By Miriam Raftery
Each of these individuals has attained remarkable achievements. Some have sparked controversy for their views or actions. Many are working to make our community, our nation, or our world a better place. Our list includes people who triumphed over disabilities, animal protection advocates, artists and musicians, business leaders, citizen watchdogs, educators, fire heroes, healthcare reformers, humanitarians, social justice leaders, politicians, a police intern, sports stars, tribal leaders, veterans' champions, volunteers and nonprofit leaders. All are East County newsmakers extraordinaire. Who knew we had so many amazing people in San Diego's eastern region?
ABILITY TO TRIUMPH OVER DISABILITIES
HERMES CASTRO: PARAPLEGIC & ASPIRING ANTARCTIC ADVENTURER
Hit by a drunk driver while cycling near Bonsall in 2006, Hermes Castro was left a paraplegic. Now a an avid hand cyclist, he has regained considerable strength and partial feeling in his legs--enough to pedal a spinning bike in his living room. Castro drew the attention of famed polar explorer Robert Swan, who lectured at Mesa College on his exploits as the first man to walk across both the North and South Poles. Inspired by Castro's story, Swan invited the athletic youth to join his next trek in Antarctica. Now fellow students are raising funds to transform Castro's dream into reality--and send him on an Antarctic expedition in March.
LESIA CARTELLI: ANGEL FACES FOUNDER
Burned over 50% of her face and body from an explosion at her grandparents' home when she was nine years old, Lesia Cartelli is the founder and director of Angel Faces. The only national nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring severely burned adolescents achieve their maximum potential, Angel Faces has sponsored healing retreats in Ramona to help teen girls regain confidence and self-esteem after suffering burns. In 2008, Cartelli received a Women in Leadership award from the East County Chamber of Commerce as well as a San Diego 10 News Leadership Award. Married to a retired fire chief, the Angel Faces founder must surely have earned a special place in heaven.
BOBBI BRINK: TIGER LADY
With a soft spot in her heart for abused big cats, Bobbi Brinks founded Lions, Tigers and Bears, a nonprofit rescue center east of Alpine. In 2008, she raised enough funds to open up Tiger Trails, a spacious exercise enclosure for rescued tigers, including adult animals that had never before run freely. The enclosure features a swimming pool, waterfall, rocks, grass and climbing gear purr-fect for tigers. Now Brink aims to build a second exercise area for lions. For the furry felines at her facility, she's surely the cat's meow.
JUDY KI: ANIMAL RIGHTS ADVOCATE
As a citizen activist for the Humane Society, retired Poway science teacher Judy Ki collected thousands of signatures to place Proposition 2 on the ballot, becoming a tireless advocate for the measure to reduce farm animal cruelty by outlawing cramped cages. The measure passed by a larger margin than any ballot measure in California history. Also an organizer of drives to register Asian-American voters, Ki has been nominated by the Journal of Culture and Commerce for a 2008 Asian Heritage Award.
ARTISTS, AUTHORS & MUSICIANS
CHARLAVAN HART: A SPIRITED SURVIVOR
Artist, former gallery owner, writer, Internet radio show producer and poker instructor, East County resident Charlavan Hart faced her toughest gamble when diagnosed with breast cancer. She responded with a spirited battle, festooning her surgical scars with tattooed flowers to restore her self-esteem and create a positive self-image. Now she's written a new book to inspire other breast cancer survivors, available on CD and print-on-demand, titled Tit Tatts: Life After Breast Cancer. The indomitable Charlavan also aims to offer practical products for breast cancer patients, such as wigs, at her website.
JOAQUIN DES PRES: PRODUCER, SONGWRITER, MUSICIAN, STUDIO OWNER & AUTHOR
Mount Helix resident Joaquin Des Pres has worked with dozens of music stars as founder of Track Star Studios in La Mesa. Des Pres composes music for CNN, CW Network, Food Network, HGTV, History Channel, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, KPBS, Bravo, TLC, Ellen de Generres Show, Tyra Banks, Extra, TMZ, TBS, and more. Most recently, he launched a successful line of music loops and beats that have taken over the market and are used by top record producers worldwide. Who can "beat" that record?
