Health Hero Award winners announced

The Clallam County Public Health Advisory Committee, a group that acts as a connection between the public and the Clallam County Board of Health, instituted its first round of Public Health Hero Awards this year.

Committee members said the award is a way to recognize those that make influential contributions to the community's health while notifying the public of advantages to bettering their own health and the well-being of those around them.

"Public health programs and the attention to making sure the public is healthy are critical elements for a successful community," said committee member Clover Gowing of Sequim.

"Public health is unfortunately often overlooked, as are efforts to improve the asset, so these awards seemed like a great way to recognize those who are working hard while letting the public know how much is being done for their well-being."

Five individuals, one business and one program received awards from the committee on Oct. 21.

Mary Griffith won an award in the individual category for her work to establish the Dungeness Valley Health and Wellness Clinic.

Marissa Ortega-Welch and Gabriel Bernier, both Volunteers in Service to America, received the youth award for their work to address the health benefit of eating locally nutritious produce, issues of food security and availability and the positive economic and environmental impacts of eating locally grown foods.

Nash's Organic Produce won the business award for being at the forefront of organic farming and sales in Clallam County.

Larry and Michelle Little shared the event award for their promotion of physical activity in elementary school children with ties to the Olympic Discovery Trail Marathon.

The New Family Services Program at Olympic Medical Center won the award for being the most influential health-related program. It provides home visits to new mothers in the area.

Griffith, parish nurse for Dungeness Valley Lutheran Church, said the award is an honor, but she places her pride in the clinic.

"It all seemed like a good idea at the onset, but to see it gain this much success is simply wonderful," she said.

The clinic began with volunteer nurses and physicians coming in one night a week to help those without health insurance. The clinic soon began opening its doors two days a week.

Now, after realizing the needs for those with chronic illnesses and no way to pay for ongoing treatment, clinic organizers have added a third night dedicated to those with persistent problems.

"Oftentimes people who cannot pay for treatment, especially for chronic conditions, end up getting worse, having additional issues or making visits to the emergency room," Griffith said. "We want to stop that cycle and we want to encourage wellness as well as health."

Gowing said wellness is an important facet of health, which is why she nominated Nash's Organic Produce.

"This organization and everyone who works for it is indeed a hero here," Gowing said. "They were instrumental in initiating the first farm-to-cafeteria program to schools on the peninsula and contribute with each harvest to our well-being."

Mary Selecky, Washington Secretary of Health, presented the prizes to the local health heroes.

The committee hopes to give awards out each year.

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