USA Network Honors Burke with Characters Unite Award

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NEW YORK, NY – June 10, 2013 — As part of its award-winning “Characters Unite” public service campaign, to address social injustices and bridge cultural divides, USA Network, along with its distributors today announced the 2013 recipients of the Characters Unite Awards. Ten winners were selected from hundreds of nominees for their extraordinary efforts in combating hate, intolerance and discrimination worldwide, and making significant contributions to champion civil and human rights in their communities.

“Congratulations to this year’s Characters Unite Award winners who, in the face of adversity, have worked tirelessly to fight hate and discrimination while promoting acceptance in their communities,” said Mac Budill, President, NBCUniversal TV Networks Distribution. “Along with our distributors, we’re proud to recognize these leaders for their remarkable efforts.” “We applaud these ten incredible role models for the tremendous contributions they have made in their communities,” said Toby Graff, senior vice president, public affairs, USA Network. “They truly embody the Characters Unite mission with their dedication to combating discrimination and promoting greater acceptance. With these grants and recognition, we are proud to help each honoree expand their important efforts.”

Each honoree will be acknowledged during a hometown award ceremony and will receive a $5,000 grant from USA Network and participating local distributors to support his/her project or related nonprofit organization. Additionally, honorees will be featured on-air in a PSA, online at and via a social media promotion campaign. Nominations for the Characters Unite Awards were submitted by the public on during Characters Unite Month in February, a time when the network leverages all its platforms to shine a special spotlight on the importance of combating hate and intolerance.

2013 Characters Unite Award Recipients:

George Garcia, Clearwater, FL (Bright House Networks) Executive Director, Suncoast-High Point YMCA Passionate, energetic and inspiring, George Garcia has dedicated his career to working with inner-city youth and using his own life experiences to serve as a positive role model in the community. Raised in a poor family in Milwaukee, George understands the temptations of gangs, drugs and other issues that impact low-income communities. After making positive changes in his own life, and launching a 20-year career with the YMCA, today George serves as Executive Director for the YMCA of the Suncoast-High Point Branch in Clearwater, Florida. He plays a vital role in addressing the needs of the community through drug and alcohol treatment programs, GED classes, sports and recreational activities, teen dances, gang awareness presentations and mentoring. Most recently, George’s focus has been on helping Hispanic and Latino families lead healthier lives and reach their health and wellness goals. By sharing his own personal journey, acting as a mentor, and providing positive social and recreational opportunities for young people and families, George has made a significant impact in the lives of hundreds of young men and women in his local community and beyond.

Linda Michalski, Chatham, NJ (Cablevision) Teacher, Benedictine Academy A teacher at Benedictine Academy, an all-girls catholic college-preparatory in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Linda Michalski has motivated her student leadership team, the Benedictine Cor Defenders, to become a voice for the voiceless and confront evil with the power of good. As Staff Mentor, Linda teaches students how to take on the issue of human trafficking, a form of modern day slavery impacting young women around the world. Benedictine Academy became the first Freedom Partner School with Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives to abolish human trafficking through the power of education, and the student team has worked tirelessly to raise awareness through the media, Youth Leadership Conferences as well as before the House Senate in Trenton, New Jersey. With Linda’s help, Benedictine Academy has been awarded the National Jefferson Gold Medal for Volunteer Public Service for three consecutive years and most recently, Linda’s “Students in Action” Leadership team worked with nine other schools across the nation to write and deliver a New Proclamation of Freedom in Washington, D.C. Along the journey, Linda has successfully instilled her students with life-long moral values and the belief that they have a shared responsibility to actively protect the rights and dignity of every human being.

