Elmont resident Magaly Polo is “a natural” to receive the 2012 prestigious Dr. Carter G. Woodson Award, presented at the Ninth Annual Black History Month Celebration sponsored by Elmont Online and Highlighting Success, Inc. Not only does Polo embody the accepted wisdom championed by Dr. Woodson, but she also brings to life the worth of selfless giving.
Pictured above (L-R) are Aubrey Phillips, Executive Director of Highlighting Success, Inc; Magaly Polo; Jacqueline Harris, author "Healing And Freedom Through these Sacred Tonemasters"; Carrie Solages, Nassau County Legisaltor; and; Dr. Ralph Ferrie,Superintendent of The Sewanhaka Central High School District
Like Dr. Woodson, Polo knows the importance of education. She earned an Associates Degree in Gerontology at LaGuardia Community College, while at the same time using her command of her native Creole language as the Haitian liaison for the Westbury Union Free School District. She went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from York College and a Masters in Social Work from Hunter College School of Social Work. She became a Licensed Master Social Worker in 2004.
Acknowledging that we live in trying economic times when people with Master’s degrees are often unemployed, Polo says people should not be deterred from seeking higher education because without that option they are left with few choices. She sees education as enhancing one’s personal growth while on the path to helping better society when one learns what he or she can offer.
In her professional career, Polo once worked three jobs at one time. She worked as a residential skills instructor for Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities, and in various positions with Transitional Services for New York and Brookdale Medical Hospital. She is currently employed as a social worker in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, having served many of those eight years at Elmhurst Hospital Center.
Like Dr. Woodson, Polo shares the importance of promoting awareness of diversity and achievement through the written word. Co-author of “In the wake of disaster, peer support services can play an important role” and a speaker on the impact of cultural nuances in communication styles at the Southwest Regional Behavioral Health Conference, Polo possesses a deep awareness of cultural influences. In affirming her message that people are not alone in managing diversity, she emphasizes the basics—getting to know and respect one another. She likes to talk about the trickle-down effect, believing that when someone takes the time to learn about and respect others, those people will, in turn, do the same in their lives. In the spirit of Dr. Woodson, when people learn about other cultures, the histories of those cultures gain importance and validity.
Polo moved toElmontwith her two children because of the community’s safe environment and good education. She joined the Parkhurst Civic Association to help break down communication barriers so her neighbors could enjoy a better quality of life, and served on the Gotham Avenue PTA and the Elmont Memorial High School PTSA.
Polo volunteered her services with the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS), a statewide coalition of people who use and/or provide recover oriented, community based mental services. She played a leadership role as Conference Committee Cultural Track Leader, co-chair of the Statewide Regional Coordinators Caucus, Queens Regional Coordinator, and co-chair of the Cultural Competence Committee. In 2002, she co-founded theNYAPRSCulturalExhibitionCenterto celebrate the beauties within all cultures.
Polo served as a board member and president of the Haitian-American Family of Long Island (HAFALI), supporting acculturation among her fellow Haitians. She was instrumental in designing some of the organization’s services, and was supportive of its annual walk-a-thon and conference, and its Phenomenal Woman program.
As a volunteer with LINK, she used her skills as a mental health provider to assist in the interaction between the Police Department and individuals with a mental health diagnosis who may be experiencing a crisis. Polo says, “LINK provides a partnership whereby we learn and understand the challenges and scope of each other’s jobs in an effort to work together more effectively.”
In 2009, Polo volunteered as a Creole speaker and mental health clinician with the American Red Cross. Following the devastating earthquake inHaitiin 2010, she says that because her name was in the Red Cross database as a Creole speaking volunteer worker, she received a call that her services were needed. “Not only did the Red Cross give me enriching training to allow me to help people in crisis, but it also gave me an opportunity to go back to my roots and help my own people inHaiti.”
Polo, who had not been back toHaitisince she came toNew Yorkas a ten-year-old, spent one month on the USNS Comfort Medical Ship, providing care to the Haitian people. She served as part of the mental health staff, going from ward to ward, counseling victims who faced loss of limbs and family members. She also served with the ethic committee making life-and-death decisions on whether persons should undergo medical procedures and the effects on their mental health; and with the discharge unit, assisting in finding placement for victims in medical facilities and rehabilitation services, or finding them a place to live.
“I felt like I was not ‘me’ when I was there,” says Polo. “I was a servant of God. I worked from 5 a.m. until two or three the next morning, but I didn’t feel tired or hungry, and I couldn’t cry. I was God’s instrument.”
Polo continues to serve with the Red Cross, providing service to the Armed Forces through education, supporting soldiers on deployment, assisting families in crisis, and helping put family members in touch with loved ones. She serves as a Manhattan Responder and a member of the mental health disaster unit, counseling at marathons and assisting the New York City Fire Department by helping families who need shelter, financial assistance and mental health services.
The diversity of her volunteerism and her career has allowed Polo to work in hospitals, clinics, schools and an international situation. While a volunteer, therapist and social worker, her clients have been mainly adults 18 and older, but she also has experience working with children in school districts, her civic association and HAFALI. She says that the broad scope of her service and the opportunities she’s had to be part of many circles helps her better serve others. Polo adds that one never knows where or who might be the recipient of your kindness.
Polo has received a number of awards and recognitions, most recently from the Red Cross, the City ofNew YorkandNassauCountyfor her work on the USNS Comfort. However, in humbly accepting the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Award, she says, “When we think of all our glories, we have to put it into perspective. There is something greater than we that is working behind the scenes to make it all happen.”