Three SSFC champions of our children recognized by leading local and statewide groups

… Diana Santos Johnson, Doug Punger, and Mike Lawless rack up much-deserved honors …

Doug Punger, JD, 2017 Karen Ponder Award

From the left: Karen Ponder; Leila Punger, Doug’s spouse; Elaine Dana, Doug’s sister; Dr. Nancy Brown, NC Partnership for Children, Inc., Board Chair, 2013 – 2017.

On May 3, in the midst of the National Smart Start Conference, Doug received the 2017 Karen Ponder Award. The award, named for Smart Start’s founding president, recognizes outstanding service to young children and families in North Carolina. A $1,000 cash award will be made to Smart Start of Forsyth County in his name. Doug has been a formidably fixture in Forsyth County educational policies and practices for almost two generations. Doug adopted North Carolina as his home after moving from his native Long Island origins to Winston-Salem, as a Demon Deacon frosh. After completing undergrad and law school at Wake, for almost 34 years he served as general counsel to the Forsyth County Board of Education, eighteen years of which he worked side-by-side with now-State Representative Donny Lambeth, who previously served on the school board. Doug is entering his 9th year of service on the board of directors of Smart Start of Forsyth County, Inc., and his 4th year on the board of the NC Partnership for Children, Inc. in Raleigh.

Diana Santos Johnson, JD, 2017 Leaders in the Law, NC Lawyers Weekly

Diana Santos Johnson during semi-monthly corporate board conversations. To her left, board colleague, Bennett Bruff, CPA (who also just happens to be a member of the Twin City Kiwanis Club, along with Doug Punger, and SSFC staff members Amy Queen, Jackie Lofton & Larry Vellani).

In late July, in ceremonies at the Elon University School of Law in Greensboro, Diana Santos Johnson was among 30 statewide jurists recognized by North Carolina Lawyers Weekly for her service to the bar and to the citizens of North Carolina. The Leaders in the Law award honors legal professionals who go above and beyond in their profession and their community. The honorees represent the most influential individuals within NC’s legal community. A native of Mexico, Diana grew up in eastern North Carolina, completing her undergraduate at Wake Forest and her law degree at NC Central. After completing a three year term on the board of the Winston-Salem Hispanic League, she joined Smart Start’s board in September 2016. Diana has served as a member of the Bolton Law Group for the past three years, and before that on the staff of NC Legal Services.

Diana was honored again on September 15 by the Pro Humanitate Institute at Wake Forest University for this same award. In addition to her recent election as secretary of Smart Start’s corporate board, Diana serves on the N.C. Bar Association’s Minorities in the Profession Committee and on the Winston-Salem Zoning Board of Adjustment. She has also taught bankruptcy courses for paralegals at Forsyth Technical Community College. The Pro Humanitate Institute connects the mission of Wake Forest University to the broader community.

Mike Lawless, MD, 7 Over 70 Award, SPARK Magazine, Winston-Salem Journal

On August 2, Texas native, Mike Lawless, a giant in our nation’s pediatric community, will be one of seven local leaders to receive the 2017 7 Over 70 Award. Living locally, but acting globally, in the many senses of the word, Mike has faithfully served his nation in the US Navy, his students and research colleagues at the Wake Forest Bowman Grey School of Medicine, and his patients in the Forsyth County community, since he began his medical practice in 1972.

Mike served for over eight years on the board of directors of Smart Start of Forsyth County. MIdway during his board tenure, in January 2012, Mike accepted the co-chairmanship of the Forsyth County Pre-K Committee. Under Mike and his WSFCS co-chair Dr. Janie Costello, the Forsyth County Pre-K Committee made steady progress toward improved, expanded service to families of four-year old children–a progress that has continued under his successors Doug Punger and, now, Matt Britt. Mike has the distinction of being the Committee’s longest-serving, community-volunteer co-chair, as well as the Committee’s longest-serving community member. He remains toeday an active member of the County’s Pre-K Committee, which operates under the fiduciary auspices of Smart Start of Forsyth County,

Mike, hard at work with the next generation of medical professionals, hand-over-hand with them along the Hippocratic ropes!.

As a local Smart Start board leader, Mike was instrumental in helping to bring two critical pediatric programs to Forsyth County: Assuring Better Child Health and Development (ABCD) and the Reach Out and Read programs. Because of Mike, and the volunteers and professionals whom he has inspired, over 33 pediatric practices in 10 counties (Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Guilford, Randolph, Rockingham, Stokes, Surry, Wilkes, and Yadkin), reaching 48,929 children birth-to-five, were able to improve early developmental screenings and proper, effective referrals to treatment. Through Reach Out and Read Forsyth County pediatricians have prescribed more than 37,000 age-appropriate books to children birth-to-five.

Our families, educators, board members, and staff could not be more proud of our local heroes. Diana, Doug, and Mike–we salute you, and pledge to live up to the standards you have set for us and our community! Cheers!

For some scenes of the Winston-Salem Journal’s photo-shoot with Mike and a class of four-year olds at First Baptist Child Care Center in downtown Winston-Salem on Friday July 7, click here! You’ll be glad you did.

For some scenes of the 7 Over 70 award ceremonies at the Wake Forest Bridger Field House on August 2, 2017, click here.