Crozer Health Social Worker Yahaira Turner Named Recipient of Gwendolyn A. Smith Award for Community Service
Yahaira T. Turner, Behavioral Health Social Worker in the Emergency Department at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, has been named the 2023 recipient of the Gwendolyn A. Smith Award for Community Service.
The Gwendolyn A. Smith Award for Community Service was created in 2022 to honor former employee, Gwendolyn (Gwen) A. Smith’s legacy and commitment to our community. The award is given to a current Crozer Health employee who makes significant contributions to the community through their time, talent, actions, and dedication. Turner was selected because she consistently exhibits the same values that Smith lives by every day.
“Yahaira and Gwen are remarkable people who share wonderful qualities that benefit our patients and communities,” said Anthony (Tony) Esposito, Crozer Health CEO. “I’m thrilled that Yahaira has been recognized with this award – it is well-deserved.”
Turner, who joined Crozer Health in 2018 as a Drug and Alcohol Mental Health Therapist and then transitioned to the ED, was shocked – and excited – when she heard she was the award recipient. And ever so humble, she felt uncomfortable being recognized for doing things that she thought are “supposed to be done.”
“I’m so honored to be in the company of someone like Gwen who is so highly spoken of,” she said. “A lot of the work I do is in the background; however, I am the voice for those who are unheard,” she said. “They are the encouragement I need to continue the service. I love what I do, and my spirit is full.”
This year marks 20 years of service Turner has devoted to the underserved and overlooked, specifically with those who are homeless or have substance use and mental health challenges in Chester, Pa and throughout Delaware County. She currently works with patients and families in crisis in the Emergency Room, and her personal experiences enable her to connect with those she’s trying to help.
“I know what it’s like to feel defeated,” she said. “I knew it had to be for a greater purpose. While I grieved the adversities, not just physical loss, I gave and I continue to give. But my change only comes from the day-to-day exchanges that we sometimes never see mature to completion.”
Turner, who grew up in Chester, was a single mother who used her adversity as a tool to inspire others in the community to push through obstacles they faced. She received her bachelor’s degree at the age of 32 and in September 2020, she enrolled in the Master of Social Work program at Widener University where she maintains a 4.0 GPA and will graduate this December. She is first generation born in the mainland U.S., with a mother from Puerto Rico and father from the Dominican Republic. Now married with three children and residing in Delaware County, PA, she has dedicated her life to thinking outside of the box and questioning everything. “I would not be able to do all of the things that I do if it were not for my village that, without a doubt or hesitation, listens to my heart through my thoughts and says, ‘Let’s GO!’”
"If I followed all the rules that have been imposed on me and never questioned them, if I just smiled and nodded, then I wouldn't be where I am today,” Turner said. “If it’s not helping all people, we should do things differently.”
Turner began her volunteer work with Catholic Social Services, when she first served on the Homeless Service Coalition of Delaware County (HSC of Delco) as an outreach volunteer. She recently spearheaded a coat drive that provided nearly 60 brand new coats to the homeless during their ‘Point in Time’ annual outreach. She was also an outreach worker and volunteer in Philadelphia, assisting the community with drug and alcohol risk-reduction practices and education. She is a state-certified drug and alcohol counselor and a certified medical interpreter, which enables her to better serve the Spanish-speaking population.
“I plant a seed for people and hope it grows,” she explained. “I had so many people pull me up, and I pull them up.”
This spring, she created and funded with close friends and family the first sensory-friendly Easter Egg “Un-Hunt” for children in Chester to share in a sensory-free environment, and she is reaching out to various agencies to have the annual event funded. This will continue to provide an opportunity for all children – but specifically those with special needs – to enjoy and “be a part of the space and not just occupy space.”
Turner was recently inducted into the Phi Alpha Honor Society at Widener University and is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society.