LEE MENCH, EAST COUNTY BUSINESS CENTER
East County Business Center combines an office center with the St. Clair Gallery â--East County's largest art gallery, filling hallways, office and conference center walls with collectors' quality artwork. Mench's innovative business model offers tenants a creative package unique in the marketplace--and increasingly attractive in today's challenging marketplace. Tenants can avail themselves of private or shared office space by the day, week or month. In addition, a joint venture with Webb Marketing PR Inc. provides marketing services to tenants--typically generating ample marketing results to pay for small businesses' office space. Gallery shows fill the building with art patrons, also attracting potential clients or sponsors for business tenants, who in turn provide traffic to view artworks on display. "It's the best job I've ever seen of combining business and art," said Howard Bagley, director of St. Clair's Gallery. "It works."
MIKE CULLY: EAST COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Taking the reins of the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce as President and Chief Executive Officer in May, amidst an economic recession Mike Cully faced trial by fire. He offered change and pledged to lead the Chamber from mere social networking to an activist organization that engages in business advocacy and for the first time, endorsement of candidates and ballot measures. He hopes to attract and foster educational opportunities, including a four-year college for East County, helped organize a trade mission to China, and believes East County can attract industries to bolster the local economy. "If you haven't seen it, take a drive out here," he told the San Diego Union-Tribune in mid-2008. "The change is coming."
VALERIE HARRISON: PRESIDENT/CEO, RANCHO SAN DIEGO-JAMUL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Formed one year ago, Rancho San Diego-Jamul Chamber of Commerce named Harrison at its helm. She brings more than 30 years of business management and small business ownership experience in East County to the job. Recipient of a Tribute to Women in Industry Award, she holds a masters degree in human resources and is working toward a masters degree in organizational leadership. She has been active in other chambers, but credits her entrepreneurial spirit to comic books she read as a child--no laughing matter. Her favorite advice also draws on lessons learned in childhood: "Never give up trying to grab the brass ring on the merry-go-round, no matter how small you are, or how many times you must try before you finally succeed!"
GREG FOX: PRESIDENT, ALPINE BUSINESS NETWORKING ASSOCIATION
Realtor Greg Fox has previously served as Alpine's Honorary Mayor, Ambassador of the Year, and Chamber of Commerce Member. To top those accomplishments, he co-founded the Alpine Business Networking Association in 2008, offering social networking as well as practical help for local business owners. "What we are about is promoting the personal interaction of like-minded business folks coming together periodically to break bread and socialize and develop personal relationships with each other," Fox told members at the group's inaugural event in August, further pledging "fun in marketing."
MARY ENGLAND: PRESIDENT/CEO, LA MESA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Mary England has made headlines on two fronts in 2008, becoming president and chief executive officer of La Mesa's new Chamber of Commerce as well as winning reelection to the Lemon Grove City Council. In a split with the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce, La Mesa merchants opted to take back control of the town's Oktoberfest and beef up efforts to boost local business amid a challenging economy. As past executive director of the Lemon Grove Chamber of Commerce, fundraiser for various community causes and board member for the San Diego East County Visitors Bureau, England brings a wealth of experience to her position and her efforts to revitalize the local economy.
RAYMOND LUTZ: COPS FOUNDER
He founded Citizens Oversight Projects (COPS), a civic watchdog organization, in 2006 and has been dogging public officials ever since. COPs members attend hearings of local boards and commissions to keep tabs on issues and votes affecting East County. Lutz forced the City of El Cajon to stop airing religious videos on public airways and emerged as a vocal leader in efforts to halt Blackwater and Sunrise Powerlink. He also exposed election integrity concerns, unearthed public records on other issues and has generally been a thorn in the side of recalcitrant public officials. But lost one key battle in 2008: his effort to unseat Republican Joel Anderson for the 77th Assembly seat.
TRACY REAL AND JENEE LITTRELL: PREVENTING SCHOOL VIOLENCE
"We are the only place in the nation that has two safe schools grants serving the same area," said Tracy Real, coordinator of Project Peace. The program was developed following tragic school shootings at Granite Hills and Santana High Schools in East County. Determined to prevent future tragedies, local educators joined forces with community partners in law enforcement, mental health agencies, and other organizations working with students. Project Peace proved successful at keeping schools safe and helping youths in East County elementary and middle school districts. Now a new, similar program, Project Shield led by Jenee Littrell, has been implemented in our public high schools. The programs address not only potential causes of violence, but also barriers to learning such as homelessness and family crises. Littrell concluded, "Our east region has redefined what it means to support students." (Photo: Real and Littrell with Mara Mandragal-Weiss, a Project Peace student support specialist.)
