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Bithlo's Transformation Highlighted at Health Care Symposium

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By Marisa Ramiccio

Some people think of it as another town on the way to the beach. Others think of it as a place of crime and poverty. But to the residents of Bithlo, their town is a community, the place they call home.

During the 11th annual Health Care Symposium, the College of Health and Public Affairs shone a spotlight on the town of Bithlo and how it's transforming into a healthier community.

The event took place at the FAIRWINDS Alumni Center on April 22 and included a networking reception and a speaker panel featuring five guest speakers: Enrique "Kiki" Diaz, a Bithlo resident and volunteer; Richard Crotty, the former mayor of Orange County; Tim McKinney, the director of United Global Outreach; Verbelee Nielsen-Swanson, the vice president of community impact for Florida Hospital; and Anna Eskamani, the founder of Project Bithlo and a graduate student in the School of Public Administration.

The goal of the panel discussion was to show how the Bithlo community is changing due to the help of its dedicated partners, such as Florida Hospital and United Global Outreach. These partners have pledged a long-term commitment to improving the health and safety of the lives of Bithlo residents.

Health Care Symposium ReceptionThe program opened with remarks from Michael Frumkin, Ph.D., the dean of the College of Health and Public Affairs, and Reid Oetjen, Ph.D., the chair of the Department of Health Management and Informatics. Mary Ann Feldheim, Ph.D., the director of the School of Public Administration, moderated the discussion, which included questions about the challengers that Bithlo residents have faced, and how the community's partners have addressed those challenges.

"We went out to Avalon Park and we asked people: 'Is it OK for you to have brown water?' No. 'Would you be OK with having an illegal dump in your backyard?' No," McKinney said. "'Is it OK for your neighbors to deal with these problems?' No."

Mary Ann Feldheim and Rich CrottySome of the panelists also shared their personal experiences with the citizens and town of Bithlo. Eskamani recounted the conditions her childhood friends grew up in, while Diaz shared the emotional story of how he went from being a drug dealer to a dedicated volunteer in the community.

The evening concluded with a Q&A session with the audience and concluding remarks from Feldheim.

The Health Care Symposium is hosted each year by the UCF College of Health and Public Affairs Alumni Chapter. This year, the event was hosted in partnership with HMI, SPA and the Central Florida Chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives. 

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