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American Dream Awards

Congresswoman Castor awards 5 American Dream Awards

Denise Birungi Evans - Denise has spent the past decade working to help make Hillsborough County a drug-free community. Born and raised in Uganda as the youngest of 11, she took her education seriously as a sibling who had an opportunity to attend boarding school. Soon after completing her degree in accounting, she moved with her husband to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Her higher education credits didn’t transfer, so she restarted from the beginning by earning a GED and pursued her original dream in health care. They then moved to Florida and transferred from the University of St. Thomas to the University of Tampa, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public health. Later on, she completed a master’s degree in public health from the University of New England Maine. Today, she is a Youth and Community Coordinator at the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance for Youth Making a Difference (YMAD) and Students working against Tobacco (SWAT) youth groups. Denise loves her job, she says, because it’s about “sharing information that can change lives. There’s so much misinformation online, but HCADA is the resource anyone can turn to.” Through her youth groups, she is training the advocates and leaders of tomorrow. More recently, she has also been focused on promoting positive social media interactions.


Principal Frank Diaz - Principal Frank Diaz came to the United States from Cuba with his mother and sister during the Mariel boatlift when he was 10 years old. His uncle made risky arrangements for an escape for him, his mother and sister, who were able to aboard the last boat, the Red Diamond, that left Cuba during the Mariel boatlift. Later as an adult, he would meet the U.S. Coast Guard captain sent to save his boat that carried hundreds and nearly capsized. Principal Diaz struggled to find his place in school during his formative years, but at Leto High School he credits his wrestling coach who provided him with the support he needed to boost his grades. He caught up on his studies attending day school, night school and summer school – anything he needed to do to be able to join on the wrestling team. The impact of his coach was so profound, he started his career as an educator in coaching. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of South Florida and served as a special needs teacher at his alma mater, Leto High School, Gaither High School, then Alonso. He went back to graduate school for master’s degree in educational leadership degree at Saint Louis University and became assistant principal at Alonso High School. Then, principal at Webb Middle School, and today he is at Liberty Middle School.


Ghadir Kassab - Ghadir Kassab is the Director of Radiant Hands Tampa, a nonprofit organization that helps underprivileged women and families in North Central Florida. Born and raised in Syria, Ghadir has a master’s degree in business administration and she worked for United Nations for almost 20 years as an Administrative Financial Officer. She moved to the United States in 2012. Ghadir was motivated by her sad memories of her destroyed country to carry the passion of helping and supporting those in need, especially those who fled from war-torn countries. Her experience at a United Nations technical specialized agency helped her to increase her focus on long-term sustainable development and empowerment programs for newcomers. At Radiant Hands, she has used the platform to develop several self-sufficiency and advocacy programs supporting refugees and underprivileged women, including skills development, business establishment, and many other educational programs. In 2021, 4,950 were benefitted by Radiant Hands. Ghadir and her team were ready for a critical moment last year in our community – welcoming the arrival of many Afghan families into Tampa. Radiant Hands welcomed 121 families, housed 42 families, furnished 32 houses, provided 1,544 individuals hot meals and provided 350 food boxes.


Dr. Seetha Lakshmi - Dr. Seetha Lakshmi, born in India in absolute poverty, where her mother was the only nurse in a rural village, from an early age she witnessed her friends and neighbors die from Tuberculosis, measles and other diseases. But she was inspired as her mother was able to nurse people back to health or when all else failed, ease their suffering in their final days. She is grateful for the guidance and inspiration of her mother and father to pursue medicine. She attended Government Medical College in Mysore India, where she took an interest in studying health care for HIV patients. She met Dr. Lynette Menezes and Dr. John Sinnott, an infectious disease physician and current chair of medicine for USF Health, who mentored her. They urged Dr. Lakshmi to practice medicine at a population level and understand health access disparities. They inspired her to study epidemiology, which eventually led her to work by their side in Florida during the COVID pandemic. Dr. Lakshmi is specialized in Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases. Today, she is an associate professor of infectious diseases with the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital and medical director for Global Emerging Diseases Institute at TGH.


Carmen LoBue - Carmen LoBue, born in Ecuador, attended Art & Design High School in New York City, where she won the Nationwide Asia Society Art contest that took her to New Delhi, India representing New York State. She earned a full scholarship to Cornell University and as a graduate architect moved to Tampa, where for 10 years she practiced architecture and interior design in the private sector. In 2004, Carmen joined Hillsborough County to practice urban planning. In this capacity, she was project leader and manager for numerous important initiatives to implement and enforce land use policies as well as helping to secure funding for a $475,000 federal earmark for the Tampa Bay Area – Water Ferry in 2009, which sparked a regional conversation In 2013, Carmen was promoted to the Community Affairs team to inclusively work with citizens, and in 2016 became the Hillsborough County Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Community Liaison. In addition, Carmen is the key point of contact for all ADA -related matters inclusive of over 1,800 annual inquiries related to accessibility issues. Carmen has served as member of the Pan American University Women Association, University of South Florida Community Advisory Committee as well as FBI Citizens Academy graduate, and she has received numerous recognitions for her public service and contributions to our Hispanic community.