PRISCILLA SCHREIBER: GRACE UNDER FIRE
The self-described Christian Conservative who served as president of Grossmont Union High School District's board in 2008 became the target of a vicious mud-slinging campaign after standing up and speaking out against policies of board member and past president Jim Kelly, who originally recruited her to run. Schreiber won reelection, after displaying political courage and conducting her campaign with dignity.
JIM KELLY: THE POWER BEHIND THE GROSSMONT UNION HIGH SCHOOL BOARD
For years, Jim Kelly has pulled the strings on the GUHSD board as recruitment chair of the San Diego Republican Party, though he lost temporary control in the 2006 elections. After two of his recruits stood up against his policies and accused him of opposing public education, Kelly launched a mudslinging fest this fall and held a press conference accusing the rebels of covering up sex scandals at Helix High. Those allegations were untrue, according to police and the district superintendent, leading even the conservative San Diego Union-Tribune to dub Kelly a "trustee not to be trusted." But with the election of Gary Woods, a seminary teacher at Shadow Mountain Church, Kelly has regained majority control on East County's most controversial school board.
EQUALITY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
ESTELA DE LOS RIOS: SOCIAL JUSTICE ADVOCATE
She grew up picking grapes in the Central Valley during the Cesar Chavez movement and also drew inspiration from Martin Luther King and Emilliano Zapata. "I am going to fight for civil rights when I go to college," she told a high school teacher. Today, the East County resident serves as interim executive director at the Center for Social Advocacy, fighting for social justice including such causes as opposing human trafficking and discrimination in housing. In the past year, she has emerged as a vocal advocate speaking out against the rising number of hate crimes in our community. She worked with 52 faith and community leaders to forge a coalition known as United for a Hate Free San Diego. In 2008, the group held its first summit, gathering first-hand testimony from children and adults victimized by violence and hate crimes.
ENRIQUE MORONES: BORDER ANGELS FOUNDER AND LATINO ORGANIZER
Praised by President-Elect Barack Obama for his humanitarian efforts, Morones has also drawn criticism from opponents of illegal immigration. He founded Border Angels, a group dedicated to saving lives by providing water stations in desert crossing areas. But he is best known for organizing Marcha Migrante, the first cross-country immigrant march, giving rise to massive nationwide immigrant rights demonstrations. In 2008, Morones led the third annual Marcha Migrante to organize Latino voters. He also urged presidential candidates to remember the 10,000 people who have died since Operation Gatekeeper (the border wall) began--and to treat Latino voters with respect.
BEN AND TOM RODRIGUEZ: RESERVATION SAVIOURS
During the 2007 Poomacha Fire, brothers Ben and Tom Rodriguez risked their lives to keep water flowing through a water system, enabling volunteer firefighters to fight the blaze engulfing the La Jolla Indian reservation at Palomar Mountain. In 2008, the brothers received a $4,000 award from Rural Community Assistance Corp. in honor of their efforts. Even though Ben Rodriguez lost his own home in the wildfire, the brothers chose to give nearly all of the award money away, donating $2,000 to the American Red Cross and $1,000 to the American Cancer Society to help other people in need.
KEVIN CORREIA: NEW PADRES PLAYER
A graduate of Grossmont High School and former pitcher for Grossmont College who's been playing baseball in East County since his Little League days, Kevin Correia signed a minor league contract in December with the San Diego Padres. Correia pitched a 3.45 earned run average for the San Francisco Giants in 2007, but an injury hindered his performance in 2008. Correia will compete for a spot in the starting rotationâ€”and a $750,000 salary--during spring training. The 28-year-old right-hander passed up higher offers elsewhere, according to his agent's representative, in order to fulfill his boyhood dream of playing for his hometown team. Two other factors played a role in his decision to return to San Diego: the new baby his wife gave birth to in December, and his life-long passion for surfing.
STEVEN STRASBORG: OLYMPIC PITCHING STAR
West Hills High School graduate and San Diego State University baseball star Steven Strasborg was the only College chosen to compete on the U.S. Olympic team in China. He pitched a one-hit, 11-strikeout masterpiece against the Netherlands, helping propel the U.S. team to win a bronze medal and struck out over 37% of all batters faced in the past year. A business management major who has already drawn interest from Yale, Harvard and Stanford, his prospects of landing a Major League Baseball contract also appear bright.