Linda Hooper, Whitwell, TN (Charter) Public Speaker and Former Principal, Whitwell Middle School While serving as principal at Whitwell Middle School in Whitwell, Tennessee, Linda Hooper founded a grassroots Holocaust education program that drew worldwide attention to the community and brought together students, teachers, families and the entire town in support of religious tolerance and the fight against discrimination. In a region with little religious, racial or ethnic diversity, Linda decided to found a voluntary after-school program that would teach students about the impact of the Holocaust by collecting a paperclip to represent each victim lost. The students wrote letters, and as the program grew, they began to receive letters from Holocaust survivors and supporters around the world. Today, the project has received over 30 million paper clips from 20 different countries, inspired an award-winning film Paper Clips and led to the establishment of a Children’s Holocaust Memorial at the school. A firm believer in the power of education as a vehicle to tolerance, Linda brought to fruition a program that has touched the lives of many. She has since served as a motivational speaker, traveling around the country speaking about The Paper Clips Project and about teaching as a means to positively change the world.

Steve Bandura, Philadelphia, PA (Comcast) Coach and Recreation Leader, Philadelphia Department of Parks & Recreation Director, Philadelphia Youth Organization When Steve Bandura first began coaching youth in South Philadelphia in 1989, there were no organized sports clubs for local kids and not a single African-American team in the city’s leagues. Motivated by the desire to make an impact in his community, Steve quit his marketing career and began serving as a full-time coach, motivator and integrator with the Philadelphia Youth Organization. Through this nonprofit, which offers athletic and academic programs to inner-city boys and girls, Steve has touched the lives of many local children. In 1995, Steve founded the Anderson Monarchs baseball team, named for the legendary Negro League team for which Jackie Robinson played before breaking into Major League Baseball. Last year, the Monarchs completed a barnstorming tour across the country in an original 1947 bus to pay tribute to Negro League baseball and Jackie Robinson’s ground-breaking work. Steve’s young players have gone on to win city championships in baseball, basketball, and soccer as well as achieving the ultimate goal – college acceptance. Through his work at the Philadelphia Youth Organization, Steve has ensured that his young players not only develop in sports but learn the history and heritage of the game, all the while breaking modern-day barriers of their own.

Carrie Severson, Scottsdale, AZ (Cox Communications) CEO, Founder and Leader, Severson Sisters As a young girl, Carrie Severson used her love of dance as a creative outlet to combat the shame, depression and self-hatred brought on by bullying from her peers. When she reached adulthood, Carrie left the corporate world and decided to use her knowledge to launch a non-profit to address the significant impact of bullying, especially among young girls. Today, Carrie serves as CEO and founder of Severson Sisters, which offers programs and services that inspire young girls to live their lives as their awesome, authentic, super self. Her “Super Girl Program” is a creative and supportive initiative that focuses on bullying solutions and self-compassion, to help girls enhance their self-esteem and develop social skills in support of one another. Under Carrie’s leadership, Severson Sisters has worked with 900 girls and 145 adults in hands-on workshops in Phoenix, Arizona. Carrie’s organization also offers in-school programming and at-home workbooks, entitled “The Super Girl Guide to Respect,” to provide an even greater impact in the community. A true example of what it means to be a Super Girl, Carrie’s personal mission is to find ways to expand her inner light so she can better the world in her own way. Jamie Boersma, Des Moines, IA (Mediacom) CEO, Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa Jamie Boersma is the CEO of Girls Scouts of Greater Iowa, serving nearly 14,000 girls and 4,000 adults in 67 counties in central and western Iowa, northeast Nebraska and southeast South Dakota. Working tirelessly to help create a world where girls and women are represented equally as leaders, Jamie is committed to developing opportunities for growth and development. Under her directive of collaborative leadership and innovative perspectives, staff and volunteers pursue compelling projects for girls to increase awareness of important topics including leadership, anti-bullying, building self-esteem, diversity, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and financial literacy. She leads forums across Iowa which bring community members together to discuss the state of girls. As a result, Girl Scouts is collaborating with other community-based organizations and providing after school programming focused on social skills, critical thinking and problem solving skills and anti-bullying.

