The Paragon Awards were designed to recognize exceptional contributions by the leaders serving our community.
The Paragon Awards recognize and honor exemplary leaders for the contributions they make to the Tulsa community.
With our 2021 Paragon Awards, Leadership Tulsa is honoring some of those leaders across various sectors who have made a difference in our community during the pandemic response. We solicited nominations from our members and the community.
2021 Paragon Award Winners
Photos: Jessica Karin Trout
Sue Ann Bell – Tulsa Public Schools
Paragon Award for Education
Even in a normal year, Sue Ann’s job leading the district facilities team is not an easy one. She oversees the teams that keep schools safe, clean and in good repair. They mow 600 acres a week and clean and maintain 8.4 million square feet of space! During the pandemic, this work became exponentially harder. They had to innovate and deploy new systems and equipment across the system to keep the spaces safe. They worked overtime to sanitize classrooms and buildings every day. Sue Ann is being recognized not only for this work, but for the way she inspires, encourages, and supports her team of hundreds of front-line staff! Sue Ann’s nominator says, “they would walk through fire for her, and her ability to stay positive and make each of them feel special is like nothing I have ever seen. She routinely works 12 to 16-hour days and often around the clock during emergencies like the winter storm we had this year. “She is such a humble leader, and she would tell you that it isn’t her, it’s her team. But it’s her. She is the kind of leader who quietly makes everyone and everything around her better.”
Dr. Bruce Dart, Tulsa Health Department
Paragon Award for Healthcare
Dr. Dart has served five local health departments in three states during his 36-year career in public health. Currently, he is the executive director of the Tulsa Health Department, a local public health agency of 340 team members in Tulsa. Never did he ever imagine being the face and name most connected to Tulsa’s pandemic response. Dr. Dart has provided calm, evidence-based information to keep Tulsans safe and informed while ramping up extraordinary efforts to provide community members data, testing and vaccination opportunities. This work has continued amid a climate of political divisiveness and even personal threats to him and his team. His nominator points out that Dr. Dart has been working tirelessly to assure the health and welfare of all the area’s citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. “There is simply not enough space to capture what Dr. Dart has done for all of us!”
Corey Jones, Tulsa World
Paragon Award for Media/Journalism
Corey was the lead writer for the Tulsa World during the COVID-19 pandemic. His reporting was thorough, explaining to the community the many nuances of the pandemic in a way that was easy to understand. He poured through data to get a better understanding of the pandemic’s impact on Tulsa, interfacing with City leaders, the Tulsa Health Department and hospital officials. His nominator says, “I always appreciate his attention to detail and understanding that the data was ever changing and may contradict what we provided days or weeks ago.”
Corey moved to Tulsa in 2014 to cover breaking news for the Tulsa World. Humbly, he notes that all the journalists at the World have had a part in the COVID-19 coverage. Corey says, “(This recognition) fuels my hope for the future of news media and our society in that local journalism is valued, respected and appreciated as a relevant force for bettering the community.” When he’s not writing, you can often find him outside enjoying the Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness or the paved trails along Riverside.
Bank of Oklahoma
From the outset of the pandemic, Bank of Oklahoma looked for ways to support nonprofit organizations on the frontlines of relief efforts — those affected most by both the virus itself and the resulting economic shutdown. Significantly, the organization made contributions of $1 million over and above its original plan. BOK identified nonprofit organizations battling food insecurity in each major market where it operates. Its partnership with Hunger Free Oklahoma in the Tulsa area employed laid-off food service workers to make meals that could be delivered to those fighting food insecurity across northeast Oklahoma.
In addition to financial contributions, BOK funded nearly 12,000 loans in the Payroll Protection Program, supporting nonprofits and small businesses that bore the brunt of the impact of the economic shutdown. The company also actively promoted virtual volunteering opportunities to all 5,000 employees across the organization. Serving the community is a core value of company culture and is evident in BOK’s support of 279 employees serving in 499 board or committee roles with 343 nonprofit organizations.
Oklahoma Regional Medical Response System – Region 7 (Tulsa County)
Paragon Award for Government/Public Safety
The Regional Medical Response System (RMRS) leads health care system planning, preparedness and response for its jurisdiction. During the pandemic, the response system has helped hospitals communicate with each other to ensure every patient gets a bed.
Region 7, serving Tulsa and the surrounding areas, has created dashboards of vacant beds available in all hospitals to help with patient placement, provided data to the mayor and other elected officials to assist with decision making efforts, and helped the Tulsa and Oklahoma state health departments have accurate information on patient numbers and bed availability within Tulsa County.
The RMRS also provided PPE and medical equipment to long-term care facilities and local hospitals to meet critical shortfalls. The RMRS has helped competing companies work together to provide better and safer healthcare to the Tulsa area during the COVID-19 pandemic. The RMRS’ nominator notes, “They have served as the calm in the storm for the healthcare world inside Tulsa County for the past year. They have provided coverage and taken calls around the clock from areas all over the state and often from other states around the country trying to find beds for patients when beds could not be found in their own areas.” This is truly a group of individuals who put others first and strive to make sure that the health care system in Tulsa continues to support the needs of its citizens.
