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Employees honored for child safety and community building

Two Sacramento area employees were recognized for their commitment to volunteerism. Pictured, Joann Ahaneku was awarded for helping fix her childhood school in Nigeria that was destroyed by successive storms.

A registered diet technician who rebuilt a school in Nigeria and a child life specialist who helps prevent unintentional injuries among kids each received the 2023 Kaiser Permanente David Lawrence Community Service Award.

Since 2003, Kaiser Permanente has presented the awards to recognize outstanding community service efforts among employees and physicians that advance the organization’s mission to improve community health.

Kaiser Permanente will make a $10,000 charitable contribution on behalf of each honoree to the nonprofit organization of his or her choice.

Giving back to the less fortunate

Joann Ahaneku comes from a family that gave back.

“My father raised us to never forget those who are not so fortunate,” said Ahaneku, a registered diet technician at Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento who has been active in community service since she was 7. “We supported anything and everything in the community.”

In 1960, Ahaneku’s father founded the Sacred Heart School in Nigeria, which she and her 10 siblings attended. Over the years, Ahaneku’s Eze Cyprian Ahaneku Foundation has supported communities in Nigeria with food, supplies, and even scholarships for girls.

After the roof of Sacred Heart collapsed during a storm in 2016, Ahaneku started to fundraise to fix the roof. But before she could reach her goal, a second storm destroyed the school.

For the past 5 years, Ahaneku led the effort to rebuild the school, raising money through document shredding events hosted by St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Sacramento. The school was rebuilt in 2022.    

Today, Sacred Heart has 150 students, desks for everyone, and lessons are written on chalkboards instead of walls. The roof doesn’t leak, and there is a library full of books.

Ahaneku also has other plans for the school. She wants to offer a free meal plan for the students, launch a Saturday reading program, and open a health center across from the school to provide prenatal and maternity care. Her long-term goal is to get electricity and computers at the school.

 “Education is the best gift you can give to any child,” Ahaneku said.

Keeping kids safe

Traci Aoki-Tan is passionate about kids and injury prevention.
Traci Aoki-Tan is passionate about kids and injury prevention.

Child life specialist Traci Aoki-Tan feels lucky that she has been able to unite two passions: kids and injury prevention.

“Preventable injuries are the number one killer of children under 18 in the U.S.,” said Aoki-Tan, who works in pediatrics and the pediatric intensive care unit at Kaiser Permanente Roseville. “We need people to change their mindset and buy into the idea that injury prevention costs less than lifelong medical care or multiple surgeries.”

She has served 12 years as the president of the Safe Kids Greater Sacramento, a nonprofit that works to protect children from unintentional injury. The organization covers many areas of injury prevention, including fire, water safety, pedestrian safety, poison prevention, and child passenger safety. Safe Kids Greater Sacramento collaborates with county health, hospitals, and fire stations and adapts their services to community needs.

Aoki-Tan has been a car seat technician for 23 years and is one of two special needs car seat instructors in Northern California.

Since 2000, the organization has inspected more than 19,000 child safety seats for proper installation and has distributed more than 10,000 infant safety seats to low-income and non-English-speaking families.

Seeing the relief on parents’ faces whenever she completes a car seat installation makes her community work worthwhile. Recently, a family contacted Aoki-Tan to let her know they had been in a car accident, but the seat she had installed never moved and the child was unharmed.

Aoki-Tan is also working to establish a car seat safety program at Kaiser Permanente and car seat basic classes for nurses.

“I just want kids to be safe,” she said. “It always makes me feel really good, because it means that I’m keeping them off my (pediatric) floor and the kids are doing what they’re supposed to do, which is to be kids.”


David Lawarence Community Service Awardvolunteerism

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