United Way’s Annual Meeting volunteer award winners: Diana Ragbeer, Vanessa Mills, Peter J. Dolara, Carolina Gonzalez and Cheryl Little

Peter J. Dolara, Vanessa Mills, Cheryl Little, Diana Ragbeer & Carolina Gonzalez were honored

On June 25, 2014, hundreds of volunteers, supporters and partner agencies celebrated 90 years of United Way of Miami-Dade at its Annual Meeting and Volunteer Awards Ceremony. Four community leaders and one outstanding young person whose works have had real and lasting impact in our community were honored, and a new slate of officers, directors and trustees were also elected, during the meeting.  The event took place at the Jungle Island Treetop Ballroom.

Founded in 1924 as the Miami Community Chest, United Way has evolved, always representing Miami coming together to care for one another: whether responding in the aftermath of the 1926 hurricane, helping with the war effort in the 1940s, funding programs to assist newly arrived Cuban immigrants in the 1960s, funding health and non-violence programs in the 1980s, coordinating services in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, being at the forefront of the early education movement of the past decade or helping people pave a path to financial stability through the recession of the late 2000s.

“Since 1924, our United Way story is very much the story of Miami,” Harve A. Mogul, president and CEO, United Way of Miami-Dade, said. “Throughout history, every contributor, volunteer and advocate has played a key role in shaping our work and our community, and it is our honor to recognize Peter, Vanessa, Cheryl, Diana and Carolina for their dedication to making Miami a better place.”

This year’s honorees included Peter J. Dolara, a recognized aviation, travel and tourism professional; Vanessa Mills an outstanding voice for people living with HIV/AIDS and co-founder of Empower U; Cheryl Little, Esq., a tireless advocate for immigrant rights; Diana Ragbeer, a passionate advocate for children and director of public policy and communications for The Children’s Trust; and Carolina Gonzalez, an outstanding young woman who has taken a stance and is making a difference for “dreamers.”

Following is additional information on the awards and award winners:

The Dorothy Shula Award for Outstanding Volunteerism

This award honors an individual whose volunteerism and commitment to bringing hope, promise and opportunity into the lives of others has made a lasting, positive impact on a person, group or community at large.
Peter J. Dolara is president of Air Travel Management, a consulting practice dedicated to helping companies develop their business in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Prior to founding Air Travel Management, he served as American Airlines senior vice president for Mexico, Caribbean and Latin American. During his tenure, the region became the largest operating unit in the American Airlines system with a major connecting hub in Miami and 52 destinations in the Caribbean, Central and South America, and Mexico.  He is actively involved in the South Florida community, sits on the board of United Way and recently co-chaired the 2012 United Way Annual campaign. Throughout the years, Dolara has been recognized by numerous civic and travel organizations for his commitment to the community and development of tourism in Miami, the Caribbean and Latin America. The Greater Miami Chamber recognized his exemplary leadership with the “Sand in My Shoes” award in 2012. He has also been recognized by Beacon Council, the Caribbean Tourism Organization, the Government of Belo Horizonte and the Greater Miami Aviation Association among others.

The Essie Silva Community Builder Award

This award honors an individual dedicated to building bridges between people so they can come together with a common goal despite their differences.

Cheryl Little’s extensive involvement in immigration dates from 1985 when, upon her graduation from University of Miami School of Law with honors, she began working at the Haitian Refugee Center. In January 1996, she co-founded the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, Inc. (FIAC), now Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice), and serves as its executive director.  She has received numerous honors and awards for her work, including the 2012 David Lawrence Jr. Champion for Children Award, the 2008 Morris Dees Justice Award, and was named Person of the Week by ABC. Cheryl has authored many publications in the area of immigration, including law review articles and reports. Her most recent article, The War on Immigrants: Stories from the Front Lines, was published in a special summer 2011 edition of Americas Quarterly. She has testified many times before Congress and appears regularly on television. Her appearances include 60 Minutes, Nightline, PBS’s News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Frontline, The Today Show, The Oprah Winfrey Show and CNN.

