Celebrating those that give back to the community was the focus of the 16th Annual Santa Paula Latino Town Hall Awards held September 7 at La Casa del Mexicano Hall, where (l to r) Pete Sanchez (Youth); Ulises Valenzuela (Sports); Joseph Torres (Education); Maria Jimenez (Community Service); Michael Torres (Cultural Arts); Joe Vega (Business); and Alfonso “Al” Guilin (Ray Garcia Humanitarian Award). Photo by Marie Gregorio-Oviedo (www.mariethephotographer.smugmug.com)

Latino Town Hall: 2012 Awards focus on those who give back to community

September 21, 2012
Santa Paula News

Celebrating those who give back to the community was the focus of the 16th Annual Santa Paula Latino Town Hall awards dinner that filled historic La Casa del Mexicano Hall with recipients, supporters, elected officials and community activists.

The real stars of the evening were award recipients: Joe Vega, honored with the Jesse Victoria Business Award; Pete Sanchez lauded with the Youth Award; retired teacher Joseph Torres, who garnered honors for Education; Maria Jimenez, an activist lauded for her efforts in Community Service; Team Clutch founder Ulises Valenzuela, honored for Sports; Michael Torres, lauded for his efforts in Cultural Arts; and Al Guilin, recipient of the prestigious Ray Garcia Humanitarian Award for his wide community involvement.

The September 7 celebration featured keynote speaker Dr. Gabriela Sandoval, who was raised in Santa Paula and earned her PhD from Cornell University. Sandoval spoke on her doctoral dissertation, “Where is the Brown Vote? Race, Class, and Gender Voting and The Voting Rights Act in Santa Paula.”

Former Port Hueneme Mayor Maricela Morales of the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) also spoke on upcoming efforts to get out the vote for the upcoming November 6 Presidential Election.

Much of the evening was devoted to pre-award socializing, with Robert Borrego - co-founder and longtime former president of Latino Town Hall - and his wife Tillie as well as former Councilwoman Laura Flores Espinosa among those greeting friends.

Latino Town Hall President Lorenzo Moraza welcomed the crowd, noting, “We are here because we believe in what we do,” including making an effort in the upcoming election to “get out the vote and get people elected” to tackle national as well as local issues. 

Moderator Jess Ornelas introduced the elected officials in the crowd - including Assemblyman Das Williams, Assemblywoman and congressional candidate Julia Brownley, and representatives of former Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, who is running for State Senate. Oxnard Councilwoman Carmen Ramirez also attended, as did Santa Paula High School District Trustees Diane Ponce-Gomez, Tina Urias and Chris Wilson, candidates for the Unification Board, as well as Santa Paula Elementary School District Trustees Tim Hicks - also running for the Unification Board - and SPESD Trustee Tony Perez. 

Martin Hernandez, chief aide to Supervisor Kathy Long and a City Council candidate, and council candidate Duane Ashby were also in attendance at the celebration, as was Ventura County Community College District Trustee Bernardo Perez. Former Mayor Dr. Gabino Aguirre - also a past Latino Town Hall president - represented the city of Santa Paula at the event.

First up for awards was Youth Award recipient Peter Sanchez, who, Ornelas said, has devoted much of his life to youth sports, raising funds for Little League and what is now known as the Boys & Girls Club. Sanchez also was a founder of Unity, which was formed in 1974 by young workers at Limoneira to raise scholarship funds for youth. 

Sanchez mixed his two passions by forming a Little League team called “Unity” that Sanchez would treat to a meal after each game. “Jess Morua, a former Unity team member, said ‘Pete started the Happy Meal before McDonalds!’” said Ornelas.

“I always believed in helping people, especially kids,” who in turn, said Sanchez, have helped others.

Many youth have benefited from Team Clutch, an after league baseball team founded by Ulises Valenzuela, recipient of the Sports award. Ornelas said Valenzuela has been a volunteer coach for T-ball and youth soccer since 2005. 

In 2008, he founded and coached Team Clutch, “an after Little League baseball organization dedicated to enhancing the skills of our youth.” Starting with a dozen kids, Team Clutch now has almost 100 players on seven teams. 

Valenzuela, also a Little League Board director, said, “I was asked once if I wanted this many kids when I started Team Clutch. I said if 500 kids want to play, I’d make it happen.”

Maria Jimenez saw a need in the community and filled it, earning her the Community Service Award for founding Poder Popular, an organization of primarily Mexican and Central American immigrant women that focuses on domestic violence, economic self-sufficiency and health and nutrition through programs and classes. The organization is currently assisting First Five in establishing a community garden. Ornelas noted Poder Popular was instrumental in the U.S. Postal Service constructing a handicapped accessible ramp also used by mothers with baby strollers.

