The Johns Hopkins Gazette: January 10, 2000
January 10, 2000
VOL. 29, NO. 17


Community's Best Friends

Nine men and women (and one dog) honored with MLK Jr. Awards

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Laura Totis, a senior laboratory technician in A&S's Biology Department, remembers that fateful phone call that woke her in the middle of the night last June. From the first ring, Totis suspected the call was for her. As a volunteer for the Mid-Atlantic D.O.G.S. search and rescue team, Totis is always on standby, and she had gotten these early morning calls before. The voice on the other end told her that a 2-year-old child had been reporting missing and that she and Torrie, her trained Rottweiler, were to travel immediately to a remote spot in southern Maryland, not far from the boy's home, where the police had picked up the already massive search.

The sector chosen was a wooded hill that Totis says "was in the middle of nowhere." Once there, she and Torrie were paired with a police officer and began to search. Five hours later, Torrie, a non-scent-discriminating dog Totis has trained to recognize human smells, began feverishly sniffing a lone tree, and Totis suspected the dog had picked up a human scent.

Regarding her volunteer search-and-rescue work, a typically modest Laura Totis says, "I'm really thrilled they're recognizing my dog. It is nice for a Rottweiler to be appreciated in this light."

"She kept coming back to the same spot," Totis says. "Based upon that, we decided to check a nasty pile of briars right near the base of the tree."

The dog jumped in the pile and instantly began to alert Totis that she had found something. The dog was right: Under the briar patch was the 2-year-old boy, surprisingly content.

Some would say Totis' success that day was a testament to her dedication, her many years of volunteer work and the months it took to train Torrie to do her job effectively. Totis, however, modestly says it was a lot of luck.

"I was thrilled. We got super lucky. That was a once in a lifetime thing," Totis says. "One of the reasons you do this type of job is you want to be the one who finds that lost child and makes a difference."

Her efforts to "make a difference" haven't gone unnoticed. Totis is one of nine university and hospital staff and faculty members chosen as Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award winners.

The recipients will be honored at an upcoming ceremony that is part of the 2000 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration, to be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 11, at Turner Auditorium in East Baltimore and broadcast on closed-circuit television to 218 Maryland, Homewood campus; Kossiakoff Center, APL; Anna Baetjer Room, SPH; Tilghman Auditorium, Hurd Hall and Patient Channel 32, JHH; and Carroll Auditorium, Bayview.

The keynote speaker for this year's commemoration will be Taylor Branch, a 1999 National Humanities Award recipient and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963. Past keynote speakers have included Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harry Belafonte, Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks.

Also on the program is music by the Unified Voices Choir.

The awards are intended to honor the memory and work of Martin Luther King Jr., a man known to most as a champion of civil rights but also a responsible citizen who advocated a spirit of community volunteerism. These community service awards are presented to faculty and staff members who best exemplify the spirit and citizenship that characterized King's life. Nominees from the university and medical communities are evaluated by panels of faculty and staff at their institutions and then are recommended to the members of the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, which selects the winners. A seven-member panel reviews the university nominations, and a four-member panel evaluates hospital nominees.

In making its decision, each panel looks at five criteria: how vital the project is to the well-being of the community; how well-received and well-supported the project is within the community; the impact of the person's participation on the overall project; the impact on the community; and the person's commitment to the activity or project.

Eva Lane, director of the Downtown Center for the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education, is now in her sixth year as a member of the university's nomination review panel. Twenty-three nominations were received by the panel just prior to the Thanksgiving 1999 weekend, and Lane says each year it gets tougher to decide who is chosen.

"It's very hard. We do it by a number system, and it really comes down to just one or two numbers differentiating all of them. There are never any clear winners," Lane says. "I always look forward to the process, however. It is just amazing to read what these people are doing. It is so heartwarming."

One of those whose work the committee found compelling was Edward Cornwell, an associate professor of surgery at the School of Medicine. As a trauma surgeon, Cornwell has grown all too familiar with the devastating consequences youth violence has on victims, friends, families and the community. His personal experiences led him to volunteer at conferences and seminars across the country to speak about the impact of youth violence on society.

Cornwell also is actively involved in the Police Athletic League's Ft. Worthington Center, and, in March, he will speak at the national conference of the Children's Defense Fund, an organization whose mission is to ensure every child a healthy, safe and moral start to life.

Edward Cornwell

At the Ft. Worthington Center, Cornwell spends most of his time playing basketball and mentoring the children, giving them hope and encouragement to lead a better life. He also has instituted at the center a program called What's Up Doc? that provides the kids the opportunity to ask medical questions on such topics as youth violence, alcohol and drug abuse and sex. On several occasions, Cornwell has allowed children to tour the hospital's trauma rooms so they can experience what it's like to be brought in after a violent act.

John Cameron, A. Blalock Professor and chairman of General Surgery at the School of Medicine, nominated Cornwell and says this "outstanding young academic surgeon" has offered tireless community service.

"He is acting as a role model for the community and setting an example for young people so they could avoid instances where they can be traumatized or injured in the future," Cameron says. "He seemed an ideal candidate for this award."

An associate professor at the School of Medicine, Quentin Fisher received three separate nominations for the community service award.

Fisher, who is with the division of Pediatric Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, is the founder and faculty adviser of Project SHARE, a program that collects and salvages medical and surgical supplies from operating rooms and then decontaminates, reorganizes and ships them off to people in need around the world. Project SHARE has responded to emergency situations like the recent earthquake in Turkey; Fisher personally shipped out more than 50 boxes of supplies for the relief effort.

