Winners 2015

Adopted from South Korea and growing up in New Hampshire, it wasn’t often that Marisa Cleveland saw another Asian person, and she was the only one at her school. Even in fiction, no one looked like her.

“I never found an adopted South Korean girl on TV,” says Cleveland, now 39, a literary agent and author living on Marco Island. “I didn’t find anybody that I could relate to.” And she had to contend with the subtle racism of Middle America. Once, a teacher told her she didn’t have to be pretty because she was smart. “Well, what if I’m not smart enough?” Cleveland thought.

The lack of diversity takes a toll.

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ANAIS AURORA BADIA opened her Fort Myers dermatology office when the Hispanic community was still relatively small in this corner of Florida. Thirteen years later, Florida Skin Center has seen 49,000 patients walk through the door. Around 10 percent of her patients now are Hispanic. As a Latina woman, Badia, 47, who is a fifth-generation physician, is part of a still-small demographic in her profession.

This, despite a great need for more diversity in a profession that’s more urgently needed as more Americans move to the Sunbelt states and more Hispanic Americans fall victim to melanoma.

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About three months after her son died, in 2004, Anne Arbelaez attended a meeting of a support group called The Compassionate Friends, an international organization most people don’t know exists until their child has passed away. Arbelaez, then in her late 30s and suddenly childless, hadn’t been taking care of herself. She ate and slept little, and seldom left the house.

At the meeting, a woman named Teresa Walker quickly approached her, took her by the hands and sat her down. “I want you to go home and just take a shower,” Teresa said. “You don’t have to do it every day. Just take a shower. Find some clean clothes.”

The instructions seemed crucial. Arbelaez repeated them. “OK, so I just have to take a shower, find some clean clothes.”

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There was a time, around 2003, when Juan Carlos Castilla was a homeless undocumented immigrant who found his meals in the dumpster outside a Fort Myers Burger King.

Today, he’s the owner of a Naples roofing company that employs 57 people and closed 2014 with around $4 million in sales.

“I remember in 2007 when I just started the company, it was just myself. The only food I could afford was just crackers and those instant soups,” he says.

Castilla Roofing was a one-man operation when he started it that year —the same moment everybody else in the housing industry “was going out of business every day.”

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In the early 1980s, Belinda Mills was working for the National Health Screening Council, a health promotion nonprofit in South Florida, and looking for cheap office space. So she set up a meeting with Arthur Keiser and his mother, Evelyn, who ran Keiser School, a small professional institute in Oakland Park with 100 pupils.

She introduced herself and the health council, and then Keiser said, “Well, Ms. Mills, it’s a good program, but we’re small and I’m not really sure.” Evelyn was shaking her head.

“But Mr. Keiser, this will be the best thing you’ve ever done to serve the community. You have my word,” Mills replied.

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EVEN THOUGH Dr. Daniel E. Dosoretz is the chief executive officer of Fort Myersbased 21st Century Oncology, a massive chain of cancer treatment centers, with 180 locations in seven countries, he still sees patients two days per week.

“I consider my job to be a doctor,” he says. “I love my patients.

21st Century is proud of the fact that it’s a “physicianled company,” which may be part of the reason employees tend to stick with it. “It’s very hard for a non-physician to tell highly trained doctors and nurses what to do and how to do it,” Dosoretz says. The company has around 4,000 employees nationwide; some 800 of them have been with the company more than a decade. “Once you join us, you don’t leave us,” he says.

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