Skip to Content


2023 American Dream Awards

Congresswoman Castor awards 5 American Dream Awards

René Espinoza

Telemedicine, real-time health data, artificial intelligence, assistive technology – the future of health care is poised for a transformation as it aims to empower patients and provide equitable access, and René Espinoza is already a part of it. His company, Lazarillo is revolutionizing accessibility and customer experience in physical spaces. Lazarillo's platform and app digitize spaces and services, offering assistive navigation for those with visual impairments. With an extensive user base exceeding 300,000, spanning across generations and backgrounds including young people, middle-aged individuals, seniors, veterans, and more, LazarilloApp is globally collaborating with businesses and cities, catalyzing the evolution of accessibility standards. In fact, the City of Tampa recently launched a new, 15-month pilot program with LazarilloApp to offer assistance navigating the Tampa Municipal Office Building, Old City Hall and Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, where Tampa’s flagship events, such as Boom by the Bay, are held. The pilot uses Bluetooth positioning beacons inside the buildings and the park to map these spaces. The app then plays audio messages to help people with disabilities better orient themselves through those inside spaces.

René was born in Santiago, Chile, where he studied electrical engineering. During his time at the University of Chile, he worked at a medical center where he focused on developing affordable assistive technologies. This experience broadened his perspective on how technology could significantly enhance the quality of life for individuals with disabilities. He then chose to base his thesis on the first prototype of Lazarillo, a name derived from Spanish slang for guide dogs, referencing the book titled, Lazarillo de Tormes, one of the gems in Spanish literature.

René moved to the United States in 2019 when he joined Tampa Bay Wave’s Techdiversity Accelerator, a unique 90-day program designed for early-stage tech companies that are 51% owned, controlled and operated by people of color. These startups work in a collaborative, non-competitive environment and will have access to invaluable resources including mentoring, pitch coaching and sales training, curated workshops and networking events, and media exposure. Also in 2019, René received the MIT Innovator under 35 Latin American award, chosen from more than 2,000 applications by a jury formed by experts in technology and innovation in search of young innovators and entrepreneurs who are developing new technologies to address the most pressing issues faced by society.

René represents Tampa Bay, a region that fosters innovation, works towards inclusivity and celebrates diversity. 

Jorge Flores

Jorge Flores’ family fled post-revolution Nicaragua when he was an infant, the youngest of three boys. They came to Miami, where he says his mother worked graveyard shifts while studying to become a Certified Nursing Assistant and his father in construction, working on the skyscrapers that make up Miami’s city landscape today. Jorge confronted a new harsh reality in Miami, experiencing poverty, hazardous living conditions, evictions, hunger, police brutality, family separation and domestic abuse. Free breakfast and lunch at school not only provided nutritious meals for Jorge, but they also gave him a safe place and escape from his family’s traumatic struggles. 

But Jorge had a superhero in his life, his mother, and her superpower was understanding the importance of a good education. She found good schools for her boys, even if they meant 5 a.m. wake-up calls for those long commutes. Jorge recalls books were everywhere at his mother’s home. Jorge’s uncle, who was studying to become a doctor at the time, also became a role model for education and Jorge recalls sitting with him in the library learning about diseases and parasites. His family’s hard work to prioritize and emphasize a good education and positive learning environment paid off. Jorge and both his brothers not only graduated college, but after Jorge completes his master’s in public health from the University of South this fall, all three brothers will have advanced degrees!

 Jorge and his family moved to Tampa when he was 15 years old, and he graduated from Wharton High School. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in history from the University of South Florida and worked full time running a wedding photography business. While he enjoyed the creativity of photography, he answered the call to public health. He started with the Hillsborough County Health Department six years ago as a laboratory technician during the Zika outbreak and now works as an environmental epidemiologist, helping to run the Health Department’s lead prevention program. Unfortunately, Hillsborough County has some of the highest number of lead cases due to older housing and the types of industrial occupations in this area. Children often get exposed to this lead dust if they live in an older house or if their parents bring lead particles from construction or industrial occupations. Jorge designs maps to track cases and he creates partnerships with organizations to help screen children and educate the community, including a new partnership with Head Start to close the screening gap among children. Every day, Jorge helps to educate someone on the dangers of lead poisoning which then in turn helps a child avoid permanent brain damage. His passion and leadership was recognized when he received the Florida Public Health Association’s 2022 JY Porter, MD Award for Excellence in Health Education. Jorge says his work is even more meaningful thanks to his caring colleagues in public health and encourages others who have a strong sense for social justice to pursue public health careers. 

While Jorge’s mother is his biggest inspiration and he thinks about her immense sacrifices whenever he faces his own personal challenges, he also finds inspiration with stories and films, such as Good Will Hunting, Interstellar, The Lord of the Rings and Whiplash – storylines of overcoming adversity and speaking truth to power to change the status quo. 


Orniel Hernández

Orniel Hernández Gonzalez is training the healthcare professionals of tomorrow, and his leadership is more important now than ever before as communities across the country work to address the healthcare workforce shortage – especially a diverse workforce. He is cofounder, CEO and instructor of Finlay Institute of Nursing in Tampa. Orniel was born in the rural town of Pinar del Rio in Cuba and moved to Tampa in his late 20s. His biggest obstacle was identifying an academic center that could help him get on a career track in his native language while he learned his new language, English. Orniel became the change he wished to see when he and his wife, Yania Azcanio, founded Finlay as a bridge to better-paying jobs in healthcare. It is a bilingual education center in Tampa that offers tracks in the following healthcare fields: home health aide (HHA), certified nursing assistant (CNA), patient care technician (PCT), medical assistant, pharmacy technician and phlebotomy technician. To date, more than 3,000 students have graduated from Finlay, and students receive job placement services and casework management services. They have gone on to work at local skilled nursing facilities, private doctor’s offices, local hospitals such as Tampa General and St. Joseph’s and labs such as Quest Diagnostics. Orniel’s vision for Finlay will be to house a nursing school.

