NEW YORK, March 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Today CVS/pharmacy announced the Grand Prize winner and nine Finalists in the For All the Ways You Care contest, a nationwide search for inspirational stories of caring. The contest drew thousands of submissions from across the country.
Judy McAtee of Plano Center, IL, nominated by her husband Pat, was selected as the Grand Prize Winner and recipient of $25,000. Judy is a foster mother to over 30 children, and is a mother of 12 including 10 adopted children. Described by her husband as "the poster child for anything wise and caring," Judy has lovingly cared for children less fortunate, maintained a commitment to education, and formed an inter-racial adoption support group for families as well as "Special Gifts" seminars designed to share the experiences of foster care and adoption of special needs children.
"I was completely surprised that my husband submitted my story for the For All The Ways You Care contest. You don't consider your life as being noteworthy when you are living it and there are so many people who have great lives," Judy McAtee said. "The most exciting part of being named the winner is the potential to influence even one family or one person who is on the fence for adoption or considering adding to their family through adoption."
"Judy is a true inspiration and we are thrilled to honor her and each of our finalists today," said Larry Merlo, president of CVS/pharmacy. "We were astounded by the response to the For All The Ways You Care Campaign and the incredible stories of caring it brought forth. Our finalists represent a wide range of caring, for infants and elderly, family and strangers. What is common among them is a selflessness and dedication to others."
Nine Finalists in the contest received a cash prize of $10,000: -- Wendi Baron-Willette of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts -- Gina Ervay of Andover, Kansas -- Karolyn Gentry of Fruitland, Idaho -- Mary Beth Lenzini of Palmyra, Missouri (prize donated to April Phillips Longwell Scholarship at the Palmyra R-1 School System) -- Lisa Lester of Ellisville, Missouri -- Alicia Mixson of Williston, Florida -- Charles Muller of Rensselaer, New York -- Christina Maria Renga of Morristown, New Jersey -- Rhonda Marie St. Louis of Gilbert, Arizona
Denise Waller, a CVS/pharmacy pharmacy technician from Fries, VA was also named a winner in a similar For All The Ways You Care contest for employees.
The For All The Ways You Care contest winners were selected by an esteemed panel of women supporting the For All The Ways You Care campaign: Lee Woodruff, author and the wife of ABC News Correspondent and Anchor Bob Woodruff; Alma Powell, chair of America's Promise Alliance and wife of Colin Powell; women's health experts Dr. Donnica Moore and Dr. Alice Domar; and Ladies' Home Journal Editor-in-Chief, Diane Salvatore.
"For All The Ways You Care celebrates caregivers of all kinds and it's been very rewarding for me to have played an integral role in the campaign," said Woodruff. "My fellow panelists and I were touched and inspired by the many stories of caring we reviewed. It was a challenge to select just one as the winner but we are delighted to see all of these caregivers honored today."
Here are their stories:
Wendi Baron-Willette (Shrewsbury, MA) -- According to Wendi's husband Keith, she is the most caring person he knows who inspires everyone she meets. At age 26, Wendi gave birth to a son with Down syndrome and has been an extraordinary caregiver for the past 16 years. She met Keith a few years after her son's birth. Keith suffered from a degenerative eye disease that would eventually leave him blind, yet knowing this Wendi remained committed to him and they built a life together. Today, Wendi battles breast cancer yet still shows a deep level of compassion for those around her on a daily basis.
Gina Ervay (Andover, KS) -- Gina and her husband Corey were managing two careers, a new home and planning for a second child. Their daughter Megan was diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome and congestive heart failure. Gina embraced these new challenges and thrived in her role as caregiver. Gina went on to found a caregiving organization in Kansas -- ROCKO -- the Respite Outreach Care for Kansans Organization. ROCKO gives caregivers a break while their children with disabilities receive quality care.
Karolyn Gentry (Fruitland, ID) -- Karolyn has been working as a hospice nurse for the past 13 years caring for the critically ill following her job as an ER nurse. Often working 16-hour days, Karolyn has been a shoulder to cry on for thousands of families in Idaho during the loss of loved ones. Her son Nicholas wrote about how she is truly an angel among us helping people and families cope under such difficult circumstances.
