Wednesday, 28 September 2016 22:11

Community-minded Bravo winners put residents first

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This is the second round of profiles in our series of 2016 Bravo Award winners. Stay tuned for profiles on the rest of our winners in the coming months.

Excelling at their jobs is one of the many ways Bravo award winners Miguel Leija and Lakeisha Henderson go above and beyond to answer the call of public service. But it’s the hours they spend away from work volunteering in their communities that’s helping to create brighter futures for residents in need.

Lakeisha Henderson engages city’s youth toward better tomorrow

Giving students a glimpse of college life can help them learn what to expect during their first year of college. It’s an experience Lakeisha Henderson values, and it’s one she helps coordinate twice a year for more than 300 aspiring college students.

“It makes me feel fulfilled,” said Henderson, a graduate engineer for the Public Works and Engineering Department.

A youth and education advocate, Henderson volunteers 20 hours a week for the Houston Area Urban League Young Professionals, a nonprofit organization that aims to create a positive impact through outreach programs, service and advocacy. As the community outreach co-chair for HAUL, Henderson helps coordinate the Young Professional University Program, a one-day outreach program in the fall and spring.

 “The program helps prepare youth for their first year in college,” Henderson said.    “Even if I’m just just able to speak to one kid, I feel like I’ve made a difference.

“When I was younger, I had different individuals that helped me,” Henderson said. “As I grew older. I wanted to give back in that way.”

Now, Henderson gives back to her community through her volunteerism and fulfills her passion for pubic service through her work for the city.

 “She is an exemplary employee,” said Choyce Morrow, a supervising engineer for Public Works flood plain management division. “She constantly demonstrates outstanding performance and her job knowledge makes her a great resource for our staff.”

After the devastating Memorial Day flood of 2015, and most recently, the 2016 Tax Day Flood, Henderson worked tirelessly to help residents affected by the floods.

 “She spent a great deal of time helping to connect residents to resources for their recovery efforts,” said Morrow, who has worked with Henderson for the past two years.

 “She has a great deal of empathy for the citizens and is very compassionate,” Morrow said.

Henderson also gives her time to Bread of Life, the Houston AIDS Walk, Mia’s Closet Back-to-School Bash and the Buddies, Books and Brunch program.

“You have to picture yourself in in their shoes, “ said Henderson. “Then it becomes easier for you to have an open heart and give back. You can be a huge part in changing someone’s life,” she said.

Miguel Leija is a people’s champion for the Magnolia Service Center

On the east end side of the city, Miguel Leija is busy helping residents fill out citizenship forms. An immigration advocate, Leija coordinated efforts for the Mexican Consulate to provide mobile services at the Magnolia MSC.

“They provide assistance with passports, consular IDs, birth certificates, legal help, and medical and health testing and referrals,” said Leija, the community liaison for Houston Health Department’s Magnolia MSC. “It makes it very accessible to people in the community.”

Since 2015, Leija’s efforts have helped more than 5,000 people embark on a path to citizenship.

“Seeing people being helped is what is more satisfying,” said Leija of his work with the city.

But when Leija clocks out at the end of the day, he doesn’t leave his goodwill in the office. Instead, he devotes time to Conversando Entre Amigas, a nonprofit organization that helps women rebuild their lives after leaving abusive relationships.

“I liked what they were doing,” said Leija, who also sits on the organization’s board. “I thought it was something we could bring to the Magnolia MSC.

“I’ve seen aunts and sisters of mine go through it,” Leija said. “ I helped them get back on their feet and get counseling. Not a lot of people have access to that kind of assistance,” he said.

Conversando Entre Amigas provides motivational workshops, job training, prevention programs and psychological services to women in need.

“What he does is very important,” said Magdalena Galindo, founder and director of Conversando Entre Amigas.

“We never had anyone helps us facilitate these things at the center,” said Galindo of Leija’s efforts to help the organization hold classes, counseling, and workshops at the center.

To further help the organization, Leija assists with fundraising events. In 2016, Leija and the organization’s collective efforts raised $10,000 to offset costs of providing workshops, counseling and classes to women in need.

“I enjoy doing outreach, ensuring people have required documents, setting rooms and appointments and helping with marketing of the events,” Leija said.

Miguel also sits on the board of Air Alliance Houston, which aims to ensure air quality for Houstonians. As a certified psychologist, Leija also provides pro-bono counseling services to families in need.

“Pick an issue you care about and call that organization,” he said. “That’s what I did.”


Read about other 2016 Bravo winners