Citizens of the Year Golden Bethune-Hill and Charlie Hill saw a need, responded
(February 16, 2013 - Newport News)
Most people look forward to retirement as a time for travel, hobbies and enjoying family. Golden Bethune-Hill and Charlie Hill of Newport News have chosen to spend it pursuing their life's passion: making sure free health care and education is accessible to those who need it.
They grew up a few blocks from each other in the Southeast Community of Newport News but pursued separate lives, advanced degrees and successful careers in East Coast cities. Eventually, life brought them both back to Newport News, and after losing their spouses to cancer, they married in 2008. A strong desire to give back to the community and a common interest in health care made them logical partners in two endeavors: the Newport News Community Free Clinic and the Hampton Roads Prostate Health Forum.
Mrs. Bethune-Hill founded the 25th Street clinic in 2010 after seeing how many local residents were unable to afford medical care and prescriptions. Her experience as a registered nurse and as executive vice president of Riverside Health System gave her the know-how to figure out what services were most needed and identify the resources necessary to meet those needs.
Many people have great ideas, but executing on them is often the sticking point. Starting a free medical clinic would be a huge undertaking, especially as the economy was sputtering in post-recession mode, but this couple wasn't daunted. They knew that bad times mean those struggling to make ends meet needed services more than ever. Those who did have jobs but no benefits needed to keep healthy to support their families. There was no time to lose.
In November, 2010, the clinic saw its first patients. Since then, it has provided $1.5 million in medical and dental care along with medications. It has 135 volunteers and 1,500 patients. In addition to treatment, the clinic offers preventive education and vaccinations. The couple has managed to raise more than $1 million in support from Peninsula donors, including business leaders, the medical community, churches and nonprofit organizations.
Charlie Hill and Golden Bethune-Hll co-founded the Hampton Roads Prostate Health Forum in 2006 along with Dr. Richard G. Rento II and Dr. Mark Fleming. Mr. Hill also has the patient's perspective: he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002 and lives with lymphoma. Prostate cancer is the leading cause of cancer among men in Virginia and the disease kills black Americans at twice the rate of other ethnicities. Mr. Hill knew that education and early detection was essential to slow this trend. The Forum offers year-round workshops and free screenings.
Golden Bethune-Hill and Charlie Hill intended to secretly nominate each other for the Citizen of the Year. But it was quickly obvious to our review team that neither of these important community projects would have been as successful had it not been for the strength and efforts of the pair as couple, working in tandem with equal passion for improving the lives of their neighbors. We congratulate this energetic partnership for being named the 2012 Daily Press Citizen of the Year.