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Winner of Clara Barton
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    March 24, 2006
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If you have nothing but negative comments to say ... don't come in!

That was the sign Pam Pomeroy posted on the door of her neice Julie's hospital room after a nurse told her that the 15-year-old girl would never speak again.

Three years after suffering the massive stroke, Julie not only spoke, she graduated from Mater Dei High School.

That year her mother started the Julie Inman Courage Award, giving scholarships to Mater Dei seniors who didn't let a disability or death in the family or some other tall hurdle stop them from graduating.

Julie is 37 now and taking her Courage Award countywide. On Monday she received an award of her own.

Julie was one of eight Outstanding Women of Orange County honored by the Red Cross. The 10th annual Clara Barton Spectrum Awards ceremony was held at the Hyatt in Irvine. Julie was honored for starting the nonprofit SupportAbility. Her organization raised $11,000 in scholarship money this year for 14 courageous students at five schools.

One of the students, a 17-year-old girl, worked night jobs, including cleaning offices, to help her mom who was fighting ovarian cancer. The girl's father died when she was 13.

Another girl stayed in an abusive home to care for her grandfather until he died, and then moved in with friends to finish school despite serious kidney problems.

"They're the ones who need so much applause," Julie says. "If you're not the top grade winner and you're not the top athlete, sometimes you slip through the cracks and you don't get recognition for what you accomplished."

Julie believes she wouldn't have come this far without all the positive words and pats on the back. "You can see how it could have easily gone the other way, her mother says.

On Jan. 1, 1981, an aneurysm from a congenital brain malformation burst while she was skiing with her family, and doctors said the athletic teen would never leave a rest home. She couldn't lift her head or swallow food. She could hear but she had no language.

If her family put her in a home, as doctors recommended, she would probably still be there today, her mother says.

But they took her home and went to work.

"It's hard for me to put into words, I guess, how fortunate I was," Julie says, sitting in her Irvine apartment where she lives with her dog, a Shih Tzu named Kiana. "It is so important I received recognition and support for what I did."

Classmates, neighbors, family and the parents of soccer kids she coached rallied around her. They called it Operation Julie. And for years people showed up at all times of the day to pace the driveway with her, help her swim, rewrite her homework in extra large letters so she could see it, teach her to read and pour herself a drink.

"They're good memories," Julie says. "They really make you proud." And strong.

From the day she woke up and saw her wheelchair, she vowed to walk independently by the end of the year. And at the end of every year she would renew that vow. She did this for 19 years until she mastered her walker in 2000.

Julie kept other promises to herself.

"I always wanted to go to USC. So I did. I always wanted to rush a sorority. So I did. I always wanted to live in a sorority house. So I did. I always wanted to get a degree in English. So I did."

Recently her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, so Julie got a special bucket-seat tricycle to cycle the 100-mile Bay to Bay Bike Tour, raising money for research while training.

Julie still sees everything with double vision. Her balance is poor. And she still relies mostly on her wheelchair, which she uses to tool around the UCI campus, her dog on her lap.

She sometimes buys candy in bulk and then sells it to raise funds for SupportAbility. She also stages monthly golf fund-raisers, writes appeals letters and holds a Valentine's Day tea.

She also serves on the Irvine Residents with Disabilities Advisory Board and she writes a free newsletter called EmpowerAbility.

"I was going to charge $10 a year but then I found out the people I really want to read this really don't have $10, so it's my pleasure," she said.

Julie doesn't want to be considered a Pollyanna. "I have my down days, believe me. But I remember when I was in the hospital, someone told me, 'The world just keeps revolving.'"

It might seem like a mean thing to say to someone who woke up to find a wheelchair next to their bed. But it struck a comforting chord with Julie. "It's always going to be going around," Julie says. "You just have to catch up."

Or as Julie's Aunt would put it, if you have something negative to say, don't come in.




Awards honor Barton's spirit

The Clara Barton Spectrum Awards are named in honor of Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross in 1881. She recognized the need for disaster relief services after the Civil War. During that war, she was called "Angel of the Battlefield" for the care she gave wounded soldiers.

Clara Barton was born in North Oxford, Mass., in 1821. She was first a teacher, then the first female clerk at the U.S. Patent Office. She learned about the International Committee of the Red Cross while recuperating in Switzerland from her wartime work.

The Orange County Chapter of the American Red Cross was officially recognized in 1965, but the American Red Cross has provided services to the community since 1898 when a small group of Santa Ana women gathered to send bandages and other medical supplies to soldiers fighting in the Spanish-American War.

In February 1917, Newport Beach became the home of the first Orange County-based chapter.

The Clara Barton Spectrum Awards recognize women who have demonstrated the same tireless effort and pioneering spirit of Clara Barton.

Other winners of the 2002 Clara Barton Spectrum Awards

Youth: Veronique Robert. The Woodbridge High School senior and member of the track team organized the first-ever track and field training camp for the Dwarf Athletic Association of America. The Irvine teen also started a program called "If the Shoe Fits Take It," which collects single floor-display running shoes for leg-amputee athletes from local retailers.

Humanitarian: Fran Andrada is fondly called "the Oak View Angel," by Oak View residents, for all the volunteering she has done to improve the Huntington Beach neighborhood's quality of life.

Health Care: Gloria Reyes co-founded ABRAZAR, which furnishes health care, social and educational services to thousands of low-income people in Westminster, Garden Grove and Fountain Valley. The Westminster woman raised $1 million to build ABRAZAR a community center and another $1.5 million to develop affordable housing for low-income people.

Art: Laurie Zagon, of Dana Point, has held free art workshops for 20 years to help poor people, those with chronic and life-threatening illnesses and caregivers cope with grief, stress and loss. In 2000, she incorporated the nonprofit Arts & Creativity for Healing. This year she trained 60 artists, educators and therapists to take the program countywide.

Education: For 29 years Nancy Lawrence has nurtured the "Color It Orange" program, a community arts education program that encourages students to submit artwork for jury and exhibition. In 1974, 470 kids participated. Last year 4,500 submitted work. Lawrence lives in Monarch Bay.

Preservation: Stephanie Barger is executive director of the Earth Resource Foundation in Costa Mesa, which promotes activities to save the Earth. She works with schools and mobilizes clean-up groups.

Volunteer Group: Friends of Canyon Acres Society of Anaheim Hills has raised $1 million to aid Canyon Acres Children's Services for abused and neglected kids since forming in 1985.

Elizabeth Dole Glass Ceiling Award: Gayle Jones started at the construction company Snyder Langston as a receptionist, scheduler, secretary, mail clerk. Nine years later the Irvine woman was partner. She has opened the door for women in the construction industry.