Community Leaders Pave the Way for a New Decade

Lucas Sensius
By Lucas Sensius

On January 30th, we kicked off the new decade with a network-wide visioning night. We started the night by celebrating our amazing leaders, strong partners, and innovative accomplishments and then set our sights on the future to dream where we want to go next.

The Unsung Hero Award is presented annually to an individual who extends themselves beyond expectation in their community or organization as a leader in maximizing child health and wellbeing. The awardee is nominated by community members, reviewed by a committee of past Unsung Heroes, and honored at one of our network-wide meetings.  

This year, the community chose Sunday Taylor as the 2019 Unsung Hero.  Ayesha Rodriguez, longtime Network partner from Horizons for Homeless Children, presented the award and held up Sunday as an example of strong leadership, “An aspect of leadership is the ability to follow as well as to create or contribute to shared spaces of varying perspectives”. This definitely holds true for Sunday, who was nominated for her dedication to the community and has been involved with VVN since 2013. Sunday has led as a member of the Design Team and has been involved with numerous innovative projects across the Network, from the Social Justice Mediation Program to the Food Access Data Workgroup and from the Breastfeeding Coalition to blazing a trail with our Mental Health campaigns. In every effort, Sunday brought her expertise in child development and data to not only shed light on challenges our community is facing, but take on active leadership in the solutions.  

This year the committee decided the Network had others deserving nominees of recognition for their work and created four additional awards. First Teacher, represented by Dinah Shepard, was awarded the Collaborative Leadership Partnership Award for their everyday commitment to promoting Beloved Community principles by ensuring that families are given opportunity and access to advance.  

Melody Cunningham (Lopez) was given the Innovation and Leadership Award for being a pioneer in the Leadership Pathways Project and her work to establish a connection with Arizona State to provide IBCLC courses for Breastfeeding Scholars in Boston, as well as her inspiration to other Breastfeeding Scholars in entrepreneurship.  

Dominique Bellegarde received the Mentorship Award for being a dedicated mentor, nurturing emerging leaders, and a loving and powerful voice for her community, as well as, an inspiration to others across the network. As a WIC peer counselor, CLC, and CLE, she also welcomes and supports families at baby cafe’s, playgroups, and breastfeeding support groups--most notably at the Codman Square Health Center Baby Cafe.

Last but certainly not least, longtime Network member and Vital Village Program Manager Erica Pike was awarded the Servant Leadership Award for her caring and inspiring leadership over the past 5 years. Multiple network members nominated Erica to be honored. Melody wrote, “Her dedication to the vital village community is immeasurable and her encouragement helped inspire many other leaders in the network.”  

Recognition and appreciation for community leaders and investing in their trajectory is a key part to building community capacity and advancing our work for child and family wellbeing. Across the network, every project aims to lift up, partner with, and develop local leaders through our Service-Learning and Leadership Model. We know this year’s honorees will continue to inspire and encourage other leaders who we will find ourselves celebrating in the years to come.

Celebrating these awardees who embody leadership was a fantastic way to begin the year within the Network. We are excited to see where the future takes them and where their leadership will take us as a network in the next decade.