Jimenez is also President of Campesinas Unidas, a statewide organization that advocates for human rights and empowerment for farmworker women. “All her life,” said Ornelas, “Maria has been a catalyst of change.”

A third generation Santa Paulan and 1964 Santa Paula High School graduate, Joseph Torres was honored for Education. Torres, a UCLA graduate, was hired in 1975 by Fillmore High, retiring in 2006 after a 31-year teaching career.

An accomplished educator, coach - in 1998 honored as State Coach of the Year - and social activist, in 1995 Torres assisted his students in exercising their Freedom of Speech and organized a student walkout in opposition to Proposition 187.  

“Joe was always looking for ways to motivate his students and discovered the AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) program,” which Ornelas said resulted in many of his students moving on to four-year universities. Torres’ students were easy to spot on campus: each was required to carry their individual goals and refer to them daily. 

Torres named several teachers who inspired him when he was a rebellious youth: “We all have these apostles in our lives, these agents of change.... May we all continue to learn, help each other and be agents of change.”

Michael Torres, recipient of the Cultural Arts Award, has worked at SPHS since 2003 teaching art and graphic/computer arts. Said Ornelas, “Michael is dedicated to improving and expanding the opportunities for youth in the arts” and is a role model for all students, especially Chicanos. 

His students have participated in the annual Medallas de Oro (Gold Metals) SPHS Student Art Show at the California Oil Museum. An accomplished artist himself, Torres’ work has been widely exhibited through Southern California, and he was recently named as the head of the SPHS Art Department.

Torres said he was particularly honored to receive the award, “because Latino Town Hall has done so much for others... I feel like a part of your legacy.” He noted that through his life he had many teachers; as a child he started to learn from his parents, and continues to learn from his own children. “All,” he noted, “taught me things.”

Ornelas said Joe Vega, recipient of the Jesse Victoria Business Award, has combined the practicalities of welding with decorative art through his Vega Welding, started more than 40 years ago. “The community has come to rely on this business for decorative metal works, serious construction works projects, and for heavy duty metal works” and, said Ornelas, “without a doubt, Vega Welding is a valuable asset to the community of Santa Paula.” 

Vega’s father advised him to “Make yourself viable,” and Joe, a Vietnam veteran, studied welding at Ventura College. “Joe has helped more than 50 others realize their dreams” by demonstrating “what a dream can become through hard work and dedication.”

“I really appreciate what the Santa Paula community has done for me,” said Vega, who noted he enjoys what he does - especially training others for a career. “I thank the community for accepting me,” said Vega, who came from Ventura, “when I didn’t know a soul.”

Given for to a person of “exemplary character who is generous with the community,” who recognizes the need for dignity and respect for all, Ornelas said Alfonso “Al” Guilin more than deserved the Raymond Garcia Humanitarian Award.

Guilin’s distinguished career in agriculture included 30 years with Limoneira Company starting in 1965, and serving as president of the California Avocado Commission. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus by Cal Poly University.

He has served on numerous boards including Agricultural Producers, Santa Paula Savings & Loan, Briggs School Board of Trustees and Ventura County Symphony. In 2000 Guilin founded the Destino 2000 Fund with the Ventura County Community Foundation, and he was president of the Rotary Club of Santa Paula in 1973. Guilin is involved in the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Fireworks Committee, the Farm Worker Housing Committee, the Labor Day Parade Committee, the Santa Paula Ministerial Association and the Santa Paula Art Museum among others. 

After his 1996 retirement, Guilin became more deeply involved in volunteer church activities. “Feeling the call to ordained ministry,” Ornelas said, Guilin “entered studies and was ordained a Permanent Deacon in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2001,” currently serving as Deacon at St. Sebastian and Our Lady of Guadalupe Churches and Spiritual Director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Guilin, said Ornelas, “certainly deserves praise and recognition.”

“What a remarkable group of people,” said Guilin of those honored by Latino Town Hall. The youngest of five boys, Guilin said he learned early in life “that you had to work together to get anything accomplished... division accomplishes nothing.”

And, Guilin added, “Without Jo Ann,” his wife, “I wouldn’t be here... I am extraordinarily proud to be up here,” related to his efforts on behalf of community. Guilin said his childhood example of working together has lasted a lifetime and it remains key to improvements. “If we do not work together collectively,” he noted, “we fail as a group.”

Following the ceremony Latino Town Hall Awards recipients received Proclamations and recognitions from various elected officials and their representatives.

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