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FORMER ASSOCIATE SUPREME COURT Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “America has believed that in differentiation, not in uniformity, lies the path of progress. It acted on this belief; it has advanced human happiness, and it has prospered.” Those words, spoken in 1915 during a public address in Boston, continue to ring true across the country and in our community.
Southwest Florida is a beacon for immigrants from around the globe who have made a home in our region, where individuals of Latino, African, Asian and other cultures reverberate in the arts, education, business, medicine and philanthropy.
But because this diversity is not often openly visible at the forefront, Gulfshore Business partnered with D’Latinos magazine to create the inaugural Face Award in 2011 to honor these unsung heroes. Nominations in six different categories were reviewed by our judges, who included: Paula DiGrigoli, executive director of NCH Safe and Healthy Children’s Coalition of Collier County; Tracey Galloway, CEO at Community Cooperative; Yemisi Oloruntola-Coates, manager of Diversity and Language Services at Lee Memorial Health System; Carmen Rey-Gomez, director of the Hisplanic Institute at Hodges University; and Andrew Solis, attorney at Cohen and Grigsby law firm.
The panel chose companies and individuals who reflect and celebrate positive values and ethnic and racial diversity, and in turn serve as inspiration for others.
Small Business, Juan Carlos Castilla
THERE WAS A TIME, around 2003, when Juan Carlos Castilla was a homeless undocumented immigrant who found his meals in the dumpster outside a Fort Myers Burger King.
Today, he’s the owner of a Naples roofing company that employs 57 people and closed 2014 with around $4 million in sales.
“I remember in 2007 when I just started the company, it was just myself. The only food I could afford was just crackers and those instant soups,” he says. Castilla Roofing was a one-man operation when he started it that year—the same moment everybody else in the housing industry “was going out of business every day.”
Castilla was born in Peru and, after graduating from Lima’s Catholic university with a degree in economics, he wanted to study to become a diplomat. But the cost of tuition barred his entry, and, like so many others with ambitions greater than their earning potential in Latin America, he came to the United States in 2002.
He worked odd jobs and saved his earnings. Then someone broke into his apartment and stole his passport and all his money. After that he was on the streets, living in the seedier parts of Fort Myers, bathing at public libraries and picking through trash for Whoppers that didn’t sell.
What he needed was a job, and it came. “I found this guy, an American guy, who pretty much picked me up from the street and said, ‘You want to work, come with me.’” He worked as a roofer and rose through the company. He got an apartment and a car and earned $400 per week. Then he went off on his own to start his own company.
He’d drive around looking for broken roof tiles, then knock on the homeowners’ door and confess he needed to borrow some tools if they hired him. Sometimes they welcomed him. Sometimes they ordered him off their property. Little by little, and then very quickly, the company grew, and he obtained his American citizenship. “I’ve been really lucky, to be honest,” he says.
Medical, Dr. Anais Aurora Badia
ANAIS AURORA BADIA opened her Fort Myers dermatology office when the Hispanic community was still relatively small in this corner of Florida. Thirteen years later, Florida Skin Center has seen 49,000 patients walk through the door. Around 10 percent of her patients now are Hispanic.
As a Latina woman, Badia, 47, who is a fifth-generation physician, is part of a still-small demographic in her profession. This, despite a great need for more diversity in a profession that’s more urgently needed as more Americans move to the Sunbelt states and more Hispanic Americans fall victim to melanoma. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 85 percent of Hispanic women do not check their skin for abnormalities, despite that nearly half regularly sunbathe.
After Badia finished her residency in Albany, New York, she went looking for a place to set up a dermatology office. As a first-generation Cuban-American with ties to Miami (she earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Miami and medical degree from Nova Southeastern University), she investigated locations in Southwest Florida. “There wasn’t anyone who was bilingual, even though at that time it wasn’t as important to speak both languages,” she says. “There also weren’t as many female dermatologists.”
She picked up the phone and started calling Fort Myers dermatology offices asking for waiting times. They were four months, six months. Bingo.
As Southwest Florida grew, so did her practice. But she’s still only one of three people who see patients in her office. They greet about 450 people per week and are “consistently busy.” A good portion of her 23-member staff is bilingual and comes from Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Nicaraguan and Indian families. To reach even more of the Hispanic population, Badia recently opened a second office in Cape Coral.
“I feel very lucky to have the practice that I have, and I feel like the only reason I’m able to do everything I can and have everything I have is because of the community,” she says.
Nonprofit, Anne Arbelaez
ABOUT THREE MONTHS after her son died, in 2004, Anne Arbelaez attended a meeting of a support group called The Compassionate Friends, an international organi – zation most people don’t know exists until their child has passed away. Arbelaez, then in her late 30s and suddenly childless, hadn’t been taking care of herself. She ate and slept little, and seldom left the house.
At the meeting, a woman named Teresa Walker quickly approached her, took her by the hands and sat her down. “I want you to go home and just take a shower,” Teresa said. “You don’t have to do it every day. Just take a shower. Find some clean clothes.”
The instructions seemed crucial. Arbelaez repeated them. “OK, so I just have to take a shower, find some clean clothes.”
“And I just want you to put your sneakers on,” Teresa said. “You don’t have to go anywhere. I just want you to put your sneakers on.”
Now, a decade later, Arbelaez, 49, remembers the moment as a turning point in her grief, advice that could only come from “someone who has been in the depths of hell,” as Teresa has, as Arbelaez has. The help Arbelaez found at The Compassionate Friends is the reason she kept going back, and it’s the reason she joined the chapter’s leadership in 2006. When the daily pain subsided, she sought to pay it forward.
The Compassionate Friends was founded nearly 46 years ago in England, and Southwest Florida’s group became a chapter in the mid-1980s.
