Banks was among the recipients of this year’s Multnomah County Public Health Heroes awards, which honor the work of county employees and community partners who show up for more than a paycheck.
“Your work towards building healthier communities impacts the lives of thousands of people and creates a county where everyone has a chance to live a healthy life,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said during the April 7 ceremony. “Each and every one of you deserves a ‘thank you’ for helping improve the health of our community.”Chair Kafoury presented an award, as did Commissioners Jules Bailey, Loretta Smith and Diane McKeel at the crowded gathering in the Multnomah County boardroom.
Rachael Banks was awarded the Multnomah County Employee Award for her work as director of the Healthy Birth Initiative and Healthy Families Initiative. During the past 13 years at the Health Department, Banks has led the county’s implementation of the smoke-free workplace law and smoke-free campus policy. Last year under her leadership, the county was also awarded a $3 million grant to fund public health initiatives to serve African American residents.
“We are committed to the people we serve and we have to do our best,” Banks said. “It’s our job to hear the community. People are amazing parents and that’s not a story we get to tell very often.”
Public Health Partner
Erin Fairchild received the Public Health Partner Award for her work as coordinator of the Healthy Childhood Initiative within the Department of County Human Services. The initiative is one of eight programs nationwide that seeks to reduce childhood exposure to violence and mitigate the impact when children do witness violence.
“This is the thing I care most about. It’s the root cause of so much inequality,” she said. Her work seeks to assure a child’s chance to succeed is life “isn’t based on where you live or what you look like.”
Fairchild has worked for 16 years as an advocate for children, from child welfare to school-based social work to policy. She wants society to see children's’ exposure to violence as a public health crisis.
“This work can feel overwhelming. It’s heartbreaking to see what children go through,” she said. “Mostly I feel inspired to see what communities can do when they have what they need.”Katie Jeans-Gail Award for Young Heroes
The Kúkátónón Children’s African Dance Troupe and its founder, Rolia Manyongai-Jones, was honored with the Katie Jeans-Gail Award for Young Heroes for inspiring young
Manyongai-Jones began teaching dance at Woodlawn Elementary in 1983 because “kids had nothing to do after school and I saw a lot of talent there,” she said. “I wanted to inspire them to see their potential.”
She used her pulpit for more than dance.
Manyongai-Jones immigrated to Oregon from Sasstown, Liberia, a village of 400 on that country’s southern Atlantic coast. There she began dancing at age 4. But she went on to earn a masters in education from Portland State University, and then began teaching at Woodlawn.
“I inspired the students to go to college. I said, “If I can leave the jungle and graduate from college, then you have no excuse,” she said. “ I try to encourage everyone to give back the community. And the way to do give back is through education.”
Social and Equity Justice
OYE is a coalition comprised of staff from the Multnomah County Health Department, Milagro Theatre, Planned Parenthood, Latino Network, Edúcate Ya, Causa and Cascade Aids Project.
Vicente Guzman-Orozco, an actor with Milagro, accepted the award for the coalition. Guzman-Orozco is an actor by training and by trade, but he’s been an advocate of sexual health promotion since he was a teen, the son of laborers plucked from a migrant camp and plunked down at a private high school in Portland’s West Hills.
“I heard a lot of girls lose their virginity at prom,” he explained. “So I stood at the door and handed out condoms.”
Guzman-Orozco is now one of about a dozen classroom facilitators who teach Spanish-speaking parents about sexual health, pregnancy prevention and how to talk to their kids about safe sex.“This is a message that everyone needs, as long as you have this body, then this is information you need,” he said.