Three North Country Residents Honored at ‘Health Hero’ Luncheon

Individuals from Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties receive 2018 Community Health Hero Award, given by the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization (FDRHPO) and North Country Health Compass partners.

CLAYTON – The Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization (FDRHPO) and North Country Health Compass Partners are pleased to introduce the recipients of the 2018 “Community Health Hero” Award.

One Health Hero was chosen in each of Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties, and all three were honored Tuesday afternoon during an award luncheon at the 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel in Clayton. This year’s Community Health Heroes are:

  • Jefferson County – Michelle Graham, Director of Health & Wellness, Watertown Family YMCA
  • Lewis County – Kimberly A. Cavanagh, Mental Health Peer Advocate, Northern Regional Center for Independent Living (NRCIL)
  • St. Lawrence County – Dr. Pakkam Rajasekaran, Medical Director and Chief of Psychiatry, Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center

“There are many unsung heroes living and working in the North Country, especially when you look at the health and wellness sector,” FDRHPO Executive Director Erika F. Flint said. “The goal of the Community Health Hero Award is to give these hard-working, selfless individuals some well-deserved recognition, and there is no doubt that we have truly found three heroes this year. Our community should be very proud to have Michelle, Kim, and Pakkam.”

The Community Health Hero Award – given in honor of National Rural Health Day (November 15, 2018) – recognizes North Country residents who have demonstrated outstanding public service and a commitment to improving the health and wellness of their community. Nominations were accepted from the community at large and winners were selected by members of the North Country Health Compass Partners.

At the luncheon, each Health Hero was presented with a plaque after being congratulated by their peers and keynote speaker Roman R. Espinoza – a Watertown resident and founder of the “Blessing Box” movement in northern New York.

A hero embodies the virtues of courage, sacrifice, endurance and integrity,” said Pat Fontana, FDRHPO Rural Health Network Manager and emcee of Tuesday’s event. “A hero possesses a hard-wired willingness to make daily personal sacrifices for the benefit of the people around them, and there’s something about them that makes you want to be around them and want to be like them. The heroes here today are not sporting a mask or donning a pair of tights and a cape, but they are heroes nonetheless.

Michelle Graham is Senior Director of Health & Wellness at the Watertown Family YMCA. She is a Watertown native who decided to stay in the region because she believes it “is a wonderful place to raise a family.” She earned her M.S. in Exercise Physiology from Syracuse University and previously worked at the CANI Fitness Center before joining the YMCA. She is married to Jay Graham and has three children: Maxwell, McKenna and Lucia. She was nominated for the Health Hero Award by YMCA CEO Denise K. Young.

“Every day, I get to wake up and do work that I absolutely love,” Mrs. Graham said. “My work never feels like a job; it is my passion, my life, my love. I get the opportunity to change people and inspire them to live better each day.”

Kimberly A. Cavanagh is a Mental Health Peer Advocate at the Northern Regional Center for Independent Living (NRCIL) in Lewis County. She grew up in Amberg, Wisconsin, and moved to the North Country, earning her A.A.S. at SUNY Jefferson. She has held various roles in the community, including Peer Specialist at the Lewis County Community Health Center and Domestic Violence Advocate at Lewis County Opportunities. She and her life partner, William Draper, have three children: Joel, Mandy, and Sunsetta. Kimberly was nominated for the Health Hero Award by colleagues Karen Boliver and Maureen Cean.

“I do my part in my little corner of the world and feel that it is enough,” Ms. Cavanagh said. “I am enough. I have established many healing relationships here and have seen that healing is contagious! This is a lifetime achievement for me, and I have so much more I am joyful to do.”

Dr. Pakkam Rajasekaran is Medical Director and Chief of Psychiatry at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdensburg. He was born in Madras, India, where he earned his M.D. at Madras Medical College in 1976. He then moved to the United States and trained at two downstate New York hospitals, Maimonides Medical Center and Brookdale Medical Center. Dr. Rajasekaran has been a practicing psychiatrist for 37 years. He is a widower, surviving his late wife, Mary Adair. He has one daughter, Nisha, and four stepchildren: Chad, Dawn, Michelle and Danne. Dr. Rajasekaran was nominated for the Health Hero Award by his colleague Kimberly McKnight.

“[Moving here] gave me an opportunity to serve the people who are deprived in many ways,” he said. “It is a great place to work; the people here are very friendly, helpful to each other, and great neighbors.”

For more about National Rural Health Day, visit

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About the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization

FDRHPO works to strengthen the system for health for the integrated Fort Drum and civilian community through analysis, identification of needs and leveraging of resources to fill gaps through innovation and collaboration. For more about FDRHPO, visit

About the North Country Health Compass Partners

The North Country Health Compass Partners is a collaborative of local hospitals, public health agencies, behavioral healthcare providers, prevention councils, and community-based organizations that meets monthly to discuss and review the community’s population health priorities. It also serves as the steering committee for, a regional health data website, maintained by FDRHPO, that contains interactive charts, graphs, and dashboards for all the region’s population health priority areas.

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