On March 9, 2004, David attended a party and did drugs. He died under circumstances Arbelaez never felt compelled to discover. Many parents, when their children die, join or create movements to prevent the causes of their death: drug and alcohol use, traffic hazards, cancer. But since becoming the head of The Compassionate Friends chapter, Arbelaez has remained neutral; she devotes her energy to the parents.
“For me, my thought is just to keep that door open for the newly bereaved,” she said. When they walk in, she welcomes them tenderly and says, “I just want you to take a shower.”
Arts And culture, Marisa Cleveland
ADOPTED FROM SOUTH KOREA and growing up in New Hampshire, it wasn’t often that Marisa Cleveland saw another Asian person, and she was the only one at her school. Even in fiction, no one looked like her.
“I never found an adopted South Korean girl on TV,” says Cleveland, now 39, a literary agent and author living on Marco Island. “I didn’t find anybody that I could relate to.” And she had to contend with the subtle racism of Middle America. Once, a teacher told her she didn’t have to be pretty because she was smart. “Well, what if I’m not smart enough?” Cleveland thought.
The lack of diversity takes a toll. “I might’ve felt like I could’ve done more and been more at an earlier age,” she says. “It took me a long time to realize that I could be whatever I could dream.”
In her work as a Naples schoolteacher for six years and now as a gatekeeper in the publishing world, Cleveland has helped children realize what she never did until heading off to George Mason University. After college she taught language arts at Palmetto Ridge High School, which has a large population of Hispanic students, and coached the cheerleaders.
After Cleveland switched to a literary career in 2010 and began publishing adult romance novels, a former student, who’d since moved to Spain, got her hands on one of Cleveland’s books. Cleveland had taught the girl eight years before and coached her on the cheerleading squad. “I read your book,” she wrote to Cleveland, “and it changed my life.”
In her own writing and in the manuscripts she seeks at The Seymour Agency where she works, the characters of Cleveland’s prose aren’t a polished ideal. They’re flawed. They don’t have everything. Often, they didn’t grow up in traditional families.
Lately, Cleveland and her husband have been working on publishing books under a new venture by the Global Heart imprint. When the books are available later in 2015, some of the revenue will go toward fighting hunger and homelessness in Southwest Florida.
Education, Belinda Keiser
IN THE EARLY 1980s, Belinda Mills was working for the National Health Screening Council, a health promotion nonprofit in South Florida, and looking for cheap office space. So she set up a meeting with Arthur Keiser and his mother, Evelyn, who ran Keiser School, a small professional institute in Oakland Park with 100 pupils. She introduced herself and the health council, and then Arthur Keiser said, “Well, Ms. Mills, it’s a good program, but we’re small and I’m not really sure.” Evelyn was shaking her head.
“But Mr. Keiser, this will be the best thing you’ve ever done to serve the community. You have my word,” Mills replied.
A year later, they were married, and Belinda Keiser is now the vice chancellor of community relations and student advancement at Keiser University, the second-largest private nonprofit university in Florida, with 20,000 students and satellite campuses in Nicaragua and China.
Aside from its $3 billion-per-year economic impact and the 30,000 direct and indirect jobs it creates, Keiser University has earned a distinction as one of the leading education centers for working adults.
“We have always been, from the very first day, workforce-driven,” she says. “One of the things we do is serve the working adult. If you look at who we are serving—talented young men and women who are looking for a professional career—perhaps that’s why you’re finding three-fourths of our population being women.”
Not only that, but 52 percent of its students are African-American or Hispanic. And the university offers classes solely in Spanish. “We were one of the first to offer a doctorate in business administration, an MBA and a master’s in management studies all in someone’s native tongue, in Spanish,” she says, adding “I think it’s a sign of respect.”
“We’re living in a global world,” she says. With that in mind, they’ve expanded to Shanghai, Nicaragua and, most recently, Moldova. And last year, the Keisers used $250,000 of their savings to start a foundation to send “global leaders” to those locations on scholarships, where they can earn practical experience in entrepreneurship, service and leadership.
Large Company, 21st Century Oncology
EVEN THOUGH Dr. Daniel E. Dosoretz is the chief executive officer of Fort Myer-based 21st Century Oncology, a massive chain of cancer treatment centers, with 180 locations in seven countries, he still sees patients two days per week.
“I consider my job to be a doctor,” he says. “I love my patients.”
21st Century is proud of the fact that it’s a “physician-led company,” which may be part of the reason employees tend to stick with it. “It’s very hard for a non-physician to tell highly trained doctors and nurses what to do and how to do it,” Dosoretz says. The company has around 4,000 employees nationwide; some 800 of them have been with the company more than a decade. “Once you join us, you don’t leave us,” he says.
Dosoretz was born in Argentina and went to medical school in Buenos Aires. He moved to the United States and became an attending physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. (His father was a radiation oncologist, and his son and daughter are radiation oncologists.)
Since Dosoretz and some colleagues from Boston opened their first radiation center in 1982, 21st Century Oncology has grown tremendously. It offers a range of cancer services, and focus on providing the same technology and quality of care found at large hospitals, but in a community setting. It’s now the largest radiation oncology provider in the United States, with offices in 17 states, plus six countries in Latin America. In Florida, nearly one-third of 21st Century Oncology’s employees are minorities, 20 percent of that number are Hispanic.
One of the keys to the company’s growth, Dosoretz says, is that its focus isn’t on growth. It’s on patients. And to that end, they care for everyone: “Medicare, Medicaid—we never discriminate on the basis of having the ability to pay,” Dosoretz says.
In oncology, “you fight [alongside] them, and they’re courageous people,” he says. “I see a lot of patients who put in perspective what life is all about. If you think you’re having a bad day, come to my office and see what a bad day is.” GB