Performers by Day, Philanthropists Year-round
Husband and wife team transform lives in Haiti and via KPSC Educational Theatre.
“Be Inspired” is honored to showcase seven remarkable nominees who were recognized as semi-finalists for Kaiser Permanente’s 2015 David Lawrence Community Service Award. Please scroll down to read today’s featured profile.
The annual David Lawrence Community Service Award recognizes individuals and teams at Kaiser Permanente who champion outstanding activities and initiatives to positively impact health, whether it is in their local communities or abroad. These nominees embody Kaiser Permanente’s mission to improve community health. Their commitments have been to important health and social issues, such as increasing access to health care for the underserved, eliminating disparities in health outcomes of racial and ethnic minorities, addressing the social determinants of health, and being strong stewards of our natural resources.
To recognize their amazing work and dedication to giving back, David Lawrence Community Service Award winners receive a $10,000 grant to a nonprofit of their choosing, which is funded by Kaiser Permanente’s national Community Benefit.
“Be Inspired” will feature all seven semi-finalists for the Southern California region on a weekly basis. The two Southern California award winners of the 2015 awards will be announced on January 26, 2016.
Husband and wife team transform lives in Haiti and via KPSC Educational Theatre
Kaiser Permanente is a strong advocate for community service, regularly encouraging its workforce to take part in events and activities that improve the health of their communities.
In Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre (ET), husband and wife educator/performer duo Ray Auxais and Johanna (Jo) Unger embody Kaiser Permanente’s mission to its fullest, making it their personal mission to bring relief to the residents of Ti-Rivere, a small, impoverished village in Haiti and working to eliminate health disparities there by concentrating their efforts on items that directly impact the health of the community: hygiene and education.
Every year, the couple travels to Ti-Rivere, bringing essential supplies to some of Haiti’s neediest families through their organization, Christmas without Toys, which Auxais and his family founded in 2005.
When they’re not busy performing for K-12 students through ET, the couple spends its free time collecting items such as clothing, shoes, toys, books, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and much more from friends, family, neighbors and colleagues. During the Holidays, the items are personally distributed to roughly 3,000 Haitian children and families in need.
Few countries illustrate the existing racial and ethnic disparities more than Haiti. One of the poorest countries in the world, most of Haiti’s residents lack access to basic commodities such as clean water, food or housing. In such an impoverished country, access to quality health care is a luxury that few can afford. By providing shoes, clothing, and hygienic products, Auxais and Unger are helping to improve the health of many Haitians by helping them maintain good hygiene habits and prevent disease.
But Auxais and Unger’s efforts extend beyond supply distribution. The couple also supports access to education, having helped six students receive an education by paying for their tuition and supplying the school materials and uniforms.
During one visit to Haiti where they delivered used hospital beds to a local maternity ward, Auxais noticed that the physician was providing outdated medical information to HIV-positive mothers who had recently given birth. As an experienced health educator in one of ET’s programs dealing with sexually transmitted infections, Auxais helped to clarify a few discrepancies for the physician, hoping that he would share that knowledge with his patients.
The couple personally funds every trip to Haiti, including shipping and transportation costs for the supplies, for their annual holiday trip to help others. “Come January and February, we are living paycheck to paycheck,” explained Auxais. “But the joy we see in their faces is worth it.”
What’s more, both Auxais and Unger are actively involved in their local communities here in the U.S. Auxais shares his time and expertise helping students in the Watts community learn to dance through MPOWR, an arts enrichment program in this underserved community. He also regularly participates in programs that help to educate and inspire our youth.
And recently, Unger organized a summer camp for local children in her community to take an interest in the outdoors and help others. One notable project that really took off consisted of making supply kits (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, a journal and pen, and more) for the homeless. The children have really taken ownership of this project, displaying an immense level of altruism that inspires others.
Out of a desire to help others, and in keeping with Kaiser Permanente’s goal of ensuring that good health extends beyond our doors, Auxais and Unger have demonstrated an exemplary commitment to a vulnerable population, and setting an example for future generations of community leaders to follow.