LANSING, Mich. — As a show of support for community members working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr. (D-East Lansing) is asking individuals to nominate a frontline hero to be highlighted and thanked with a gift card to a local restaurant.
“It’s no secret that 2020 has been an extremely difficult year, but what we know is that during difficult times, the true character of a community is revealed,” Sen. Hertel said. “We have seen the incredible strength of people in our community coming together to take on the most challenging of times, and that unity is one thing we can all celebrate this year.”
Frontline heroes from the 23rd Senate District will be recognized twice a week, beginning Friday, Dec. 4, and ending Thursday, Dec. 31. The highlighted heroes will be featured on Sen. Hertel’s Facebook page and in his e-newsletter that residents can sign up to receive at SenatorHertel.com. They will also receive a $100 gift card to a local restaurant.
“The backbone of our community are our incredible teachers, health care professionals, first responders, and those who ensure we have food on our tables,” said Sen Hertel. “We can support our frontline heroes and our small businesses at the same time.”
To nominate a local frontline hero, send an email to SenCHertel@senate.michigan.gov with “Frontline Hero Nomination” in the subject line. Include the nominee’s first and last name, home address, phone number, and description of how this person has made an exceptional difference in the lives of those in the 23rd Senate District.
Nominated individuals must be residents of the 23rd Senate District. Questions can be directed to Sen. Hertel’s office at (517) 373-1734.
Dr. Aimee Leisure-Martins
As Medical Director of Cristo Rey Family Health Center, a clinic that provides health care services to low-income, uninsured, and other vulnerable populations, Dr. Aimee Leisure-Martins was already a leader in our community. Once COVID-19 hit, her role became even more critical. She worked quickly and tirelessly to ensure staff had sufficient PPE and that the clinic was able to meet CDC safety recommendations.
As a result of her efforts, Cristo Rey has not had to close — even temporarily — during the pandemic, which has been an invaluable resource to its patients, many of whom are essential workers and some of whom were among the first in our community to contract COVID.
In addition to being one of the first clinics in the area to provide testing, there also has been no gap in the clinic treating patients with non-COVID conditions, ensuring continuous quality care throughout the ongoing health emergency.
Dr. Leisure-Martins truly is a frontline hero and an invaluable member of our community.
When COVID hit in the spring, Ryan was working as a Production Supervisor at Gordon Food Service (GFS). Unsure at first how the food distribution industry would be affected, they quickly saw their workload triple as demand for groceries sharply increased along with maintaining food supplies for hospitals, restaurants, and schools. He began tirelessly working 13-14-hour days, overseeing grocery stores borrowing GFS’ trucks and loaders to meet demand, and working the equivalent of two jobs. To protect the health of his wife, Ann, and their 6-year-old son, Blake, Ryan isolated from his family by staying with his sister for three months, adding separation from his family to the stress of the workload.
Since the spring, Ryan has moved into a new role as Operations Supervisor at a Meijer distribution center. The pandemic has helped him realize he’s part of something bigger; knowing our community is depending on him for safe, continued access to food serves as motivation on tough days and reminds him why he does this work. Ryan’s sacrifices and dedication are deeply appreciated by our community.
David Bills and Heather Young, Okemos
Okemos couple David Bills and Heather Young are both teachers in the Lansing School District. Dave is a reading intervention teacher at Lansing Eastern, where he teaches ESL to Lansing’s international student population. Heather is a Focus Teacher at Pattengill Biotechnical Magnet School, where she works with teachers to develop the school’s STEM curriculum.
During this difficult time, Dave and Heather have both gone above and beyond to build a sense of community with the students in their classrooms. A major focus for Heather has been whole child development, not just academic, as well as ensuring teachers are able to meaningfully connect with students — and students are connecting with each other — while learning remotely. For Dave, it became abundantly clear that with the amount of isolation students were experiencing, it would be more important than ever to focus on the students’ hierarchy of needs, including feeling cared for and that they are a valuable part of a community.
Dave and Heather feel the Lansing School District has been flexible and is working extremely hard to provide resources, to both educators and students alike, to meet everyone’s needs. In addition to teaching, they dedicate after-school time to their students as FIRST Robotics coaches, where they assist each other’s respective teams.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Dave and Heather became involved with a community effort led by TinkrLAB, an Okemos STEAM-oriented maker space, to build and distribute much-needed PPE. TinkrLAB provided the 3D plans and filament, which Dave and Heather used on their personal 3D printer at home and printers from their schools to build more than 500 face masks and face shields. The PPE was then donated to TinkrLAB’s project and distributed to local health providers.
Dave and Heather’s dedication and commitment to our students and community are deeply appreciated!
Shayanna Conley-Whitley, Lansing
Shayanna Conley-Whitley is a Respiratory Therapist at Sparrow Hospital, where she has worked for 20 years. She is the night shift team leader on the COVID floor, where she works 12-hour shifts in addition to being on call. Shayanna is overworked, but she’s still going!
On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, she was notified at 2:00 a.m. — while she was working — that her grandfather had sadly lost his battle with COVID-19. Not only did Shay continue her shift, she also worked 12-hour shifts in the three days that followed because she wanted to ensure her team was properly staffed before she took some personal bereavement time.
Part of what keeps Shay going is that she feels Sparrow has been doing an excellent job throughout the duration of the pandemic, in terms of both caring for COVID patients and protecting staff with proper PPE and keeping everyone informed. She is very proud to work for Sparrow, and her coworkers are proud to have her, too. They say Shay sets a great example for her team and always encourages them to do their best, even when they’re short-staffed. In addition, she always has a positive attitude and an encouraging word for patients.
