Contact: Melissa Marullo
Director of The Washington Hospital Teen Outreach and President of Academy for Adolescent Health Inc. Honored for Work with Teens
(PITTSBURGH, PA) October 31, 2011– As an advocate for teen health, Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski works tirelessly to make the community a safe and respectful environment for youth to make healthy and smart decisions as they grow.
“One of the challenges we have is to reframe culture. We have to make it unacceptable to be disrespectful to others and it starts with young people. It has to be automatic to know that it is not o.k. to not respect others. If I can get kids to know that, that is a huge leap in changing our whole culture,” Mary Jo said.
Nominated by Washington County Commissioner Bracken Burns, Mary Jo was selected as the October Dignity & Respect Champion for her work at the Academy for Adolescent Health and The Washington Hospital Teen Outreach.
“Mary Jo is the personification of the phrase dignity and respect. She has devoted her life to the adolescent population and, in addition to respecting them, she demands that they respect each other,” Bracken said.
The Academy for Adolescent Health, Inc., which Mary Jo founded in 1988, provides programs for teens and youth and works to create a community in which young people are respected and able to enjoy physical and mental wellness. The organization serves as an advocate for youth, parents, professionals, and community members to encourage wellness.
Mary Jo lives in Washington, PA with her husband of 38 years. She attributes her success to her loving parents and supporting family.
“I’ve been married since ’73, and he is a wonderful partner. My father was an Italian immigrant, and my parents taught me to respect all people regardless of race, ethnicity, orientation, or funds. That was rare considering the time. Adults matter in the lives of teenagers. I’m teaching these young people how to make healthy choices so they can be good human beings.”
The Washington Hospital Teen Outreach holds an annual Ambassador for Respect Program in which 20,000 students participate in a “pass it on” activity that encourages recognition of respectful behavior. Each year the program centers around a different topic, including focusing on the word “respect” and what it means, listening to a speaker who talks about poverty among African Americans, a focus on self-respect and how young people think about themselves, and most recently, respecting people of all abilities.
Mary Jo is modest about receiving the award, as the passion for her work is driven by the youth, and not recognition.
“Everything I do is a joy. I do it because the kids are worth it. They are worth my time and they are worth all of our time. I was raised to believe you do things for the right reasons, not an award. My reward is working with the kids.” Mary Jo said.
The Dignity & Respect Campaign is an awareness initiative designed to join individuals, community leaders, community organizations, educational institutions, businesses, and corporations under the common notion that everyone deserves dignity and respect.
For more information and to take the Dignity & Respect pledge, visit dignityandrespect.org.
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