Community Education

Youth essay and scholarship contests honor future and current community champions

Photo: left to right Max Slezak; first place winner of the Health Career Scholarship Contest focused on Oral Health, Sherika Finklea; community health worker coordinator for Genesee Health Plan, County Commissioner David Martin-District 9,  Holli Searbury; executive director of Delta Dental Foundation, Jim Milanowski; president and CEO of Genesee Health Plan and Kimberly Garland; manager of Delta Dental Foundation

left to right: Jim Milanowski; president and CEO of Genesee Health Plan, Genesee Health Plan Health Heritage Essay Contest 2019 teacher winners;
Simone Walker of Genesee STEM Academy and
Rhonda Irish of St. Pius X Catholic School and Sherika Finklea; Community Health Worker Coordinator for Genesee Health Plan

By Tanya Terry

Genesee County youth can win over $4,000 in scholarships and gift cards while discussing health matters with their families through Genesee Health Plan’s fifth annual Health Heritage Essay Contest and third annual Health Career Scholarship Contest! Genesee Health Plan is partnering with its major contest sponsor Sovita Credit Union to make this possible.

According to E. Yvonne Lewis, director of outreach for Genesee Health Plan, African Americans don’t always understand their health history. She said if we don’t understand our health history we’re more likely to have poor health outcomes.

“This is a real issue across the African American experience. We are dying disproportionally or more often from many illnesses that are preventable,” Lewis said.

It’s also critically important for youth to know about their family health history, according to Lewis.

“It’s really important at this age so they can start developing good habits early, and if they understand some of the risk factor or some of the things that cause them to be at risk for certain diseases they can take some steps early on to prevent those things,” Lewis said.

These are some of the reasons Genesee Health Plan is hosting its annual essay contest, with first and second place awards being given for three age groups from between fifth grade and high school.

The essay contest gives youth a chance to talk about vital issues. In previous essays youth have written about knowing how to eat better and knowing exercise is important to prevent many poor health outcomes. They have also learned the difference in type 2 diabetes, which is preventable, and type 1 diabetes, which requires insulin shots.

The contest also can also students develop better writing skills and stronger communication about what they want for their future.

For the upper elementary and middle/junior high school levels, the first place winner will receive a $200 gift card, and the second place winner will receive a $100 gift card. For the high school level, the first place winner will receive a $400 gift card, and the second place winner will receive a $200 gift card.

This year there are also two $1,500 scholarships available to help high school students further their education.

In the past, Genesee Health Plan has received about 35 essay entries for the contest. They receive fewer entries for the high school scholarship contest, often involving students busy preparing to go into the career field.

Sherika Finklea is the community health worker coordinator for Genesee Health Plan. She said it is critically important to reward high school students planning to enter the healthcare field.

“It’s already a challenge when their exiting high school going into college. So, we want to help to eliminate some of that financial burden. It also gives them a chance to start thinking about why it is they want to go into the healthcare field,” Finklea said.

Last year the scholarship was geared specifically towards those interested in dental or oral health.

“This year it’s broader,” Lewis said.

High school students are able to talk about their goals for the future in any chosen field, as well as how they hope to make an impact in this field.

“This really gives us a broader opportunity to really hear what’s on the minds of some of the students as it relates to their future in health care,” Lewis said.

Genesee Health Plan employs health navigators, nurses, health coaches, social workers and public health care administration workers.

Genesee Health Plan would like as many students in the community to enter the both the essay contest and the scholarship contest as possible. So, teachers who encourage students to enter are also rewarded.

“We feel that if teachers are willing to make this part of their school day or their curriculum, that’s an added bonus,” Finklea said.

Essays are due by March 27, and winners will be honored at the Genesee Health Plan’s Health Care Hall of Fame Awards dinner on April 17.

For details contests rules and guidelines, visit

For questions, contact Sherika Finklea at 810-232-7740 Ext. 217.

left to right
Sherika Finklea; community health worker coordinator for Genesee Health Plan, Kole Hogan; first place-St. Pius X Catholic School, Omar Naguib; first place-Grand Blanc High School and Jim Milanowski; president and CEO of Genesee Health Plan



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