The Monsignor Walsh Outstanding Human Services Professional Award

This award recognizes a human services professional who has dedicated his or her career to helping others. This person, through his or her commitment of time and tales in the human services field, has helped to shape a caring, responsive social services delivery system and has afforded hundreds of people in our community an opportunity for a healthy, productive and high quality life.

Vanessa Mills, LPN, BSN, MPH, is the co-founder and executive director of Empower “U”, Inc. Mills offers an outstanding background in clinical nursing knowledge as well as practical knowledge of HIV/AIDS case management and service delivery systems. She is a graduate of Barry University’s School of Nursing and Florida International University’s School of Public Health, with a concentration in the area of health education and promotion.  As a woman living with HIV infection, she has a deep personal desire and commitment to assist others in their fight against the stigma, denial, apathy, secrecy, and lack of education that continues to surround HIV infection in communities of color.  After her HIV/AIDS diagnosis in 1992, Mills worked at MOVERS Inc. where she single handedly organized and managed MOVERS’ case management program. She later worked at Williams, Stern & Associates coordinating the training of all Ryan White Title I case managers in Miami-Dade County. She is a former member of the Miami-Dade HIV/AIDS Partnership and is currently an active member of the Partnership’s Care and Treatment Committee. Mills has gained a reputation of fighting for the needs of people living with HIV infection who traditionally have not had a voice in the process.

The Public Service Leadership Award

This award recognizes a local or state public servant or community leader who has demonstrated his or her great love for this community through advocacy and leadership on behalf of children, families and older adults in Florida. Diana Ragbeer, director of public policy and communications for The Children’s Trust, is very involved in major health policy initiatives at the state and national levels.  Aside from her fulltime job, Ragbeer was appointed by Florida’s chief financial officer to the KidCare Administrative Simplification Task Force that recommended major, positive changes to the Florida KidCare program. Currently, she serves on the Administrative Simplification, Quality and Service Committee of Florida Healthy Kids, and on the Florida Covering Kids and Families Coalition. Ragbeer previously served as co-chair to the National Covering Kids and Families Network: Advocacy and Policy Committee.  She serves as the chair of the policy and advocacy group for the Florida Children’s Services Council and oversees legislative and advocacy initiatives at the statewide level.  Prior to assuming responsibilities with The Children’s Trust, Ragbeer worked for the Mayor’s Office in Miami-Dade County as the director of policy and legislative affairs. Prior to that, she was employed with the County for approximately twelve years in a variety of positions, including assistant director in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

The Outstanding Youth Award

The award recognizes an individual 18 years of age or younger for leadership, commitment and character through service and volunteerism.  This award winner was announced during the ceremony. Since early childhood, Carolina Gonzalez was told about her exiled grandparents who fled Cuba to give the family a better future in the U.S. In the summer of 2012, the eleventh-grader at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy launched Deferred Action for Dreamers (D.A.D.) to help young people apply for relief under the Department of Homeland Security’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA defers removal of undocumented childhood arrivals (before age 16), and allows them to obtain work permits and pursue their studies. Gonzalez’s organization – which has helped over 500 students apply for relief – holds events and clinics, and brings pro-bono lawyers to work with applicants through the confusing application process. While balancing sports, AP classes and clinics, Gonzalez also found the time to create a DACA Mini Grant program to pay the $465 fee for applicants who could not afford it due to disabilities or financial stress. She has raised $22,000 and awarded about 22 mini grants since the program’s inception. She is also the president of the Writing Club, vice president of the Environmental Club and has volunteered with Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) and Key Club.

About United Way of Miami-Dade

For 90 years, United Way of Miami-Dade has been an innovative force in the community, successfully responding to emerging needs and transforming people’s lives. Today our work is focused on education, financial stability and health—the building blocks for a good life.  We invest in quality programs, advocate for better policies, engage people in the community and generate resources.  To learn more, give, advocate or volunteer, visit www.unitedwaymiami.org, www.facebook.com/UnitedWayMiami or www.twitter.com/UnitedWayMiami.