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Sterling Heights

December 19, 2012

Ethnic Community Committee gives out fifth annual awards

By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer

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Teacher Paul Coomes works with freshman Edward Carter III on a rhombus problem during class at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. Coomes was one of five recipients of the Sterling Heights Ethnic Community Committee’s Diversity Distinction awards for 2012.

When Christine Sauve urged people she works with to nominate candidates for the Sterling Heights Diversity Distinction Awards, she didn’t mean herself.

So Sauve was shocked when she learned she was one of five honored through the awards, presented annually by the Ethnic Community Committee to recognize individuals, businesses and organizations that “champion diversity” in Sterling Heights.

“I was extremely flattered, and I was a little bit caught by surprise because I was encouraging others to nominate people from the community for the awards, honestly not expecting I would even be thought of as being nominated,” she laughed.

The recipients “met and excelled in a variety of criteria, including promoting an understanding among city residents of different culture and ethnic background,” Ethnic Community Committee Chairwoman Sue Kattula said at the Dec. 4 City Council meeting, where members distributed the awards publicly.

As a coordinator for Welcoming Michigan-Sterling Heights, Sauve connects native-born Americans with immigrants and refugees moving into the area by working with various agencies, organizations and schools. It’s part of a statewide program that falls under a national umbrella called Welcoming America.

“As part of that work, we definitely strive to uphold the values of diversity and spread the message that Sterling Heights is a city that welcomes diversity,” said Sauve, who handles similar efforts in Hamtramck and southwest Detroit.

Her responsibilities include coordinating fun, informational events, such as a World Refugee Day Picnic, to bring the immigrants and U.S.-born folks together.

“Ultimately, through those opportunities, they would talk to each other, learn more about each other, and we hope that would lead to more understanding among people of different backgrounds,” she said.  

Sauve also has volunteered with the Ethnic Community Committee’s Cultural Exchange and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa for three years.

In a way, Paul Coomes’ nomination was a decade in the making. He met Detective James Selewski about 10 years ago, after witnessing a bank robber’s failed attempt to escape authorities by ramming police cars. The pair struck up a conversation about Coomes’ Notre Dame watch, and they have been friends ever since.

Selewski, a member of the Ethnic Community Committee, nominated Coomes due to his 40-plus years as a teacher at myriad schools with varied student populations. Coomes currently teaches at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, but he previously was a math teacher in inner- city Detroit and at Warren Mott High School.

At Mott — which he described as “a mini United Nations,” boasting a student body that spoke 37 languages — he served as counselor in charge of the bilingual department.

“There aren’t many people who have dealt with as many varied ethnicities and nationalities than I have in my career,” he said. “Sometimes, we even had to have translators in order to schedule (students) for a particular class because they just arrived in the country.”

Coomes also volunteers his time training puppies for Leader Dogs for the Blind and says Catholic mass for senior citizens at local nursing homes.

Coworkers nominated Sharon Hannawa, who manages the Refugee Acculturation Sustainability and Training program through the Chaldean Community Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce.

“Our goal is to assist members of the immigrant community — the majority of them are refugees or low-income immigrants — to become self-sufficient individuals,” she explained.

Programs within the Chaldean Community Foundation’s Sterling Heights office help immigrants, including non-Chaldean ones, address barriers to achieving that goal, like language, unemployment and lack of health care, she said.

Hannawa took special pride in the award because she graduated in 2009 from New Detroit’s Multicultural Leadership Series. 

“That program, you learn about the different ethnic communities that make up the region,” she said. “I was very excited to let them know I had won … because I consider myself to be an ambassador for their program, as well.”

On the company side, Keller Williams Realty on Dodge Park Road was honored due to its diverse staff of Realtors, which comprises at least 20 different ethnic groups, enabling them to assist homebuyers or sellers, regardless of cultural or language barriers.

Wiegand Mack Sales & Service on Mound — and specifically salesmen Kirk Strehler and Dave Silwanowicz — received a nod for going above and beyond in working well with customers of all backgrounds and obtaining assistance when language differences present an obstacle to understanding what a patron needs.

For more information about the Ethnic Community Committee, visit www.sterling-heights.net.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Cortney Casey at ccasey@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.