MANATEE -- Marisol Diaz of Bradenton made Luz Corcuera a "from scratch" tres leches (three-milk cake) for her farewell party Monday.
Corcuera has decided to leave her position as program director at Healthy Start Coalition of Manatee County Inc. to work at the Manatee County Health Department.
"She's a friend. She's a mother. And she's always there when you need her," Diaz said of Corcuera.
Diaz was one of roughly 100 who said goodbye Monday during the party celebrating Corcuera's last day at Healthy Start, whose mission is to educate women and families, empowering them to make healthier and better life choices, for example not sleeping with their babies, not putting them to bed on their stomachs and practicing good diets during pregnancy.
Corcuera said her new ti
tle at the Manatee County Health Department is community health education director but her role, which begins Friday, is not yet set.
Over the past dozen years, Corcuera has gained respect statewide for her ability to spread the word about maternal child health in the Hispanic community, said Fred Leonard, her boss at not-for-profit Healthy Start,
"Luz has made Manatee County the model across the state for working with a population with language barriers and a tendency to be mistrustful of authority and professionals and getting that population to want educational services," Leonard said.
Corcuera's skill was putting together programs, primarily through grant funding and private contributions, and then reaching groups of people and developing health workers from those populations to become service providers, Leonard said.
"No one can replace Luz," Leonard said. "She is irreplaceable. She is highly experienced as a therapist in counseling. Her background enables her to not only empathize, but offer solutions and encouragement.
"Instead of expecting someone to come in and fill that role, we will assign portions of her job to different people," Leonard added.
Diaz was a health worker Corcuera recruited to reach out to the Hispanic population and help foster healthier choices. On the cake, Diaz wrote; "Thanks for 12 amazing years."
"Someone invited me to work with her but I said my English is not that good," Diaz said at the party. "But Luz got with me and said: 'You can do this.' "
Corcuera has remarkable abilities, said Heather Whelan, quality assurance coordinator for Healthy Start.
"She likes to surprise people, which I find endearing," Whelan said. "She is always very thoughtful. Wherever she goes, she always has diapers."
Corcuera, who is from Lima, Peru, came to Manatee County in 1999 from Canada.
New role, opportunity
The job switch offers "an opportunity to enter the arena of a broader scope of public health," Corcuera said.
"It's my hope that I will be able to do something meaningful on a larger scale with bigger and stronger partnerships, to create a stronger and healthier Manatee community," Corcuera added.
Corcuera's day-to-day mission will be determined after she sits down with Dr. Jennifer Bencie, administrator for the Manatee County Health Department, a woman Corcuera said she greatly admires.
"Working with Dr. Bencie is exciting to me," Corcuera said.
Many of Corcuera's associates are also excited at what she might can accomplish on a larger playing field.
"We realized at the sheriff's office that we were losing infants because people were sleeping with their newborn babies on the same surface area," said Maj. Connie Shingledecker of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
Corcuera and Shingledecker began distributing large Moses baskets, with soft liners made by Manatee jail inmates, so newborns would have a safe sleeping environment and could avoid being accidentally suffocated.
Shingledecker also credits Corcuera with being able to get the message to people illegally in Manatee County that if they are victimized, their papers or lack thereof would not affect their cases.
"Luz helped us get the word out that if you are here illegally and are the victim of a crime, our focus is on you as a victim and not that you are here illegally," Shingledecker said. "Law enforcement has a different face in Manatee because of Luz Corcuera."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.