Shay is truly a Frontline Hero and our community appreciates her hard work and dedication!
Killian Kuch of East Lansing
Killian, a phlebotomist, had just turned 20-years-old at the start of the pandemic and was working per diem at McLaren when COVID cases began to rise. He ended up working full-time to cover the shifts of his coworkers who had been exposed to the virus and, throughout this past summer, helped conduct COVID tests on pre-op patients in addition to his regular duties at the hospital. On top of this, Killian has been a full-time student at Lansing Community College — where he was accepted into their nursing program that he’ll start in January — in addition to continuing his work nearly full-time at McLaren.
While the impact of a global pandemic on a health care worker at the beginning of their career could have easily deterred anyone from continuing in such a stressful environment, Killian stayed the course and persevered toward his goal of nursing school. He said he understands, firsthand, how important nurses are to our community and expressed how grateful he is for his coworkers, as well as every frontline worker in our community who has continued to endure the fight against COVID-19.
And, just like last year, Killian spent Christmas Day working his shift at the hospital. His dedication is commendable, and our community is so appreciative of his efforts!
Killian will receive a $100 gift card to The Peanut Barrel in East Lansing. Originally opened in 1973 under a different name, Jennifer and Joe Bell bought The Peanut Barrel in 1980, added a kitchen and patio, and built the business as it’s known today. Famous for its Papa Joe Burger, Long Island Iced Tea, and its iconic location on Grand River Avenue, The Peanut Barrel is a beloved locale for MSU students and alumni, and a must-stop destination for any campus visitor.
Darcey Thilo of Onondaga
Darcey is a paraprofessional at Leslie’s Woodworth Elementary School and President of Leslie’s Educational Support Personnel. When schools turned to remote learning this past spring, Darcey worked with several different teachers online in their Zoom classrooms throughout the day as well as in the school building, where she prepared documents for students to use at home during their remote lessons. Along with the teachers, she helped ensure each student received a quality educational experience.
Darcey also works in many other supportive roles in the school district, including food service, where much of her time is now focused. In the spring, she and her team made sure that students who receive free and reduced school lunches did not lose that food security by delivering meals to them. She also helped Leslie Public Schools expand their meal program to free, 7-day meal packs for anyone age 18 and younger, which she helps to distribute on Wednesdays from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. at Leslie High School.
Despite the volume of work involved in her role, Darcey said the best part has been being able to step up and help her community, and especially seeing students from all over Ingham County utilize their free meal program. Leslie Public Schools and her support staff have worked so hard to ensure this difficult time has run smoothly for its students, and she’s extremely proud of their unit for their efforts.
Darcey is known by her colleagues for working constantly for the betterment of staff and their entire district. Every year, she and her team organize a Christmas celebration at their local bowling alley as a “thank you” to Leslie teachers and support staff.
While they couldn’t gather to celebrate in-person this holiday season, our community celebrates Darcey’s dedication and tireless efforts to uplift our students and educators throughout this difficult school year!
Darcey will receive a $100 gift card to The Vault Delicatessen in Mason. Originally purchased by R.C. Dart in 1936, The Vault’s location was home to Dart Bank until 1969. In 2005, R.C. Dart’s great-grandson, Scott Robinson, brought the building back to family ownership, continuing their family’s heritage of five generations on the Courthouse Square. The Robinson family’s businesses — which include The Vault Deli, Bestsellers Books & Coffee Co., and Darrell’s Market and Hardware — allow you to eat, drink, read, and shop local!
Nathan Westerlund of Haslett
A Certified Nurse’s Assistant at Burcham Hills in East Lansing, Nate is also a full-time MSU student working toward his goal of becoming a Physician Assistant. After a full week of classes when his friends are hanging out or enjoying football Saturdays, he spends his weekends caring for those who can no longer care for themselves, working with our vulnerable, seniors population throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nate was nominated by Anne Wilson, whose mother, Deanna, was the first Burcham Hills resident he ever worked with. Sadly, Deanna recently passed away after a 20+ year struggle with Alzheimer’s and a brief battle with COVID-19, during which Anne said Nate gave her mother excellent care.
Even when Deanna was not herself from the disease, he always treated her with compassion — helping her to pick out her outfit for the day and put on her signature red lipstick, turning on her favorite HGTV shows, and getting her treats for her sweet tooth. With a smile and positive attitude, he cared for Deanna with humor and dignity while encouraging her family through a difficult time. Nate said he loved spending time with Deanna and it was just a pleasure to have the opportunity to make an impact on her, Anne, and the rest of her family.
Dealing with COVID-19 has been difficult for Burcham Hills employees and residents — since necessary safety precautions have altered what is usually a lively, energetic environment — but Nate tries his hardest to make sure his residents are having the best experience possible, knowing that many of them are struggling with the same feelings about the pandemic as the rest of us. He is happy to know his work has a positive impact, and that an act of kindness for those in need can help illuminate a dark time.
Nate is truly a Frontline Hero, and our community thanks him for his dedication!
Nate will receive a $100 gift card to El Azteco in East Lansing. In 1976, El Azteco first opened its doors in a basement on East Lansing’s M.A.C. Avenue after New Mexican native Arturo Santa Cruz, who was an MSU student at the time, realized his dream of opening an authentic Mexican restaurant to an eager public. He quickly expanded to a second location in Lansing and, in 1992, moved the campus location to its current home on Ann Street. Famous for its cheese dip, topopo salad, and rooftop patio, “El Az,” as it’s affectionately known, is a Lansing-area staple.
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