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And the Welly Award Goes to…

A look at the 2016 Desert Health® Wellness Awards

Photos by Lani

The second annual Desert Health® Wellness Awards took place on a spectacular May evening with five deserving finalists taking home a Welly.

The festive celebration, which took place at The Pavilion at Indian Wells Golf Resort, began with an outdoor reception, silent auction, and putting contest. Close to 250 health-conscious guests including doctors, health coaches, fitness instructors and wellness fans gathered to network and learn who would take home the stunning trophy.

Presented by Desert Regional Medical Center and JFK Memorial Hospital, the second annual Desert Health® Wellness Awards received over 30 nominations from peers and community supporters in five categories: individual, business, integrative health care practitioner, non-profit and youth. Three finalists were selected in each category and winners were announced at the event.

The evening also featured Wheat Belly author Bill Davis, MD, who spoke on the power of social media and how consumers are changing the face of health care. Through social media, consumers are telling their stories, sharing successes, and helping each other overcome conditions that used to require a trip to the doctor, he states. Davis has seen this through the many wheat and grain-free success stories shared through Facebook, Twitter, and more. “The days of doctors saying ‘do as I say’ are over and those [medical professionals] who don’t educate themselves on the science of food as medicine will be left behind.”

Rave reviews poured in on the evening’s menu options which included sautéed spaghetti squash topped with julienned vegetables, fresh salmon with quinoa, grass-fed prime rib au jus, and free-range roasted turkey breast. The new American classics featured grass-fed Angus beef burgers with lettuce wraps and gluten free mac-n-cheese.

Enthusiastic guests tried their luck and skill on the putting green with Integrated Wealth Management’s Align Your Future Putt for Prizes. The winner walked away with a round of golf for four at Indian Wells Golf Resort and two runners-up received massages from Massage Envy.

A silent auction benefiting Coachella Valley’s Volunteers in Medicine also helped to raise thousands for the valley’s only free medical clinic.

“The energy of those in attendance was incredible,” said Desert Health® Publisher Lauren Del Sarto.  “Bringing like-minded individuals together to celebrate wellness made for another magical evening. We look forward to keeping up this new tradition and invite anyone interested in moving health and wellness forward to join us next year.”

2016 finalists included:

Individual: Kae Hammond, Jay Nixon, Alexa Palmer; Business: Harvest Health Foods, Next Level Fitness, and Somatherapy Institute School of Massage; Non-profit: Gilda’s Club Desert Cities, Health Assessment and Research for Communities (HARC), Well in the Desert; Integrated Health Care Practitioner: Tina Louise Moreno, RCP, RRT; Joseph E. Scherger, MD, MPH; Diane Sheppard, L.Ac., Ph.D.

New this year was the Youth Award which went to the deserving team of Valeria Chavez and Esther Ramirez who were nominated by their Coachella Valley High School Medical Health Academy teacher Simon Moore.

The challenging job of selecting winners belonged to the Desert Health® Wellness Award executive committee: Coachella Valley health consultant, Donna Sturgeon; Act for MS board member, Margot Nelligan; and Lisa Ford of Desert Medical Imaging and the Desert Doctors Network.


The first annual Youth award was presented to the team of Valeria Chavez and Esther Ramirez.

The first annual Youth award was presented to the team of Valeria Chavez and Esther Ramirez.

YOUTH: Valeria Chavez and  Esther Ramirez

At the beginning of 11th grade, health academy students Valeria Chavez and Esther Ramirez decided to dedicate themselves to helping their community. Both are certified in CPR and first-aid through the Health Occupations Students of America and teach other students and members of the community these lifesaving techniques. They also participate on HOSA’s National Service Project Team, and this year worked tirelessly to raise awareness and funds for leukemia and lymphoma in the East Valley. Their nominating teacher describes Valeria, an aspiring cardio thoracic surgeon, and Esther, an aspiring neurosurgeon, as “team players anyone would be inspired to emulate.”

Business award winners Laura and Dana Laffranchini of Harvest Health

Business award winners Laura and Dana Laffranchini of Harvest Health

BUSINESS: Harvest Health Foods

For 49 years, Harvest Health Foods in Palm Desert has been locally owned and operated. Created by Norma Snow in 1969, and purchased by Laura Laffranchini 17 years ago, Harvest provides fresh organic produce and a vast array of vitamins, minerals, and supplements, along with a large selection for nutritional diets like raw and gluten free foods. Their trained and knowledgeable staff is always available to answer questions and provide suggestions. Harvest Health is highly regarded in their field and loved by locals. Laura and her team are passionate about helping consumers who seek to address their health conditions naturally.

Non-profit category winner, HARC, represented by Dr. Glen Grayman, Dr. Jenna LeComte-Hinely, Eileen Packer, and Dr. Casey Leier

Non-profit category winner, HARC, represented by Dr. Glen Grayman, Dr. Jenna LeComte-Hinely, Eileen Packer, and Dr. Casey Leier


Founded in 2006, HARC’s goal is to transform the Coachella Valley’s health and well-being through research and evaluation. With community surveys conducted every three years, their valuable and free data has helped identify health disparities and generate over $12.8 million in grant funding for local organizations working to improve the health of our community. The data confirms what is needed and why, and is resourced regularly by local governments, schools, businesses, nonprofits, media, and more. Through this valuable service, HARC has helped bring our community together to improve the quality of life for each and every individual.

The Individual award went to children’s author and educator Alexa Palmer.

The Individual award went to children’s author and educator Alexa Palmer.

INDIVIDUAL: Alexa Palmer

As an early childhood educator, Alexa Palmer couldn’t find a book on nutrition to which kids could relate, so she created Jolene, a feisty little girl who transforms her world from junk food queen to healthy role model. Since 2008, Alexa has impacted thousands of children and families at local farmers markets, shelters, libraries and in the classroom by reading JoLene: Adventures of a Junk Food Queen in character and with associated activities like making smoothies. To further spread the message of proper nutrition, she has recently created a children’s musical of Jolene, which will launch locally. Alexa feels strongly that every child deserves a good beginning, and her mission to educate youth on the topic of healthy eating is never-ending.

Joe Scherger, MD, took home the Integrated Health Care Practitioner award.

Joe Scherger, MD, took home the Integrated Health Care Practitioner award.


Dr. Scherger’s interest in integrative health began in 1971. As a primary care physician, he leads by example, practicing food as medicine and helping hundreds of patients shed thousands of pounds and work towards a life free of chronic conditions. Since coming to the valley in 2009, Dr. Joe has been instrumental in establishing the Eisenhower Wellness Institute, and the hospital’s Residency Program bringing much needed doctors to our valley. He is a champion for Volunteers in Medicine, a consummate teacher, and a prolific author who recently published a compilation of his work entitled Lean and Fit: A Doctor’s Journey to Healthy Nutrition and Greater Wellness.

Thank you to all who took part in this year’s Desert Health® Wellness Awards! (See photos of the event on page 20).

A special thank you to our sponsors who made it all possible: Desert Regional Medical Center, JFK Memorial Hospital, Integrated Wealth Management, KMIR TV, Whole Foods Market, Eisenhower Medical Center, Desert AIDS Project, Bonterra Organic Wines and Coachella Valley Brewing Company.

A special Thank You to photographer Lani Garfield.

Nominations for the third annual Desert Health® Wellness Awards are open now through March 31, 2017. Save the date and join us at next year’s awards ceremony taking place May 18, 2017 at Desert Willow Golf Resort in Palm Desert.

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