Mary Beth Lenzini (Palmyra, MO) -- Mary Beth wrote about her small community of Palmrya -- a town of about 3,500 people -- and their acts of caring for April, a former foreign language and speech teacher at the local high school suffering from Alzheimer's disease. With April's only child in California, the community stepped in and filled the role of daily caregiver for April -- providing everything from groceries to pet care. With support from the community, April was able to stay in her home for several years before finally going into an assisted living facility just over the past few months. Mary Beth requested her cash prize be donated to the April Phillips Longwell Scholarship at the Palmyra R-1 School System.
Lisa Lester (Ellisville, MO) -- Just 15 years ago, Lisa was faced with a tough decision. Her then boyfriend Jeff was diagnosed with ALS and was told to plan for his funeral. In his story, Jeff wrote that although he was given just two years to live, Lisa decided to stand by him and they were married a year later. Jeff and Lisa were determined to live a normal life and began a family. Despite a bleak diagnosis, with Lisa's care, Jeff has thrived. Now, 15 years after his diagnosis, Jeff and Lisa have two children and Jeff is attending his second semester of graduate school, and he credits Lisa's support and care over the years.
Alicia Mixson (Williston, FL) -- When Alicia's brother Joseph was injured in Iraq last September losing both of his legs and causing serious injury to his left arm, the doctor advised his family that he would need a full-time caregiver. Alicia didn't hesitate. She packed up and moved to Texas where Joseph received medical care from the military hospital. Putting her career on hold, Alicia is responsible for tending to Joseph's needs, including accompanying him to doctor's appointments, administering medication and more. Alicia's nomination was submitted by her great aunt Ann.
Charles Muller (Rensselaer, NY) -- Thirteen years ago, Charles learned that a number of the children he saw in the drug and gang-infested neighborhoods of his community were dependent on subsidized lunches. That summer he began distributing bag lunches at a local park and eventually opened a feeding center on one of the most dangerous and impoverished street corners in Albany. Children who have benefited from the program now spend their summers helping make 1,000 lunches a day and deliver them to 13 city parks. Today, over 50,000 meals are delivered each year to inner-city children and a second feeding center is set to open.
Christina Maria Renga (Morristown, NJ) -- Anna Renga was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the young age of 29. A few years later, her daughter Christina, just six years old, was thrown into the role of a caregiver. Today at age 16, while most teenagers across the country are spending time with friends, preparing for college or spending idle time on the Internet, Christina assists her mother with everything from cleaning, cooking and taking care of the home, to basic tasks that her mother struggles with like tying her own shoes. In hopes of attending college, Christina also works part time to save money.
Rhonda Marie St. Louis (Gilbert, AZ) -- As a special education teacher, Rhonda met Jamar Ballard over 16 years ago while she was student teaching. Jamar's mother could not afford quality preschool for Jamar, who was a toddler at the time, and Rhonda worked with him daily to provide some educational lessons using techniques she was learning in school. She bonded with Jamar and kept in touch with him, despite the family's relocation that took them out of state. One by one Jamar's siblings began to drop out of school but Rhonda's support provided Jamar with hope for education. Jamar now lives with Rhonda and is a sophomore in high school with hopes to attend college.
Denise Waller (Fries, VA) -- Last summer, Denise, a CVS/pharmacy pharmacy technician, donated a kidney to a co-worker who was gravely ill with diabetes. Jenifer Utt had suffered from diabetes since age 5, and when her kidneys began to fail it was determined she needed a transplant. When Denise discovered that her blood type matched Jenifer's, she offered her kidney without hesitation. The surgery, performed July 5, 2007, was a success. Denise was nominated by a number of her colleagues.
Prizes will be awarded this afternoon at a celebratory luncheon at Tavern on The Green in New York. The luncheon marks the culmination of a luxury weekend getaway for Finalists and a guest.
To view the winning stories, and for more information on CVS/pharmacy's For All the Ways You Care campaign as well as the advisory panelists and their stories, please visit: www.ForAllTheWaysYouCare.com. CVS/pharmacy welcomes new stories of caring to be posted on the site.
Video, hard copy requests, downloadable MPEG2, contact information and more available at http://www.prnewswire.com/broadcast/32156/press.shtml.