‘Esteemed women’ honored at clinic benefit

Thirty women who wield power and influence in metro Detroit were honored at the second annual Esteemed Women of Michigan luncheon Monday at Rochester’s Royal Park Hotel.

The event was a fund-raiser for the Gary Burnstein Community Health Clinic, a Pontiac free clinic that provides medical, dental and pharmaceutical services to the uninsured. Clinic director Pam Haratsis said the event was conceived last year as a way to honor women who have inspired others.

“Several of them had a hard time accepting,” Haratsis said. “They said, ‘I haven’t done anything.’” Each honoree received a custom piece of jewelry donated by Rochester jeweler Greg Smith.

The honorees include a judge, attorney, journalists, philanthropists, leaders of nonprofit organizations, academics, a county commissioner, businesswomen, health-care providers and the winner of The Biggest Loser, Helen Phillips. Also honored was Alexis Ernst, 17, winner of an essay contest that asked students how they contribute to their community. A senior at Andover High School, she volunteers at HAVEN and advocates on the topic of teen dating violence.

“These women have made a significant difference in the lives of so many women in our community,” said mistress of ceremonies Diana Lewis of WXYZ-TV. 

The Burnstein Clinic was founded by cardiologist Gary Burnstein who, according to his widow Dana, had a passion for caring for the less fortunate. In 1997, he responded to a plea from Pastor Kent Clark of Pontiac’s Grace Centers of Hope for medical help for his clients.

“He loved them and they adored him,” Dana Burnstein said. “When Gary became ill, others stepped up.” Starting in a closet-sized room at Grace, the clinic has expanded to its own building, thanks to volunteers from Kensington Church.  Last year the clinic logged 4,400 patient visits and covered 10,000 prescriptions valued at $750,000, all at no cost to the patients.

“So many have been hit hard by these hard times, through no fault of their own,” Dana Burnstein said.

Two new initiatives were announced. One is a “1000 for $1,000” campaign to raise a $1 million endowment for the clinic, which receives no government funding.  The other is a walk scheduled for Oct. 15 from Oakland University to Oakland Community College. Sponsored by the colleges, it will raise money for the clinic.

The walk was conceived by an OU student, Vishnu Ramsamy, who has been helped back to health by the clinic. In 2003, when he was attending OCC and had student health insurance, Ramsamy had what was supposed to be routine gall-bladder surgery. But he got an infection, followed by organ failure and three months in the hospital.  He eventually went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Madonna University. Now, 37, he is enrolled in a master’s program at OU studying counseling.

“I think I found my calling to help people,” he said. Though his student insurance is gone, he gets the medicine he needs from the Burnstein Clinic.  But there’s more to it than just that.

“It’s an atmosphere where they create a support system for the patients,” he said. “A helping hand when you need it most.”

Another clinic patient, Denise Stanley, addressed the luncheon with the same message. She said after seven years without seeing a doctor, an infection got her to the clinic.

“I’ve been going for almost two years now,” she said. “They’ve built up my confidence so much that I took a test and got into a culinary academy.” She has since won an award as the school’s top student.

“I’m going to be a pastry chef, and when I’m famous I’m going to give back to the clinic,” she said. “If there ever was a cause to give to, it’s this.”

For more information on how to help, visit www.garyburnsteinclinic.org. For more information on the walk, go to www.oaklandhealthwalkrun.org.


Photo special to The Oakland Press/ANNETTE KINGSBURY, RochesterMedia.com

Among the women honored as “esteemed” were Debbie Dingell (left), a national Democratic strategist and former head of the GM Foundation; Carla Schwartz, director of community affairs and advocacy at Beaumont Hospitals; and philanthropist Maggie Allesee.


Photo special to The Oakland Press/ANNETTE KINGSBURY, RochesterMedia.com

Among the honorees were Shirley Stancato (left), president and CEO of New Detroit, and Margaret Thorpe Williamson, executive director of Pro-Literacy Detroit. 

group shot:
Photo special to The Oakland Press/ANNETTE KINGSBURY, RochesterMedia.com
The honorees, along with mistress of ceremonies Diana Lewis (top, left) pose for a group photo at the Royal Park Hotel.

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