Karen Joseph, RN, a nurse, spends most of her working hours helping people. On her vacations, she can't get out of that habit, and her busman's holidays to Jamaica and Haiti have earned her a Congressional Award for her philanthropic work.

"My passion it trying to help people," she says. "I'm not a hero." Joseph, who grew up in Grenada, says, "I know what it's like to be in need, experience a disaster. I know what it's like to have an uncertain future."

Joseph has been going to Jamaica for a half-decade to volunteer at an AIDS orphanage, and this year will go to St. Kitts to distribute books and school uniforms to students on that island. When a devastating earthquake hit Haiti last year, it was a no-brainer for her to pitch in with the relief efforts there. "The people needed immediate help, not just medical, but emotional."

Back home, Joseph is a clinical nurse manager at Norwalk Hospital, supervising the day-to-day operations of the staff and patients throughout, seeing that they move smoothly from the Emergency Department to the inpatient units. "It's challenging but fun," she says. "I don't get excited too easily so I have a good temperament for the job."

Joseph came to the U.S. in 1985 and worked at the hospital as a medical secretary. She decided to become a nurse and began taking classes at Norwalk Community College while working full time and raising a family. "People told me I was crazy, but I'm very determined," she says. After more than two decades as a telemetry nurse, she was promoted to her current position in July.

"The biggest reward is seeing the expression on patients' faces," she says. "Sometimes it's the littlest things that bring the most joy, like getting an extra chair in a room." Joseph's own efforts, relatively small in the overall scheme, have been no less great in their effect, too.