Recipients of the 17th Annual Latino Town Hall Awards were celebrated at the gala dinner held at Casa Del Mexicano.

Latino Town Hall awards celebrate community, community activism

October 02, 2013
Santa Paula News

By Peggy Kelly 

Santa Paula Times 

Latino Town Hall celebrated community and community activism at its 17th Annual Awards dinner, an event that was an early sell-out. 

“I guess we must be doing something right,” said Jesse Ornelas of the annual program founded to recognize leaders and inspirational figures in the Latino community.

Ornelas, a Latino Town Hall Founder and long-time master of ceremonies for the annual celebration, said each year has memories centered on awardees and their contributions to community.

“They’ve all been well deserved,” said Ornelas.

The Silent Auction was set up in the Casa courtyard, the dozens of items on tables decorated by Remnants on Mill that drew the crowd first to admire and then to bid.  

Ornelas noted the diversity of the 2013 award winners but said they all have one thing in common: “They’re little jewels and it’s important for us to find those jewels and show them off to the community. Our recipients don’t do things for the glory, just to help.”

Ornelas greeted John Macik of Santa Paula Chevrolet and said the dealer is a good example of support: “They are the people that make it possible for us to have this event.”

Founding Latino Town Hall President Bob Borrego, his table filled with family members and friends, said, “From the beginning Latino Town Hall was for everyone who needed a voice.... we have always welcomed everyone.”

Latino Town Hall President Lorenzo Moraza said the theme of the 17th annual celebration was “Education, It Needs ‘U’ to Succeed,” noting the constant emphasis Latino Town Hall has had on education and its role in providing workshops and information on what became the successful school district unification initiative. 

The 2013 Latino Town Hall Awards’ recipients, he noted, “Truly represent the unique and wonderful community Santa Paula - one of the most beautiful cities in the world - is.” 

Casa Board President Angel Montelongo noted the benefit organization is celebrating its 67th anniversary of, “Sacrifices and thousands of satisfactions.... we are Santa Paula, we are proud to be in Santa Paula and we are here to help!”

Elected officials on the federal, state, county and local levels were represented.

Rigoberto Vargas, who grew up on Limoneira Ranch and is now the executive director of the Ventura County Healthcare Agency, gave the keynote address. 

Vargas discussed recent studies and surveys conducted by the agency to gauge health and wellness-related issues throughout Ventura County. 

Ornelas presented the awards starting with the Community Service Award for Manuel Magaña, a native of Mexico who first was a seasonal farm worker in the U.S. before moving to Santa Paula 28 years ago.

Now an agricultural foreman with five children, Magana “Has served the community in various ways,” volunteering as a soccer coach for more than 17 years, as vice president of the Santa Paula Barcelona Soccer Organization and as a lector and men’s group leader at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. 

Ornelas said, “Manuel believes that engaging youth in a sport early in life has a positive impact and serves as motivation to stay out of trouble,” and he inspires and empowers other men to engage in community service.

Taylor Alvarado, a recent SPHS graduate, “Was the most prolific goal scorer in Ventura County youth soccer for the past two years,” that Ornelas said, “is hands’ down one of the best, if not the best, soccer player ever to come out of Santa Paula.”

Taylor holds the career and two best single-season scoring totals in the SPHS program history and helped guide the team to the CIF quarterfinals for the past three years. Taylor league MVP three times, All League First Team Selection for four years, All CIF First Team Selection twice and tallied a program-record 153 career goals. She also played for the Mexican National Soccer Team for two years, participating in the Women’s World Cup in last September.

“Taylor served as a role model to her peers both on and off the field, maintaining a 3.5 GPA,” and is starting Pepperdine University this fall.

Taylor’s father Lalo and mother Christine accepted the award.

“She wanted to thank the community and the school, all that she said made her who she is,” said Lalo. 

Santa Paula High School Junior, Student Body President, Key Club Vice President and co-founder of Junior States of America are just a few of the things on the plate of Alondra Navarro, who received the 2013 Youth Award.