Petty Hunter, Abilene, Texas (Suddenlink) President, Abilene Chapter of the NAACP Executive Director, Neighborhoods in Progress Often referred to as the “King of Abilene,” Petty Hunter has displayed outstanding leadership within the Abilene community having spearheaded positive social change in the areas of education, civic duty, economic and community development and elder care. As the President of the Abilene Chapter of the NAACP, Petty has been asked by leaders of his community to assist them in addressing social conditions such as closing the gap on academic achievement in the local school district, and strategies to address school dropout rates. His advocacy work on behalf of school children has led to the creation of the Abilene Independent School District (AISD)’s Closing the Gap Committee, which monitors various social and academic indicators to assess academic achievement and then makes recommendations to the school district’s administration to address each assessed indicator. Petty also serves as Executive Director of the Neighborhoods In Progress (NIP) community development organization, Treasurer of the Interested Citizens of Abilene North (I-CAN), a member of the Citizens United Against Disproportionality and Disparities (CUADD,) a onetime Board member of the Abilene Black Chamber of Commerce, Board member of Community Foundation of Abilene, Board Member of the Big Country Sports Hall of Fame, and sits on numerous other committees. Petty’s exemplary service continues in the developing communities where he advises a group of local youth known as the Carver Youth Council who have been credited for eradicating drugs from the Carver Neighborhood. An active community member, Petty’s social work values and ethics demonstrate a true leader committed to helping others and making a lasting difference.

Eric I. Lu, Los Angeles, CA (Time Warner Cable) Founder, The Jubilee Project Eric Lu is proving that films can change the world. As a student at Harvard Medical School, Eric co-founded The Jubilee Project, a non-profit organization that uses films to empower individuals to make a difference in the world around them. Started as just a hobby, today The Jubilee Project has produced over 90 short films and mini-documentaries, garnered over 6 million views online and partnered with other non-profits to raise awareness and inspire action on issues such as sex trafficking, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, autism and bullying. As part of the mission, the Jubilee Project has also toured and spoken at over 25 schools and established 15 high school and college chapters, all with the purpose of inspiring young people to do good. A leader ahead of his time, Eric has found a way to make the world a better place through the intersection of his gifts in social media, filmmaking, medicine and leadership.

Leslie DeDora, Granite Bay, CA Founder, Executive Director and Program Director, A Touch of Understanding In her role as an instructional aide at a local elementary school, Leslie DeDora witnessed many forms of cruelty and discrimination on a daily basis where kids were continuously being bullied. As a result, Leslie worked endlessly to develop A Touch of Understanding, a program that would advocate empathy and respect for all individuals regardless of their differences. Over the past 20 years, she has presented this program to schools, giving kids the opportunity to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. A two-part workshop, the program first involves students taking part in an activity station to understand learning disabilities and autism. The second part of the workshop provides students the opportunity to speak with individuals with disabilities where they discover that we are not all that different. Leslie’s program has touched the lives of more than 57,000 people setting an example of the positive impact one person can have on a community.

Patrick Burke, Boston, MA Co-Founder, You Can Play Project Patrick Burke co-founded the You Can Play Project in honor of his late brother Brendan Burke. Brendan came out as openly gay while serving as a student manager of the Miami University hockey team. Brendan’s story was an inspiration to the LGBT hockey community, and a great example of inclusiveness. A warm and genuine person with a glow about him and a strong sense of justice, Brendan was tragically killed in a car accident in 2010. Carrying his brother’s message, Patrick continues to invest in the growth of You Can Play Project, a program devoted to promoting equality and respect for all athletes, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identification. Patrick has teamed up with gay athletes and straight allies alike to produce truly amazing and humbling results, spreading Brendan’s simple message to athletes, gay or straight: You Can Play.

Learn more about the 2013 Characters Unite Award Recipients at ( About USA Network The #1 network in all of basic cable for an unprecedented seven straight years, USA Network is seen in over 102 million U.S. homes. USA is a leader in scripted programming with a powerful stable of originals, spectacular live television and is home to the best in blockbuster theatrical films, a broad portfolio of acquired series and entertainment events. A trailblazer in digital innovation and storytelling, USA is defining, driving and setting the industry standard for Social TV. USA is a program service of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, a division of NBCUniversal. The award-winning website is located at Characters Welcome.