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2022 Reflections & Dreams

By Dr. Lisa Merritt

“I think human beings must have faith or must look for faith, otherwise our life is empty, empty. To live and not to know why the cranes fly, why children are born, why there are stars in the sky. You must know why you are alive, or else everything is nonsense, just blowing in the wind.” Anton Chekhov

John Sims and Dr. Merritt in the lobby of the Ringling Museum.

I recently read this profound quote at the beginning of Viola Davis’ painful biography, Finding Me, and as I reflect on the sudden departure of such a larger-than-life figure like MHI’s 2021 Community Champion in Arts Awardee John Sims, this quote resonates deeply with me. John was someone who “sucked the marrow out of life” while creating across multiple media and writing profound essays and bringing people together from all walks of life in celebration of the stark truths art brings to us all. Eleanor --my mother– had a special place in her heart for his quirky brilliance, and we all encouraged his many visions when he first came to SRQ. It was my special pleasure and pride to see him become “Artist in Residence” at Ringling Museum during my tenure as a Board Member there. I am glad for the amazing legacy they both leave us, some still to be shared at the Ringling Museum.

Overall, it has been quite another year at MHI and we are glad to sail to the finish line having yet again accomplished an amazing plethora of impactful achievements through the passionate hard work of our team. Hurricane Ian, unexpected fourth quarter surprise, did not stop our stride any more than nearly 3 years of Covid. We adapted, pivoted, maximized available resources and collaborations and kept going. Because of our dedicated, yet nimble and significant efforts, we are grateful for recognition and strong partnership with national organizations like “Project Hope” into 2023.

We remain grateful for support from the Cowles Family Trust, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, Manatee Community Foundation, New College of Florida, Sarasota Bay Club, Sarasota Community Foundation, Tidewell Foundation, and our many strong collaborators over the years. Members of our Data and Navigator teams will incorporate useful skills gained through the ‘Digital Navigator' training program they participated in with the Patterson Foundation.We are also pleased with a strong cohort of MHI Scholars with willing hearts and bright minds helping to facilitate outreach efforts, create methods of documenting and disseminating relevant data, health updates and contributing to ongoing research efforts in diverse arenas including climate health, environmental justice, Diabetes prevention and nutrition, cancer care/prevention and more. We shifted our Fall Wellness Workshop to an informative and entertaining virtual format and look forward to even greater programs for 2023.

Left to Right: MHI Program Director Rebekah Prieto, Project Hope Senior Regional Director Andrea Dunne-Sosa, MHI Safekeeper Bonnie Hardy-Ramsaeur, Project Hope President & CEO Rabih Torbay, and MHI Project Coordinator Onyx Hadwen

I am pleased with the growth of our new leadership team led by Rebekah Prieto and Onyx Hadwen as they have so well meshed with the community efforts in Manatee and Sarasota and our long term collaborators. I hope that you will continue to support and strengthen our “PEARLS”-prevention, education, advocacy, research, linkage to care and sustainability-efforts going into 2023. It is a relief to feel I can continue my step back to focus more upon care coordination for my family and that there is a “strong handoff” of this important work that has evolved for over nearly 3 decades, with completely laid-out infrastructure and systems of operations, hopefully for generations to come. MHI stands as a rare BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and Female-led independent voice of information and advocacy for vulnerable populations focused in SW Florida, however with impacts nationally and internationally. We look forward to a great year ahead with our care coordination and health education speaker series and ongoing STEAMH pipeline cultivation work. We look forward to seeing you there with us as we move onward and welcome your participation and support.

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