Ornelas said Alondra is also a member of the swim and volleyball teams, and, “Currently ranks first in her class with a 4.6 GPA.... prior to high school, Alondra was Valedictorian of her eighth grade class and volunteered helping other students through the Summer Algebra Academy.”

She also served on the community committee to help develop the vision and mission statements for the new unified school district and Alondra attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C where she completed an AP government course. 

The youngest of a first generation immigrant family whose father has been a Limoneira Co. farmworker for decades, Alondra plans to graduate from a university and continue to give back to the community by mentoring other students.

Ornelas said, “Alondra embodies the qualities we strive to develop in all of our children.... “

Lori Muñiz Sanchez, an educator and school administrator for 32 years, was honored with the Education Award.

Ornelas said Lori started her career teaching at an inner-city school but relocated to Santa Paula in 1983. During her 16 years as an elementary teacher, Lori also served as a Master Teacher for student teachers, a SPESD Bilingual Mentor Teacher and a Title 1 Resource Teacher.  

She also served on the district’s bilingual and migrant advisory committees and was recognized the California Association for Bilingual Education as one of the county’s Outstanding Bilingual Teachers. 

Lori was principal at Thelma Bedell when it was recognized as a California Distinguished School. 

She retired in June as principal at Barbara Webster where she began her SPESD career.

A founding member of Las Contemporaneas, a group of professional woman who support the Museum of Ventura County Lori she also serves on the museum board.

Fourteen years ago, as a tribute to her parents who advocated education and community service, Lori and her siblings created the Muñiz Family Scholarship Foundation at CSUN; the foundation has awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships.

Lori said, “Teaching is my passion.... children are our future,” and must be helped in various ways. 

“Santa Paula,” said Lori, “has great educators,” and numerous museums that are invaluable resources for students.

The Business Award honored Do-Right’s Plant Growers and owners Dudley and Diane Davis, who were unable to attend the awards ceremony.

Said Ornelas, “The Davis’ have dedicated generous amounts of time and resources into helping to beautify Santa Paula through strategic placement of more than 250 flower planters and baskets throughout the city over the past five years,” as well as spearheaded a local chapter of the national America in Bloom.

“The Davis’ are passionate about promoting the mission of America in Bloom,” to work with “dedicated and resourceful” partners in “beautifying the city, displaying civic pride, and increasing environmental awareness.” 

Ornelas noted such projects also “have economic benefits that include attracting customers to Santa Paula and increasing property values.”

The Davis’ were recently honored with a California Small Business of the Year Award for their charitable efforts and business success.

Do-Right’s representatives Gloria Osuna and Margaret Garcia read a letter from Dudley that noted, “Plants decorations are not just a background; good things happen,” when areas are beautified with landscaping that prevents graffiti. 

Wrote Dudley, “It’s hard to be a criminal against such beauty.... “

Dancer Sofia Roman was honored with the Cultural Arts Award.

A native of Mexico, Sofia was raised in Santa Paula, attending local schools. 

At 14 she attended a UCSB youth leadership conference that opened with a Danza Azteca performance: Taylor, said Ornelas, “Was instantly mesmerized. Her heart pounded to the beat of the drums and that day she decided to join Danza Azteca,” a genre of dance that integrates the art and religion of the pre-Columbian Native American cultures of Mexico with Christian traditions. 

An acclaimed dancer at SPHS that continued to dance while a UCSB student, “Sofia is being honored not only for her talent, but also for her passion in sharing Danza Azteca with others,” a practice she started at UCSB.

With degrees in Environmental Studies and a minor in American Indian/ Indigenous Studies, Sofia returned to Santa Paula and she has continued to perform widely with her Danza Azteca group. Sofia has also taken up Salsa dancing that she performed at the LTH dinner and is part a team from Lovie’s Latin Studio.

Sofia said she wants to inspire others’ as she was inspired.

“I want to walk the path of social justice.... dancing is my medicine. I am so grateful to be a part of the community and so honored and privileged,” to be recognized by Latino Town Hall.

Also honored was Victor Espinosa who received the Ray Garcia Humanitarian Casa Del Mexicano.

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