Greenwood Cultural Center
Paragon Award for Hospitality/Tourism
In the heart of Tulsa’s Greenwood District, the Greenwood Cultural Center (GCC) is more than just a building or a gathering place. Its mission is its essence: promoting, preserving and celebrating African American culture and heritage. The Greenwood Cultural Center remained true to its mission during the extraordinary challenges of 2020 and 2021 by remaining open to the thousands of tourists that visit each year. Of all the years to be faced with a worldwide pandemic, the year leading up to May 2021’s Tulsa Race Massacre Commemoration was not a year when it could rest or close to the public. To ensure protection of staff and guests, GGC enacted policies and guidelines that adhered to CDC requirements, including masking and social distancing. The Center created a new partnership with Gathering Place for the Kinsey African American Art Exhibit, held American Red Cross blood drives, sponsored the Greenwood Film Festival and hosted other high-profile events, all while remaining a safe and healthy place to visit. Additionally, the GCC created and produced online exhibits and conducted dozens of virtual presentations. Thank you, Greenwood Cultural Center, for your role in promoting cultural tourism and hospitality in this extraordinary year.
Sarah Grounds, City Lights Foundation of Oklahoma
In 2013, Sarah Grounds, a former nurse, helped found Night Light Tulsa to provide food and supplies to homeless individuals “under the bridge” near Cain’s Ballroom. The program rallied new partnership and volunteers to step out of its comfort zone and serve others with dignity and kindness. In 2015, the organization received its nonprofit status and established the City Lights Foundation of Oklahoma.
As the pandemic escalated in 2020, Sarah and her team came up with an innovative solution to serve homeless individuals at risk for COVID-19 by opening the first hotel shelter in Tulsa. In its first four months the hotel housed, fed and provided a sense of community for 98 individuals. The hotel was a respite for those needing to isolate or quarantine due to COVID exposure, or while awaiting COVID testing. It also provided shelter to those whose underlying health conditions put them at greater risk for negative outcomes due to COVID.
Ultimately 31 individuals moved into permanent housing or reconnected with family or friends. Sarah’s guiding principle for running the hotel was to always treat people with dignity, no matter who they are. Her nominator says, “She values the building of community, and saw the guests at the hotel as friends, not clients.”
Eileen Bradshaw, LIFE Senior Services
One of the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic were seniors, who suffered with fear, uncertainty, isolation and depression. Under Eileen’s leadership, LIFE Senior Services successfully served more than 80,000 seniors. When the community went into lockdown in March 2020, LIFE’s Adult Day Health Centers began supporting participants and caregivers with in-home services, food delivery and daily check-in calls. Seventeen Senior Centers offered drive-through breakfasts and lunches, virtual programming and check-in calls to keep seniors connected. LIFE’s SeniorLine provided support with online grocery shopping, absentee voting and even filling out U.S. Census forms. LIFE Senior Services saw referrals triple to their behavioral health specialist for mental health support for seniors. During the holidays, personalized wish lists were collected and filled by volunteers bringing joy to 406 vulnerable individuals.
As the pandemic progressed and vaccines became available at the beginning of 2021, LIFE Senior Services saw calls rise to an average of 1,400 per day. LIFE worked with INCOG to offer transportation services to and from vaccination appointments free of charge. LIFE also opened a vaccine clinic making the vaccine available to seniors and staff. Her nominator says, “Eileen has a profound passion for the work of nonprofit organizations in the Tulsa community and understands the importance of creative collaboration among community partners to serve more of our neighbors in need.”
Calvin Moore, Meals on Wheels of Metro Tulsa
Nonprofit Award/Food Security
Calvin is the president and CEO of Meals on Wheels of Metro Tulsa (MOWMT). Through his leadership, MOWMT has continued to serve the most vulnerable in our community by providing caring contact and food security for thousands throughout our area. In addition, Calvin pivoted his organization several times throughout the COVID crisis to meet the needs of our senior citizens.
The delivery model was adapted to reduce the number of face-to-face interactions with vulnerable seniors. This process was implemented within days with no interruption to meal deliveries. During the pandemic, Meals on Wheels of Metro Tulsa delivered more than 300,000 additional meals, distributed more than 17 tons of bulk food, and provided nearly 30,000 snacks and meals to local youth.
His nominator notes, “Calvin Moore is an exemplary servant leader. He leads a well-run, professional organization with 72 staff and thousands of dedicated volunteers, donors and invested community members. Despite the stress and demands of the job, Calvin does so with a smile, reminding all of us of the important work and mission of MOWMT. Calvin continues to be a visionary leader for our Oklahoma community.”
Tahira Taqi Miles, Urban Strategies, Inc.
Nonprofit Award/Basic Needs
Tahira has been at the helm of Urban Strategies in Tulsa, supporting and transforming the Eugene Field neighborhood, since 2019. When COVID hit, she buckled down to support the nearly 1,000 residents that are part of the Choice Neighborhood transformation project. She and her team of family support specialists made calls to each of the 350 households weekly ensuring families had supplies like food, household cleaning items and masks, as well as other important necessities like internet and hotspots for kids who would have to attend virtual school.
Her leadership allowed all her residents to stay stable during the pandemic, delivering over 25,000 pounds of food to families in 2020. As the pandemic deepened, she worked to ensure all families had housing stability, utilizing community resources to ensure rent and utilities were paid. Using grant funding, she developed two holistic health and wellness programs directed to provide preventative care, mental health support and nutrition, reduce stress, and to help manage SNAP dollars and access vaccines. Her nominator says, “She’s often behind the scenes, so she doesn’t get the credit she deserves for all her hard work. Tahira stays connected and involved in the community. She is a force, and Tulsa is lucky to have her.”