Orniel was always interested in medical sciences, but his passion was catapulted later in life after he and his wife started their own family and his daughter, Melanie, was born. Years later, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and he was devastated. That same day he called Keiser University to start the process of admission. He became a licensed practical nurse and took care of his wife, who today is a cancer survivor, and his daughter, Melanie, is studying to become a nurse. Orniel continued to become a registered nurse and today is towards his master’s degree in nursing. Before starting Finlay, his career spanned working with patients in critical care and clinical trials at local hospitals, including John Hopkins All Children’s in St. Petersburg. 

At Finlay, Orniel is a charismatic instructor of nursing and his teaching philosophy is one that guides his students to not only master their skills in the healthcare field, but also encourage them to take on a journey of lifelong professional growth and development so that they continue their ladder of success.

Kamila Khasanova

Kamila Khasanova was born and raised in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Her parents, who cherished her as their only child, instilled in her the belief that no dream was too big, as long as she was willing to invest the effort and remain patient over time.

By age 4, recognizing Kamila's restless nature and adventurous spirit, her parents decided to channel her energy into rhythmic gymnastics. They believed that this sport would instill the discipline and focus she needed. From ages 14 to 17, Kamila competed professionally, proudly representing her country as a member of the Ukrainian National Team in group performances. This transformative experience instilled in her the values of teamwork and collaboration, emphasizing that individual talent is only as valuable as the ongoing dedication one brings to a collective goal. 

However, her gymnastics journey ended abruptly at the age of 17 due to a persistent foot injury, a reminder of life's unpredictable twists and turns.

In 2018, Kamila embarked on a new chapter, venturing alone to the United States to pursue dual graduate degrees from the University of South Florida's Vinik Sport and Entertainment Management Program, a master’s degree in Sport & Entertainment Management and a master’s in Business Administration. There, she was awarded the Women in Leadership and Philanthropy Jeff and Penny Vinik Scholarship, recognizing not only her academic performance but also opening doors to a network of influential individuals. Among them was her mentor, Cindy Kane, who played an instrumental role in Kamila's professional and personal growth. Cindy became Kamila's guiding light, introducing her to her future employer and consistently advocating on her behalf.

Upon graduation, Kamila transitioned into the world of public relations and communications. She began her journey at the boutique firm Playbook PR and later joined the local nonprofit Community Tampa Bay. In both roles, she harnessed the power of communication to foster meaningful social interactions. The leaders of both organizations played pivotal roles in helping Kamila secure her legal residence in the United States, providing unwavering support through every step of the process. 

During the invasion of Ukraine, Kamila initiated a community dialogue to address cultural gaps and common misconceptions about Ukraine and its people. Feeling a strong sense of duty to her homeland, she organized an event that attracted substantial interest and attendance, as people from various backgrounds sought to gain a deeper understanding of Ukraine and its resilient people.

Kamila currently resides with her mom, whom she was able to bring out of Ukraine when the war started, reuniting after four years apart. A few months ago, Kamila opened her own marketing and communication firm, On Top PR, where she primarily collaborates with tech companies. She is also working on launching her startup, Peabj (Pe-B-J), which aims to empower students to form more purposeful connections, to collaborate on innovative ideas and projects of mutual interest, and encourage positive social media user experiences and well-being.  

Beyond her professional endeavors, Kamila actively mentors young students through her involvement with Think Big for Kids, a nonprofit organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty for middle and high schoolers by providing mentorship and career opportunities.

Anjali Nair

Anjali Nair came to Tampa, Fla. six years ago from Mumbai, India as one of the 1 million immigrants who come to the United States every year to restart their lives and for Anjali, to reunite with her husband as a newlywed. Although she was a first-time jobseeker in the United States, she was confident that her education, many years of professional experience already under her belt and her fluency in English would allow her to land a job and continue her career in marketing. She received more than 250 job rejections. But her one YES was a game changer! She used her rejection as redirection, which she eventually used to fuel her launch of the Immigrant Academy, a wild vision to give new immigrants a blueprint for life in America. 

Anjali was born in Mumbai, India, a fast-paced, melting pot that taught her to be independent, street smart and exposed her to the Western Hemisphere as well. Both her parents worked full time to ensure her and sister’s success, so they were raised by their grandmother, who inculcated daily habits and routine. She graduated from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management School, a top school in India, with her bachelor's degree in pharmaceutical sciences and her master’s degree in marketing. 

Acclimating to the United States became the creative content for Anjali’s ‘A Desi Girl in US,’ a blog that provided an exclusive space with helpful resources for South Asian women. “Desi” means a person living abroad who originally hails from countries in South Asia, like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Srilanka and Bhutan. The blog eventually grew into a community of 5,000 of South Asian immigrants in the United States. Anjali didn’t stop there. During the pandemic, she founded The Immigrant Academy. What started as a passion project has now become a social impact company that has grown organically through educational content, courses and mentoring programs -- touching more than 1,500 immigrant lives. Launching The Immigrant Academy meant pushing through the many naysayers and leaning into a few who believed in her, including her husband and her hiring manager – the person who gave her game-changing, one YES. Originally from Jamaica, Anjali says she empathized with her immigrant journey and supported Anjali when she shared her passion to mentor new immigrants. Previous to her full-time role as an entrepreneur, Anjali has worked as a passionate marketer for a startup as well as large corporate U.S. companies. Tampa Bay is now home for Anjali, her husband, her newborn and pup. She encourages resilience, relationship building and decisiveness to help others achieve their own version of the American Dream.