BRADY HOKE: HEAD COACH, SDSU AZTECS FOOTBALL TEAM
After SDSU fired Chuck Long following the Aztecs' first ten-loss season, Brady Hoke touched down in San Diego to takeover as head coach for the university's football team. Formerly head coach at Ball State, where the team had an impressive 12-1 record, Hoke's career includes coaching gigs at Michigan, Oregon State, Toledo, Western Michigan, and Grand Valley State with an overall record of 34 wins, 38 losses. Pass the popcorn--and watch to see if Hoke can hike the Aztecs' win-loss record.
HOWIE HAWVER: A COACH FACES HIS TOUGHEST MATCH
After 25 years successfully coaching high school and college soccer teams including Grossmont College, Patrick Henry High School, and Crusader's Soccer, Howie Hawver now faces the toughest challenge of his life. He's been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Aspiring to raise funds to help pay his medical bills, on December 29th friends, students and old-timer players teamed up to host Howie Hawver Day.
KELVIN DAVIS: SDSU BASKETBALL PLAYER AND CANCER SURVIVOR
"Life knocked me down, but I got back up," said Kelvin Davis, who has returned to the court for San Diego State University Aztecs basketball team following chemotherapy treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma. Davis is now playing basketball with a port in his chest to receive chemotherapy medications. Despite the medical ordeal, Davis played in six of the Aztecs' first seven games this season. A long-range shooter who has frequently scored double digits, he's now shooting for victory over cancer--with teammates and fans to cheer him on.
SYLVIA HAMPTON: HEALTHCARE REFORM LEADER
Inducted into the San Diego County Women's Hall of Fame in 2008, Director of Healthcare for All/San Diego and past president of the League of Women Voters, she has spearheaded education and community organizing efforts county-wide on behalf of universal healthcare. A bill that would have provided healthcare for all Californians passed the Legislature but was vetoed by the Governor; watch for a revived effort when a similar measure is introduced in 2009.
DAN CONAWAY, RESCUE TASK FORCE VOLUNTEER
Dan Conaway is well known in our East County for his many community contributions. He Dan is also well known in another "community" - villages deep in the jungles of Honduras' Miskito Coast. Dan coordinates the clean water project for Rescue Task Force (RTF), giving remote Indian villages clean water that breaks the cycle of parasitic and worm infestations. RTF has three full service jungle medical clinics. At the village of Uhsan, where Dan has been testing the effectiveness of individual home water filtration systems, the resident doctor reports a 90% decrease in diarrhea patients. In jungle villages, this condition is often a death sentence, particularly for the very young and very old who swiftly die of dehydration. Dan Conaway, East County's ambassador to many forgotten people, is saving lives.
AHMED SAHID: HELPING SOMALI REFUGEES
As executive director of Somali Family Services, Sahid oversees programs to help refugees in San Diego County, home to the second largest Somali population in the nation. Headquartered on University Avenue near 60th Street, the nonprofit organization serves many families in San Diego's eastern region. In 2008, the organization received a state grant for gang prevention, targeted 11 to 15-year-old youths. Sahid has also served as Refugee Program Director at the Union of Pan Asian Communities in San Diego and on the San Diego Police Department's African Advisory Board. He has emerged as an advocate for refugee issues in San Diego County and nationally.
GABRIELLE WIMER: STUDENT WHO SOLVED A "COLD CASE" FOR SDPD
San Diego Police tried a novel approach to solving crimes, turning over "cold case" files to student interns to research. The tactic paid off when Gabrielle Wimer, a 23-year-old student at Grossmont College, found fingerprints from a bloody handprint found at the scene of a homicide 37 years ago. Wimer persuaded officers to run the prints through a computerized database and discovered a match. Gerald Metcalf was arrested and charged with killing Gerald Jackson, a postal carrier stabbed 50 times. Wimer became an overnight celebrity, interviewed by local and national media including the Today Show.
ART MADRID: LA MESA'S GREEN MAYOR
Mayor Art Madrid (photo: right) led efforts to bring an environmental fair to La Mesa in 2008 and has pushed to build new housing on public transit lines. He was the first East County mayor to sign a U.S. mayors' agreement pledging to curb climate change. But his 25-year career hit a rocky road earlier in 2008, when police escorted home a tipsy mayor whose companion pled guilty to reckless driving. Memo to Mayor Madrid: Bring back Dial-a-Ride.
