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To lift up others, you must occasionally lower yourself

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Now, if 6 turned up to be 9, I don't mind, I don't mind. If all the hippies cut off their hair, I don't care, I don't care.

SEPT. 14, 2012: Resumes of successful people are often incomplete due to space limitations, although the one created by speakers last night when Denise Young received the Athena Award was fairly thorough.

The executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization is leading an effort that ranges from the exotic (building an integrated medical services network that connects civilian hospitals and Fort Drum) to the somewhat less exotic (convincing a timid 18-year-old she has what it takes to consider a career in nursing).

When a medical helicopter service was resumed this year in Jefferson County, many people were involved in the effort but they all fittingly deferred to Young to make the announcement. She was the straw that stirred the drink.

All that was duly noted last night during a dinner at Ryan's Lookout restaurant.

But in settings such as this where the room is full of movers and shakers who are all dolled up, other images from the past can be overlooked.

For instance, members of service groups that plant trees yearly see Young in dusty boots and blue jeans, wielding a shovel or sledge hammer. We often talk about leaders leading from the front, but successful leaders are also willing to lead from the rear.

All communities have jobs that anybody can do — and so nobody does them. Denise Young understands that a community can't be lifted up unless its leaders are willing to lower themselves first, and that includes manual labor.

Speakers last night also noted Young's charming personality. But it should also be noted that she is charming despite experiencing a less-than-charmed life. There have been a number of setbacks in her family and professional life that could have easily prevented last night from ever happening. She reminded listeners that while they were looking at a leader who holds a master's degree — and now an Athena Award — they should also see a woman who once was a rudderless high school dropout.

Despite her years of relentless educational advancement and professional growth, she one day found herself in that horrible aloneness that all leaders must dig through, the one in which years of hard work have not yet produced visible results. As leaders know, investors don't pat you on the back and say, “Nice infrastructure!”

On that day more than a year ago she called me from that void. She wanted me to know it was all coming; that new nurses years in the making would soon be joining the workforce, that hospitals were now calling FDRHPO for network inclusion rather than the other way around.

And she was right. In time it all did start to come together, although I'm fairly certain she never mentioned anything about helicopters that day.

While our community should be proud of what it has accomplished through FDRHPO, there are still too many rough edges in the network, too many war-weary soldiers whose brains need to be defragged and too many hospitals facing financial ruin. Denise Young has much more to do.

Last night was advertised as taking a moment to congratulate a woman for all she has accomplished. But in many ways it was also a moment to ensure our community that as it faces an uncertain future the person whose hand is at the wheel of FDRHPO has overcome uncertain futures before.

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