Excellence deserves recognition: HCC Community Awards!

Hope Community Center has been a beacon of hope for the citizens of Central Florida throughout the past 50 years. It all started in 1971 when three radical nuns arrived in Apopka without knowing their perseverance, courage, and convictions would forever change the community’s landscape. Sisters Cathy Gorman, Gail Grimes, and Ann Kendrick dedicated their entire lives to advocating, educating, and organizing the community in a way that has empowered its citizens to forge a better future for themselves and that deserves recognition!

On December 3rd, Hope hosted its 50 Years Y Más! Fiesta. HCC’s Community Awards recognized the excellent work of our Community Members while honoring our Sisters in each key area where they concentrated their efforts for the past fifty years. Now, we would like to take this opportunity for you to get to know the winners a little better.

Community Award winners

The “Sister Cathy” Award for Excellence in Education – Dr. Ruth Edwards, Director of Education at the Winter Park Library.

She is an educator, agent of change, and social justice advocate responsible for ensuring that the Library’s curriculum connects people to knowledge and resources that amplify learning and build a stronger community. She earned her Ph.D. in Human Development and Master of Science in Organizational Systems at Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, CA. 

Dr. Edwards’s career with the Library began when she was hired to launch the Lifelong Learning Institute, which focused on establishing its adult curriculum. Since then, her role has expanded to guiding curriculum design/implementation for all ages. 

She previously worked as a Program Director for the National Conference for Community and Justice, where she initiated and managed social justice and community change initiatives. She has also worked as an adjunct professor at Rollins, Valencia, and Seminole State College.

A native of Awendaw (Aw′-win-daw), South Carolina, she has lived in Central Florida for over 20 years. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and the CMSgt Richard Hall Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.

The “Sister Gail” Award for Excellence in Advocacy – Dr. Marie Francois, President & CEO of the Center for Multicultural Wellness and Prevention, Inc.

Marie-Jose Francois’s M.D. career has focused on the fight against HIV/AIDS. She was awarded her medical degree in 1981 from the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy of the State University of Haiti. 

She also has a master’s degree in public health, with a concentration in Health Promotion and Education, from Loma Linda, California. In addition, she is a certified health education specialist. 

Dr. Francois began her advocacy in the early 1980s as a Health Educator at the Apopka Community Health Center, one of nine clinics serving the Orange County Government’s Primary Care Access Network (PCAN). Here she provided translation services to assist Hispanic and Haitian migrant farmworkers with access to care. During this time, she identified that there was no program to address HIV, despite ever-increasing HIV and sexually transmitted disease rates in this rural part of Orange County.

She approached the Sisters of Notre Dame at the Office for Farmworker Ministry and Farmworker Association of Florida and proposed developing a risk reduction project and worked as the AIDS Project Director at the Farmworker Association of Florida from 1989 until October 2003.

State and national agencies have recognized her in advocating for funding to address HIV among the migrant population and using indigenous people to spread the message about HIV.

The “Sister Ann” Award for Excellence in Community Organizing – Yesica Ramirez, Area Coordinator for the Farmworker Association of Florida, Apopka Office. 

Yesica Ramirez is the Area Coordinator for the Farmworker Association of Florida, Apopka Office. She and her family come from Michoacan, Mexico. After leaving her home and arriving in Apopka, Yesica started working as a plant nursery worker. She worked there for six years and had no clue about pesticides. She wondered what and how she had gotten rashes on her arms and hands. 

She later became pregnant with her third child, who was born with many complications which required surgery to have their skull reshaped. When the community members were active, they were fed up, but had a hint of hope for immigration reform. Yesica joined one of FWAF’s marches in 2006. As she became more involved with the organization, her rashes, and her child’s complications started making sense.  

Yesica has been fighting for social justice as part of the FWAF staff for 10 years. Through her work with FWAF, Yesica has actively fought for immigration and voting rights. She now reaches out to community members through FWAF to ensure that farmworkers in the area know their rights and become members of the organization. 

At Hope Community Center, we are proud to honor and celebrate the excellence in our community. We wish to continue to empower and encourage others to follow on the path to greatness and success through Education, Advocacy, and Community Organizing for years to come. 

Want to become a part of the change we create at Hope? Visit our website and find out how you can get involved!