they did it in deeply personal ways, giving their time, talent, and heart in the process.”
This year, 10 winners were selected from 146 nominations. Those honored represent the eight Kentucky Medicaid regions and one statewide winner. WellCare awarded a $3,000 grant to the regional winners and a $5,000 grant to the statewide winner.
The most prominent, statewide award was presented to Samantha Stewart of Welcome House.
In Stewart’s nomination, she was described as the heart of Welcome House’s Street Outreach Team. She has served hundreds of men, women, and children through the agency’s medical RV, and has been a literal lifeline to some of the community’s most vulnerable citizens.
“Samantha represents exactly the type of service, commitment, and passion that we want to support in Kentucky,” said Ewing. “We know that people like her help make Kentucky communities healthier.”
Regional winners included:
Region 1: Crystal Fox, Mayfield Minority Enrichment Center
As a volunteer, Fox has been instrumental in bridging the gap between needed services and her neighbors, often using her own resources to make that possible. A true community servant, she understands the importance of mental health in a person’s overall wellbeing, especially for those in minority and elderly populations. Crystal is hands-on and driven with a heart of love for others and her community.
Region 2: Kelli Templeman, Todd County Central High School
As the Youth Services Center Coordinator in Todd County for 17 years, Templeman has focused on health and wellness for students and staff for nearly two decades. In the last school year, she secured a grant and equipment to create a workout room for school employees.
Region 3: Linda Gentry, Grayson County Alliance
A teacher and administrator in both public and private schools for 26 years, Gentry has poured her energy and commitment into countless Grayson County families. She’s been an active member of a service organization that helps families with major medical needs; she’s worked with advocates who support children going through the court process; and she spearheaded a program to provide free income tax filing and recruited volunteers to support the effort.
Region 4: (Co-Champion) Princess Reed, LifeSkills
At 21 years old and a full-time student at Western Kentucky Reed works 40 hours a week at LifeSkills, which helps individuals with mental illness, addiction issues and intellectual disabilities build meaningful and independent live. She assists the Regional Youth Council, an advisory body that advocates for mental health issues. In addition, Reed is heavily involved with the LifeSkills LGBTQ+ support group and sits on the agency’s Diversity and Inclusion Council.
Region 4: (Co-Champion) Amber Sikes, LifeSkills
Sikes works with pregnant and postpartum moms. During the COVID-19 epidemic, Sikes still managed to reach nearly 500 women with her Healthy Baby Workshops in the past three years, giving women much-needed information about the harmful effects of substances during pregnancy and connecting them to resources.
Region 5: Anthony Lowery, God’s Outreach
In 2000, Lowery retired after 27 years as a shipping manager, and focused his post-retirement energy into ensuring no one in Madison County went to bed hungry. God’s Outreach is a food pantry that started in a closet in the home of Lowery and his wife Linda. More than 20 years later, Gods Outreach feeds nearly 2,500 families a month in Madison and Estill Counties and provides 3,500 backpacks of weekend food for youths at 24 schools in both counties.
Region 6: Deborah Zegarra, Ethan’s Purpose
Zegarra has channeled a personal tragedy into a mission to help others. Zegarra organized Ethan’s Purpose, a race at North Pointe Elementary School, to raise money in support of suicide prevention efforts in memory of her son, who took his own life in 2018. The funds help provide individual and group counseling and supply schools with social emotional learning curriculum for their students.
Region 7: Rachel Booker, Comprehend
Booker uses her experience to assist individuals as a substance abuse peer support specialist with Comprehend, which advocates for the wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities, and provides behavioral healthcare services. In addition to this endeavor, she works with two innovative programs to share her insight and support others on their paths to recovery.
Region 8: Denise Marlett, Cumberland River Behavioral Health
An advocate for family voice and choice, Marlett began her career at Cumberland River Behavioral Health as a service provider, later serving as an in-home clinician, school-based clinician, and eventually rising to her current role as Assistant Director of Children Services. Over the course of her career, she has pioneered new programming and services for youth and families.