DAVIE – In the 14 years since she arrived in South Florida from Trinidad and Tobago, Sandra Bernard-Bastien has come to fully embrace this communal melting pot.

The director of public affairs and organizational development at the Children’s Services Council of Broward County has spent those years championing the cause of the county’s multi-ethnic community, particularly its children. It has done this through various programs and initiatives, including after-school and family strengthening programs to keep families intact.
Bernard-Bastien, her Trini accent still heavily rolling from her lips after all these years, says her passion for championing programs for children stems from her own bond with the children in her family.

“I have no kids,’’ she said. “But I’ll admit to being a bit obsessed with my niece Amanda and my 11 nephews.’’

Bernard-Bastien was among the four honorees at the Oct. 29 Spirit of the Caribbean Awards luncheon hosted by Minority Development and Empowerment Inc.

The event, hosted by WPLG Local 10 anchor Neki Mohan, drew about 300 people to the Signature Grand in Davie on Oct. 29 for $65 a ticket.

Fellow honorees were U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz; Pauline Grant, CEO of Broward Health North Broward Medical Center; and Barrington Irving, the youngest person to pilot a plane around the world solo. Irving said he is busy working on plans to tackle yet another world record.

Bernard-Bastien, perhaps the least known among the group, admits to being somewhat of an overachiever.

“I’m obsessed with getting things done. It’s not uncommon for someone to receive an email from me at 2 a.m. in the morning,” Bernard-Bastien said.

She finished a two-year master’s degree in Communications in a year, and a half, and has written three books: Who's Who in the Caribbean Media, Soul Bubba: President
Clinton's Use of the Rhetoric of Inclusion to Ensure the Loyalty of the Congressional Black Caucus and Presidential Rhetoric: Clinton and Obama Across the Interface of Race.

“I’m very touched, very proud to receive this honor. I pride myself on being one of the best transplants from Trinidad to the U.S.,’’ she said.

Her first job as a Language Arts teacher at Parkway Middle School for the Performing Arts helped assimilate her quickly.

“I taught there for five years and it was a crash course in the cultural dynamics and diversity of South Florida,” she said. “I live and breathe every day making sure the next generation is the best they can be.’’

Funding from sources such as the Children’s Services Council and various other grants have enabled Minority Development and Empowerment Inc. to celebrate 13 years of service, according to its president and CEO, Francois Leconte.

The organization runs many programs at no charge to clients, including programs that offer free pregnancy testing, HIV/STD education, HIV testing and linkage to prenatal care. The agency also provides immigration, translation and job placement services for Haitian immigrants.

“This is a milestone for us but I’ve always believed that we would be here for a long time,’’ Leconte said.

The next hurdle, Leconte said, is to get funding for a building to house all the services.

The organization needs to raise $2.5 million to do so.

“We’re hoping the community will step up and help us achieve that,” he said.

The organization announced this week that it has named Lisa Agate as its new chief operating officer.

Agate has more than 20 years of professional experience as a public health leader and advocate for people living with HIV. She will have oversight of all health, youth and family programs, as well as all economic development programs for MDEI, the organization announced.

For more information on Minority Development and Empowerment Inc. visit: www.mdeinc.org.