Quentin Fisher

In his nomination letter, Tarik Tihan, assistant professor of pathology at the School of Medicine, says Fisher "has inspired tens of medical students, nurses and staff members to donate their time and energy to gather thousands of pounds of extremely valuable medical supplies for hundreds of people desperately in need."

Fisher also is a very active participant in Operation Smile, the volunteer medical services organization that provides reconstructive facial surgery to indigent children and young adults in 16 developing countries and in the United States.

Tihan writes, "I cannot think of a better saint to receive this award than Dr. Quentin Fisher."

Harold Shinitzky, a psychologist in the Department of Pediatrics at the School of Medicine, is an award winner who has touched the lives of hundreds of Baltimore youth and their families as the director and therapist of the Johns Hopkins Children Center's Teens' Talk and Hopkins' Club. Participants in these after-school programs are high-risk youth affected by substance abuse in their families and other factors such as mental health disorders and socio-economic conditions. The groups focus on skills development in the areas of building self-esteem, assertiveness, decision-making and character development.

Harold Shinitzky

Shinitzky also organized Project Connect, a program that gives young people a chance to broaden their horizons by participating in a number of fun, educational and conservation experiences intended to increase their sense of responsibility and connection to the community.

Another Baltimore community volunteer working with victims of substance abuse is Reggie Price, a support associate in the Department of Neurosciences at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Price often spends his lunch hours talking with patients who are dealing with substance abuse problems. He shares his own drug abuse experiences and offers them support and alerts them to what local resources are available to help them get their lives back in order.

Reggie Price

Price says that in 1994 he had "a spiritual awakening" that caused him to become active in community service. As a youth ministry leader in his local church, Price counsels troubled youth and offers them direction. He also has developed an after-school Bible study program and basketball and summer camp programs.

Price says he draws his inspiration from his faith and the belief that there needs to be a change in our society regarding the prevalence of violence and substance abuse.

Pompey Swann, patient service coordinator in the hospital's Department of Psychiatry, was nominated this year for his selfless donations of food, money and clothing to those in need in the community.

As pastor of Triumph Baptist Church, Swann often offers his place of worship as a resting place for the homeless until he can refer them to a shelter. Swann also adopts a family every Thanksgiving to personally meet the family's needs.

Pompey Swann

His involvement in the community has led Swann to the creation of a soup kitchen, prayer lunches, holiday baskets and activities for children. He frequently initiates food and clothing drives for the underprivileged and also offers up his own resources, sometimes purchasing prescription medicine for those who can't afford it and delivering it directly to them.

Swann says what guides him is the belief that there should be provisions for all who are in need.

As a volunteer in the Open Door Church of God in Christ, Dorothy Dyett enriches the lives of others by providing a caring environment for children and the elderly.

Through her church, Dyett, a clinical documentation clerk in Medical Record Services at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, is responsible for getting elderly people to medical appointments and assisting them in food shopping. Dyett's church buys food from the Maryland Food Bank and provides it to families who need assistance.

Dorothy Dyett

Dyett also uses her own time to take groups of children to such places as a park, McDonald's or the Discovery Zone. Every Christmas and Easter, Dyett volunteers her time to help purchase gifts and food baskets for needy children and is involved with a variety of mentoring and training programs for adolescents.

Affordable housing and the children of Baltimore are priorities for Carol Dugan Wessner, program manager in the Institute for Policy Studies.

Every Saturday Wessner volunteers at the Sandtown-Winchester Habitat for Humanity project, where her hands-on work helps provide low-income families in Baltimore affordable housing options. Her conviction in the project, and her ever-growing carpentry and painting skills, have led her to assist on 16 houses during the past four years.

Carol Dugan Wessner

As a member of the Citizens' Review Board of Children, Wessner helps safeguard children caught "in the system" of foster care. Wessner also serves as an active member of the Community Outreach Committee at her church, in which capacity she assists with various voluntary activities, such as providing for the needy during the holidays.

Lester Salamon, a principal research scientist with the Institute for Policy Studies and director of the Center for Civil Society Studies, wrote in his nomination of Wessner that she "exemplifies community service."

"Reaching out to those in need is a basic tenet of her life," Salamon continues. "And she will cheerfully undertake any task to help others."

Another Habitat for Humanity volunteer, Kathleen Bronson, received her nomination based upon her work at a health clinic for the indigent and a soup kitchen in Baltimore. Prior to moving to the area, Bronson, a surgical nurse at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, lived in Philadelphia and Latin America, where she was involved with similar health clinics and community service.

Kathleen Bronson

Levi Watkins, founder of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration and chair of its committee, says each of the winners has clearly demonstrated both community commitment and selfless service. Watkins says this diverse group exemplifies some of the caring qualities that King had.

"I am personally delighted on the sheer number of people we have in our institutions dedicated to community service," says Watkins, associate dean for postdoctoral programs and cardiac surgery at the School of Medicine. "These are people who are setting an example and affecting people. But let us not forget that Martin himself was not about just affecting small groups but whole institutions as he strived for racial equality."

Just prior to the 18th annual celebration, Watkins says he doesn't want to forget all the people who have worked since July on organizing the event. "For the first 10 years of this celebration, it was just me and my secretary," Watkins says. "But now we have a host of people helping to put this thing together. And we are already working on lining up next year's speakers."

Follow this link to read quotes from the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Award winners.