Portait Photograph

Irene Sekle, CNAII, CPBT

Grand Prize Winner Student Nurse Category

Nursing Student Leaves Homeland to Provide Help from Abroad

They may look dog-eared and abused but to Irene Sekle, a student enrolled in the Presbyterian School of Nursing at Queens University of Charlotte, NC, old nursing textbooks offer hope for healing and a bright future for a nation. Sekle left her home country of Liberia to pursue her childhood dream of nursing and hasn't lost sight of home. Though just a student, she already is investing her newfound skills and resourcefulness to help future nurses in the African nation.

Knowing how valuable textbooks – even old ones – are in Liberian schools, Sekle has collected more than 400 of the books and shipped them to a Liberian nursing school at her own expense. 

For her profound commitment to the future of the nursing profession, Sekle is one of 10 honorees nationwide to win the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award in 2008. The award is granted by Cherokee Uniforms to recognize nurses and other non-physician healthcare professionals who demonstrate exceptional service, sacrifice and innovation and have a positive impact on others' lives. This is the 6th year Cherokee Uniforms has honored inspirational caregivers, with hopes that the winners' stories will encourage the nation's brightest students to enter the healthcare professions. 

"I am proud to say that I am following my dream, after so many years. I feel that God has called me to be a blessing to His people."

"Irene Sekle is fulfilling a fantastic dream to give back to those in her homeland who are less fortunate, and by reaching into her own pockets to help make it happen, she is potentially benefitting an entire nation," says Wendell Mobley, who directs the company's charitable and scholarship programs. "Although she hasn't yet earned her degree, she has already touched the lives of so many."

Each semester, Sekle collects old, unwanted nursing textbooks from instructors and the local hospital library to send to a nursing school in Liberia, where they're desperately needed. The students are overjoyed to receive them. She's paid more than $1,000 of her own money to ship the books, in order to place them into the hands of her fellow students in Africa.

Sekle has also implemented some of the skills and knowledge she's obtained through her nursing education. On a recent trip to Liberia, she witnessed a shortage of healthcare providers and basic lifestyle counseling first hand. When she checked blood pressures of local residents, she was shocked to see how many people had very high blood pressure yet were unaware of their risk of cardiovascular disease. She counseled them about their lifestyle choices and sent them for further evaluation by a physician at a free clinic.

"It is fantastic that, as a student nurse, Irene can see beyond her own needs to help others," expresses Michelle Hokanson, a 2005 recipient of the award and one of this year's judges. "The fact that she has the foresight to see that these books could still be used and is recycling them in a country that values them is terrific. She has taken this task upon herself. Just think what she will be able to accomplish in the future."

Sekle was inspired to become a nurse after watching the popular American television medical drama Marcus Welby, MD. "I was amazed by the miracles being performed in the operating room, and I wanted to be a part of those miracles," she says. "I am proud to say that I am following my dream, after so many years. I feel that God has called me to be a blessing to His people."

Sekle was nominated by Melinda Armstrong, one of her professors at the Presbyterian School of Nursing at Queens University of Charlotte. As a Grand Prize Winner in the award's Student Nurse Category, she receives an all-expense-paid Caribbean cruise for two, a wardrobe featuring the best of Cherokee Uniforms and Cherokee Footwear worth more than $1,000 and a trophy. She will also be featured in Cherokee's nationally distributed 2009 Inspired Comfort Award calendar.

Since the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award was established in 2003, nearly 7,000 healthcare professionals have been nominated in the Registered Nurse, Advanced Practice Nurse, Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse, Student Nurse and Non-Physician Healthcare Professional categories. A panel of Cherokee representatives and past Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award recipients evaluates nominations and grants the awards.

For every nomination in 2008, Cherokee Uniforms donated $1 to Nurse's House, a national fund that provides short-term financial assistance to registered nurses facing serious hardship. Proceeds from Cherokee Uniforms products support healthcare professionals through initiatives such as the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award, an annual calendar and the A Nurse I Am Film and Scholarship Program. Cherokee Uniforms will be accepting nominations for the 2009 Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award beginning March 1st through May 31st, 2009.

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