Every year, we have the opportunity to recognize leadership excellence at the Jim Bernstein Health Leadership Fund Dinner & Lecture. It never ceases to amaze me how enthusiastic, joyful and energetic this event is each year. Three hundred people fill the Friday Center’s Atrium with greetings to old and new friends. This will be the 9th year that people from all over the state come together in one place to celebrate, catch-up, and share news. People always ask us if we can simply hold the reception and forget about the dinner! It’s the one place, year after year, where people get recharged to do good and important work by spending time with so many of their friends and colleagues.
This year, Tom Bacon, DrPH, recently retired NC AHEC Director, will receive the Career Achievement Award and four Fellows who have completed their projects and two-year program will be recognized. It’s an evening of celebration and an opportunity to recognize Sue and Jim Bernstein and their “pay it forward” leadership style. The Fellowship and Scholarship were established to continue this tradition of community service and innovation.
Last year, John Price, retired Director of the NC Office of Rural Health and Community Care, visited each of the rural health centers eligible to receive scholarship funds for an employee or their dependent. As a result, this year the Foundation’s Bernstein Health Leadership Committee made a commitment to make each award in person. I had the opportunity to attend these meetings in seven communities across the state. Directors from the centers nominate an employee or an employee’s dependent, and two of the centers represented this year had never applied before. We were overjoyed to receive their applications. In most of our visits, the entire center staff attended the presentation of the award, celebrating and sharing how these students were part of the larger rural health center family. As the awarded students begin their college careers, their academic interests include engineering, physical therapy, behavioral health, medicine, video arts and film, and sign language.
Reflecting on the Fellowship, Scholarships and upcoming Dinner, I recall one of the center directors describing how important those first visits with Jim Bernstein and Harvey Estes were to planning for the healthcare needs of the community. The centers continue their work with active community participation on their boards, volunteers and fundraising. These communities, employees and children embody the “pay it forward” expectation. The Bernstein Health Leadership Fellowship and Scholarship are meant to act as catalysts for this way of thinking and most importantly, doing! Even though Jim has been gone for nine years, honoring this way of living will continue to make the greatest difference.
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