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Photos:  Left: Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber with East County Magazine Editor Miriam Raftery.  Center: Slack Key Ohana.  Right: Jamul Casino Manager Mary Cheeks accepts Community Benefactor Award on behalf of Chairwoman Erica Pinto; Paul Gomez speaks at presentation of Briana Gomez Award for racial and social justice.

 By Miriam Raftery

October 1, 2021 (San Diego’s East County) – A sell-out crowd turned out on September 25th at Jamul Casino’s “The Rooftop” venue to honor East County Magazine’s Community Champions awards recipients.

The awards, presented during a tropical-themed Party in Paradise, included winners and honorable mentions in Healthcare, Public Safety, Environmental and Wildlife Protection, and Humanitarian categories, as well as a special Community Benefactor Award for Jamul’s tribal Chairwoman Erica Pinto.

In addition, the Briana Gomez Racial and Social Justice Award (named after ECM’s multicultural journalist who lost her life in a car accident) was presented to three recipients: Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber, Rev. Shane Harris with the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, and Buki Domingos, a founder of San Diego’s Racial Justice Coalition and an advocate for human trafficking survivors.

Photo, right: Winners of the Briana Gomez Racial and Social Justic Award:  Buki Domingos, Dr. Shirley Weber, and Rev. Shane Harris with ECM editor Miriam Raftery. 

Briana’s parents and young daughter were present, with her father, Paul Gomez, giving a moving speech to commemorate Briana’s accomplishments. (photo, left)

Secretary of State Weber also gave an impassioned speech on the importance of voting rights, racial and social justice, and supporting independent media reporting on these stories. Listen to her speech, along with an intro by ECM Editor Miriam Raftery, at the audio link.

Two tables of healthcare workers were present to honor the Sharp Grossmont Hospital ICU team, winners of the healthcare champions award for their tireless efforts to save lives amid a pandemic, as well as three honorable mentions: Grossmont pulmonologist Dr. Raed Al-Naser for drawing attention to COVDI-19 inequities in the Arab-American communities, Kaiser Permanente’s Dr. William Tseng, a regional expert on COVID-19 vaccines, and County Public Health Director Dr. Wilma Wooten.

Photo, right:  Healthcare Champions winners and honorable mentions accept their awards.

In Public Safety, two winners were awarded; Kathleen Coates-Hedberg, for leading efforts to prevent sexually violent predators from being placed in a neighborhood near Mt. Helix, and La Mesa Police Captain Matt Nicholass, for leading efforts to establish an outreach program helping the homeless.  Carol Lockwood, a volunteer in La Mesa’s Safe Routes to School program, received an honorable mention.

Photo, left: Public Safety Community Champions.

The Humanitarian awards were presented to Dilkhwaz Ahmed, head of License to Freedom, for her work helping refugees, and to El Cajon Councilman Phil Ortiz, who led efforts to raise over $200,000 to help La Mesa merchants who suffered damages in a riot last year. Anna Marie Piconi Snyder (not present) received an honorable mention for her efforts to help the poor and homeless as Founder and CEO of the nonprofit You Did It For Me.

Winners of the Environmental and Wildlife Protection award were not present: Bobbi Brinks, founder of Lions, Tigers and Bears, for her national efforts to protect exotic animals, as well as Bobby Wallace and Billy Ortiz, who led successful efforts to preserve land in El Monte Valley.

Field representative John Mendez (photo, left) from State Senator Brian Jones was also on hand to present proclamations from the state of California for all of the finalists and winners; Supervisor Joel Anderson also sent certificates from the County.  

Guests also enjoyed a tropical feast prepared by Jamul Casino’s chef, dancing to music of Slack Key Ohana, a silent auction, raffle, and posing for photos in front of a wave and a jungle jeep.

Read more about the Community Champions at

Proceeds benefit the nonprofit 5013(c) East County Media, which supports East County Magazine published by the Heartland Coalition, and the East County Wildfire and Emergency Alerts Service. 

Below are more photos of the event, courtesy of photographer Henry Migala.



Thanks to our generous sponsors: Jamul Casino and "The Rooftop" venue, Local Umbrella Media, Village Awards & Engraving,  San Pasqual Winery, Vineyard Grant James, Snow Valley Mountain Resort, Cal Coast Credit Union Open-Air Theatre at SDSU,  Hornblower Cruises, Outback Steakhouse, Prete a Porter Salon & Spa, Nainsook Gallery, Hatfield Creek Winery,  Soapy Joe’s Car Wash, Dulzura Winery, Yasakuchi Farms, Crafted Greens, Pick Up Stix, Village Rock Shop, Gypsy Treasures, Samantha's Boutique, Amethyst Moon, The Corner Store, Carol Wei, Jonathan Goetz, Lily's salon, and photographer Renee Owens. 




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