MARTI EMERALD: A TROUBLESHOOTER IN CITY HALL
After 26 years as a consumer advocate, most recently as the "Troubleshooterâ€ on Channel 10 News, Marti Emerald set her sights higher--or lower, depending on your point of view. She ran for and won a seat on San Diego's City Council. A Tierrasanta resident, her district includes much of San Diego's eastern region such as Mission Trails, San Carlos and Del Cerro. She's pledged to use her investigative report skills at exposing scams to hold civic leaders accountable and clean up City Hall. Hope she brought a mop and bucket.
GEORGE GASTIL: SEEDS OF CHANGE FOR LEMON GROVE
A college history teacher who has served on the Lemon Grove School Board for ten years and raised three active boys, George Gastil once took time off to be a full-time Mr. Mom. Now he's been elected to the Lemon Grove City Council on a platform promising fresh ideas for Lemon Grove. He aims to establish neighborhood advisory councils, a community garden, multi-cultural events and green technology--plus cancel a pay raise council members voted for themselves. But will he be able to squeeze budget dollars for his plans amid an economy gone sour?
BILL WELLS: AIMS TO MAKE EL CAJON BUSINESS-FRIENDLY
Former chair of the El Cajon Planning Commission, Wells aims to make El Cajon friendlier for businesses by streamlining permit applications and lowering taxes. He wants the City to partner with developers to build a hotel downtown and use the performing arts center for conventions as well as concerts. A conservative Christian Republican, he opposes tax increases despite the City's budget shortfall. Instead, he wants to cut jobs and privatize the Parks and Recreation Department. At a candidate forum, he summarized his philosophy this way: "The role of the City Council is to protect the public from government."
DAVE ALLEN: LA MESA'S FIRED-UP COUNCILMAN
Early last year, Dave Allen changed his party registration to Democratic because he felt that Republicans "forgot about the working person--I'm going to do what's right." Friends feared that abandoning the GOP would torpedo Allen's chance of winning in East County, an area long viewed as conservative. But the former Army veteran and firefighter won reelection to La Mesa's City Council with more votes than any of his Republican colleagues, shaking up the status quo. He also debated against Prop A, arguing that the measure placed an unfair burden on cities. His vocal opposition played a key role in sending the fire tax down in flames.
CHRIS PEARSON: CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC PARTY EAST REGIONAL CAUCUS
Formerly with the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, Chris Pearson knows how to get organized. So when he took over the reins of the County Democratic Party's East County caucus, Pearson launched a full-scale operation to wrest the region from conservative control. He aggressively recruited rank-and-file Democrats to run for many offices formerly won by Republicans who ran unopposed, or that had been filled by appointments made by Republican office holders. The strategy proved effective. Before Pearson took the helm, the GOP controlled 52 of 56 elected offices in East County. After the November election, nearly two dozen seats on East County boards and commissions shifted to the "blue" column.
POLITICS -- NATIONAL
DUNCAN HUNTER: RETIRING CONGRESSMAN
After 25 years in Congress, he set his sights on a higher office: the Presidency. But his presidential bid failed to gain traction. Hunter withdrew from the presidential primary after garnering only a small fraction of the vote, retiring from the House of Representatives and making way for his son to fill his footsteps. A powerful supporter of military interests and the border fence while serving as Chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Hunter stands poised to have a lucrative lobbying career, many have speculatedâ€”or perhaps a key role on his son's staff in Washington. But the senior Hunter's future plans remain speculation at this point.
DUNCAN D. HUNTER: CONGRESSMAN-ELECT
The Marine Corps Captain served two deployments in Iraq, including Fallujah, before winning the Congressional seat held by his father for the past 25 years. His wartime experience no doubt will come in handy in the nation's embattled Capitol, as will his business background. On most issues, he stands squarely on the side of conservatism, like his father. But as we've seen with President Bush senior and junior, like father like son can't be automatically assumed. As a combat veteran, he's surely seen his share of human suffering that could impact his views. Whether Duncan Duane Hunter will find his own voice, breaking with his father's legacy or GOP dogma on any key issues, remains an open question.
