Therese Montanari had no clue Tuesday that her St. Petersburg Sertoma Club lunch meeting would include an extra special moment on the agenda.
The Director of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology at All Children's Hospital was simply enjoying another weekly gathering of the club she's been integrally involved with for the past 10 years.
But the business at hand inside 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House in downtown St. Petersburg suddenly focused on Therese herself - and in a big way.
She was presented with her club's Sertoman of the Year Award, honoring her tireless and longtime efforts at All Children's providing invaluable speech language services for kids in need.
"I was completely surprised," she said Wednesday, back in her bustling, second-floor office at the new Child Development and Rehabilitation Center on campus. "I had no idea it was coming."
Among those adding to the ovation - and the meaningful nature of the event - was U.S. Representative C.W. Bill Young. In keeping with his winning tradition, he hasn't missed an election day local Sertoma lunch in more than 20 years. And true to form, he enjoyed a celebration of his own Tuesday night with re-election to his 22nd term in Congress.
"It made it even more special to have Congressman Young there," she said. "He's a huge friend of All Children's Hospital."
For the record, Therese is now a two-time recipient of the award from the Sertoma Club, which annually singles out a member for his or her dedication and outstanding service to the club and community. She also won it 2008. But she views the recognition strictly as a reflection on the overall program at All Children's, which she first joined as a college intern at Florida State University.
"It honors All Children's Hospital, not me," she said. "It honors all the hard work that all the audiologists and speech pathologists do each and every day here."
The program actually has its roots with the St. Petersburg Sertoma Club, which has a long tradition of working with children dealing with hearing and speech disorders. In 1955, All Children's became involved with the local Sertoma, which created the hospital's first speech and hearing clinic.
Therese began volunteering there while attending St. Petersburg Catholic High School. She knew she wanted to work with children, but may have been drawn to the speech pathology field for another reason. "I was adopted when I was 2 ½ and didn't speak a word for the first year that I moved into my family home," she recalls. "Years later, my mother remarked how interesting it was that this was the field I went into."
Therese furthered her knowledge of the subject at Florida State, and spent the final semester of her master's degree program at All Children's. The internship led to a residency, in which she became a Clinical Fellow in the speech pathology program. From there, Therese became a speech language pathologist working both with inpatients and outpatients.
In 1992, she was named Clinical Coordinator for all outpatient speech language pathology services - both on the main All Children's campus and at several outpatient speech-language-hearing centers operated by the hospital with support from the Scottish Rite and Sertoma Foundations.
Three years later, Therese became Director of Outpatient Speech Language Pathology, overseeing all the services in St. Petersburg and the outreach sites. She went on to lead the development of speech pathology at the first All Children's Specialty Care Centers when they opened in Tampa, Pasco County and Sarasota.
Today, Therese is responsible for speech language pathology initiatives at 11 All Children's Outpatient Centers in seven counties - allowing children to receive crucial help close to home.
The services include reading therapy, phonics, and therapy for feeding, chewing and swallowing disorders. In addition, assistance is provided for children with language problems associated with congenital hearing loss, as well as language and communication problems related to autism spectrum disorders.
In July, Therese's duties were expanded, allowing her to apply her creativity and energy as head of All Children's speech language pathology and audiology programs. She also keeps highly active in the community, serving, for instance, as vice president of programs for Sertoma.
"What that means is I'll get the mayor to come in, the police chief, the fire chief," she explains. "Growing up here, I have a lot of connections." She also has chaired Sertoma's annual fundraiser every April the past eight years, and majority of the money raised comes back to All Children's speech-language department.
Therese credits the steadfast support of Sertoma and Scottish Rite with helping the program continue to thrive and grow. When she joined All Children's, there were three speech pathologists on staff. Today there are 25. And though she no longer works directly with children, she still draws endless satisfaction from seeing the progress they make working with her therapists.
"I always choose to sit in the middle of the office, so I can watch the activity take place and see the families and children that we serve," she says.
"And you can see the gains, week by week. You'll see a child who barely waves 'hi' or vocalizes it. But six months later, they'll come by and say, 'Hi, Miss Therese.' You just see the parents' reaction of relief, because they had been so worried if their child would learn to read or talk or go to school. It just makes me feel proud that I'm in a department of therapists who work so hard to do such great things with children and families."
Therese has felt that sense of pride keenly on four particular occasions - attending the high school graduations of teens she worked with as young children, when they were barely able to communicate. "Those were really special moments," she says.
And Tuesday afternoon, there was a new one to savor.