AFT Everyday Heroes Recognized at Convention

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In a union where every member often does heroic duty without giving it a second thought, there are nevertheless some very special heroes who have had a profound influence in or outside their workplace. The AFT honored them on July 11 at the convention.

In May, the AFT asked for nominations of members who have made a difference. A total of 220 nominations came in, and in online voting, more than 5,000 people cast votes among the 30 finalists.

The winners—four individuals and one group of five—are people who have accomplished extraordinary community service, have succeeded against great odds or have gone the extra mile, said AFT secretary-treasurer Toni Cortese in introducing the winners. They are:

Iris Landry is a paraeducator at Grace King High School in Jefferson Parish, La., and a member of the Jefferson Federation of Teachers. Landry's specialty is educating students with profound disabilities. She is so good at her work that she was called back from retirement in 2005 to help a child with exceptional challenges.

Betty Martuscello is a retired teacher from Marlboro, N.Y., and member of NYSUT Retiree Council 13. Martuscello is most active in lifting up her community—raising funds to provide books for local school libraries, area playgrounds and college scholarships.

Lanise Sanders is a school nurse in Chicago Public Schools and a member of the Chicago Teachers Union. Sanders is a strong patient advocate who leapt into action to fight legislation introduced in Illinois to allow unlicensed personnel to administer medication to children in schools. This award is "about what can happen when we share the knowledge, stay focused and take action," said Sanders in accepting the award. "That epitomizes for me what a union is—people coming together for a common cause."

Christine Rowland is a United Federation of Teachers member who works with English language learners at Columbus High School in New York City and as a resource teacher at the school's UFT Teacher Center. "There has been no more fierce and tireless advocate for the students and teachers of that school," said Leo Casey, who accepted the award on behalf of Rowland. But Rowland's fighting spirit was most evident when the New York Department of Education tried to close Columbus. She stood up to the mayor and led the successful fight to keep the school open.

Andy Czerkas is an information systems instructor at Madison (Wis.) Area Technical College and a member of the MATC Full-Time Teachers' Union. With his wife, Czerkas started a food pantry in Madison that has grown to be the largest in the county, serving 21,000 families last year. In the first four months of this year, demand has been up 50 percent. Czerkas accepted the award on behalf of the volunteers who gave 26,000 hours last year. He said the pantry encourages those who come for help to volunteer themselves, which it makes it easier for them to receive. "If you want to see the face of poverty in our city, which is supposed to be recession-proof, it looks a lot like the faces we see here."

Haiti Earthquake Relief Volunteers is a group New York State Public Employees Federation members who traveled to Haiti to participate in medical missions after the devastating earthquake there. The five awardees are psychiatric nurses and nurse administrators, represented at the convention by Sciencia Torchon. They also include Marlene Bastien, Loise Louis, Silvie Pierre and Barbara Serafin. "Since the fateful earthquake that brought such destruction to Port au Prince, Haiti has had so many everyday heroes," said Torchon.

Read more about the Everyday Heroes online. [Barbara McKenna]

July 11, 2010