MIKE LUMPKIN: FIGHTING FOR SEAT IN CONGRESS
A former Navy Seal commander with impeccable military credentials, Mike Lumpkin attracted a national media spotlight on the 52nd Congressional district. The battle among two veterans vying for a seat in Congress was ultimately won by Duncan D. Hunter, son of retiring Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter. Democrat Lumpkin has pledged to muster his resources and renew his fight in the next election. Battling name recognition plus power of incumbency will be a double challenge. How voters react to populist policies of the Obama administration--and whether Lumpkin shifts tactics to woo more votersâ€”will help determine whether the military strategy expert will have a shot to beat out any primary challenger and take aim at Hunter.
VICKIE BUTCHER: EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE
Executive Director of Water for Children Africa, a nonprofit that helps bring clean, safe water and medicines to children in rural African areas, Vickie Butcher founded the organization after traveling abroad with her mother and seeing firsthand how children were suffering needlessly. For her efforts, she won a humanitarian award from the NAACP and a medal from the United Nations. But her biggest claim to fame occurred when she emerged as a strong challenger in the 52nd Congressional Democratic primary, running on a platform of healthcare reform. Butcher won 46% of the vote as the first African-American to run in this district. Post-election, she organized the 12th annual international African trade and business conference in San Diego and continues to be an active civic volunteer.
ASSEMBLYMAN MARTY BLOCK: AN EDUCATION LEADER GOES TO SACRAMENTO
He won the 78th Assembly District, picking up a seat for Democrats that was vacated by Republican Shirley Horton due to term limits. Formerly dean of San Diego State University and president of the San Diego Community College District Board of Trustees, the Lemon Grove legislator promises to be a strong advocate for public education. He has also pledged to support public safety, a balanced budget, and healthcare for all of his constituents--tough challenges in an era of shrinking revenues and increasing red ink.
ASSEMBLYMAN JOEL ANDERSON: CONSERVATIVE BUDGET WATCHDOG
Former co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in San Diego County, Anderson ran for the 77th Assembly seat as a staunch conservative in 2006. Reelected in 2008, he's held the line staunchly on his no-new-taxes pledge, even amid criticism by some local officials in his own party who now contend that California's severe budget crisis can't be fixed by cost-cutting alone. Conservative or liberal, you've got to respect Anderson's consistency at delivering on his pledge to voters over increasing pressure to boost state revenues. But will voters support potentially deep cuts in education and public services to avoid paying more in taxes?
RON NEHRING: CHAIR, CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN PARTY
Formerly a member of the Grossmont Union High School Board, Ron Nehring now heads up the California Republican Party. But a series of controversial appointments made by Nehring have made him a lightning rod for criticism within his own party. He named San Diego GOP Chair Tony Krvaric as Finance Committee Chair for the state party--only to have the media expose in April 2008 that Krvaric co-founded a videogame and computer software piracy operation in his youth that international law enforcement authorities now describe as one of the largest piracy rings on the planet. Nehring also took heat for hiring Michael Kamburowski, an Australian alien jailed by Homeland Security on visa violations, as Chief Operating Officer. Any employer knows to do a routine background check before hiring someone to handle money. So why didn't Ron Nehring do a simple Google search before putting Krvaric and Kamburowski in charge of party funds?
RHONDA WELCH-SCALCO: CHAIRWOMAN, BARONA BAND OF MISSION INDIANS
While Barona Tribal Chairwoman Rhonda Welch-Scalco will end her term in office in 2009 to focus on her family, she led the Lakeside-based Tribe since 2005 and was instrumental in many efforts to boost philanthropy and prosperity. In the past two years, the Barona Tribe, owner/operators of the Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino, has given over $3 million to 600 charities in San Diego County and over $600,000 in grants to schools statewide through the innovative Barona Education Grant program. When gas prices peaked during the summer of 2008, Barona rolled out a tanker truck full of gas for Meals on Wheels to help the elderly.
Under Welch-Scalco's leadership, Barona won a national award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for water conservation plus honors from Audobon International. The Tribe has helped fire survivors, donated $1 million to Grossmont Hospital, and gave Christmas trees to brighten holidays for needy families. Barona's leader has a special place for children in her heart, as an infant development specialist with degrees in special education as well as child development/psychology. Honored with a Monty Award from SDSU, she is now pursuing a PhD at the University of California, Riverside. Her leadership is part of a proud family tradition--since her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and uncle all served as tribal chairs.
ANTHONY PICO: RETIRED VIEJAS TRIBAL CHAIR
Anthony Pico received Woodrow Wilson Award this year, an international honor presented in recognition of his commitment to promoting diversity, tolerance, and equality. Pico served for 24 years as tribal chair of the Viejas band of Kumeyaay Indians in East County, emerging as a prominent spokesman for tribal sovereignty and the importance of creating a viable economic base for Native Americans on tribal lands. The first Native American to receive the prestigious award from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Pico was lauded for his contributions to the economic growth, civic well-being and cultural vitality of the greater San Diego area.
DANNY TUCKER: TRIBAL CHAIR, SYCUAN BAND OF THE KUMEYAAY NATION
In December, Sycuan's tribal chair stunned state officials and community members by announcing the tribe's intent to walk away from a multi-billion dollar casino expansion deal on land including Singing Hills Country Club. Sycuan had invested $6 million to support a statewide ballot proposition in which voters approved the compact. In a letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tucker expressed "sincere regret" and added, "We are doing everything we can to avoid having to lay off our valued employees and are continuing to restructure operations to mitigate the impacts of an extremely challenging economic environment," he added. Halting the deal is projected to cost the state and tribe billions of dollars. Despite tough times, the Sycuan tribe under Tucker's leadership made generous donations to community causes in the past year, including funds for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and Sharp Grossmont Hospital.
CONGRESSMAN BOB FILNER: FIGHTING FOR VETERANS
As Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, San Diego Congressman Bob Filner (whose district includes southern portions of East County) has become a strong voice championing better treatment for America's military veterans. This year, he convened hearings that drew national media attention to the plight of homeless vets, a situation he terms a "disgrace" that must be remedied. He also accused the Veterans Administration of "criminal negligence" for covering up shockingly high suicide rates among veterans, calling the issue "a matter of life and death."
DAVE PATTERSON: VETERAN FOR PEACE
Viet Nam veteran Dave Patterson of Ramona has waged a fierce battle to halt the Iraq War. As President of San Diego Veterans for Peace, he organized â€œArlington Westâ€ displays countywide, each with thousands of crosses honoring U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. In December, he helped host a Christmas candlelight vigil for Robin Long, a GI war resister who sought asylum in Canada but now faces prosecution. He organized weekly "Enough" rallies to protest the war on a Ramona street corner, standing up for his right to free speech when police tried to halt the protest. After a motorist threatened protesters with a truck, Patterson, ever a man of peace, approved of the assailant receiving community service instead of jail and now continues to lead weekly protests. Regardless of your views on the war, Patterson merits recognition for the courage of his convictions.
VOLUNTEERS & NONPROFIT LEADERS
JILLIAN HANSON-COX: CIVIC VOLUNTEER AND COUNCILMEMBER
President of the Mother Goose Parade Association for the past two years, El Cajon Councilmember Jillian Hanson-Cox rejuvenated the event with a star-studded cast to attract tourism to East County. In 2008, she also received a Healthcare Heroes award from Grossmont Healthcare District and Distinguished Service Award from Kiwanis Cal-Nev Foundation for her community service. El Cajon Citizen of the Year in 2007, she also and won humanitarian awards from both City of Hope and Lions Club International Foundation. She founded the "Jillian and Associates" scholarship program, Seniors on the Move, and the "San Diego Mega Star" singing competition. In her spare time, she serves as second vice president of the League of California Cities for San Diego County and as a board member of more civic organizations than we have room to list here. If you want something done, call Jillian!
STEVE ROWE: EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR/VICE PRESIDENT, EAST COUNTY FAMILY YMCA
For nearly 30 years, Steve Rowe has been invested in making a positive difference in our community. Under his leadership, East County Family YMCA has attained major milestones, expanding programs, services and facilities to serve over 40,000 youths and families in East County. He led the team in opening the Cameron Family YMCA in Santee. In 2008, the team celebrated the grand re-opening of the John A. Davis Family YMCA in La Mesa, which underwent a $2 million remodel and expansion. Now in January 2009, Rowe and the team are preparing for the ground breaking of the full-service McGrath Family YMCA in Rancho San Diego. In partnership with hundredsof volunteers and community businesses, Rowe and the East County Family YMCA now provide programs for people of all ages that not only fulfill needs like getting in shape or learning a skill, but also teach and emphasize values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility,