Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version Share this

September 2, 2021 (San Diego’s East County) – East County Magazine today announced finalists in its Community Champions Awards. Winners will be presented with awards on September 25, 2021 during the nonprofit media outlet’s “Party in Paradise” at the new rooftop venue at Jamul Casino. For tickets, visit  https://www.eastcountymagazine.org/tickets-now-sale-our-party-paradise-a....

“We are pleased to recognize these community champions who have done so much to benefit people in our communities, particularly during the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” says ECM Editor and Founder Miriam Raftery. "Thanks to the many readers who sent in nominations -- the judges had many outstanding entries to choose from in selecting finalists."

The awards categories are healthcare, public safety, environmental and wildlife protection, racial and social justice, and humanitarian, as well as a special community benefactor award. Awards will be presented Sept. 25 at ECM's "Party in Paradise' atop the Jamul Casino. Below are the finalists, as well as information on the event and tickets:



Grossmont Hospital Intensive Care Unit medical team for their dedicated efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, risking their lives to save others and comfort those isolated from loved ones. These are true healthcare heroes.

Dr. Raed Al-Naser, for his efforts to save lives as a pulmonologist at Grossmont Hospital and his actions to draw attention to the disparate impacts of COVID-19 in the Arab-American community as president and co-founder of the San Diego Chapter of the National Arab American Medical Association.

Dr. William Tseng for his efforts to educate the public and media on COVID-19 vaccines and the high fatality rate from COVID in Asian-Americans. Dr. Tseng is the leading vaccine expert and assistant area Medical Director at Kaiser Permanente, past president of the San Diego County Medical Society, and former board chair of the Union of Pan Asian Communities.

County Public Health Director Dr. Wilma Wooten, for leading the fight for a science- based approach to the battle against COVID-19 in San Diego County, which has made huge strides in overcoming racial and economic inequities in access to treatment long before the State ever mandated these things. The County's press conferences were led by a bipartisan team and set a national example in getting out timely information on COVID-19 and vaccines as we battled the epidemic, setting best practices now and far into the future.


Kathleen Hedberg, for leading successful efforts to block sexually violent predators from being placed in the Horizon Hills neighborhood near Mt. Helix. As head of the Grossmont-Mt. Helix Improvement Association, she helped organize rallies and petitions, researched laws and procedures violated, and enlisted help from Supervisor Joel Anderson and State Senator Brian Jones to introduce legislative changes to protect communities.

La Mesa Police Department Captain Matt Nicholass,  who was instrumental in designing and launching LMPD’s Homeless Outreach and Mobile Engagement (HOME) Program in response to recommendations of La Mesa’s Citizen Task Force on Homelessness. The program connects homeless people with County services and results in dispatch of trained specialists, including a full-time outreach worker and mental health clinician, for non-emergency calls related to homelessness. This connects a vulnerable population with trained professionals who use de-escalation and trauma intervention techniques, allowing sworn officers and police resources to focus on other priorities such as community policing, serious crimes and investigations.

Carol Lockwood, for her decade of volunteering as a public safety volunteer with La Mesa’s Safe Routes to School program A retired teacher, her volunteer efforts help ensure that students who walk and bike to the La Mesa Arts Academy and La Mesa Dale Elementary Schools arrive safely.


Bobbi Brink, founder of Lions, Tigers and Bears in Alpine, for providing a safe no-breed, no-kill sanctuary for exotic animals and for her efforts nationwide to draw attention to the need to end the captive ownership of exotic wildlife.

Bobby Wallace and Billy Ortiz, for organizing a march, rally and petition that helped persuade Supervisors to preserve a major tract of land in Lakeside’s El Monte Valley along the San Diego River. The land has significance for Native Americans as well as other area residents and is home to multiple threatened or endangered species.


Dilkhwaz Ahmed, for her efforts to help refugees and domestic violence survivors through License to Freedom, an El Cajon nonprofit. During the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-home orders, she raised concerns over a rise in domestic abuse complaints. Now she is working to welcome Afghan refugees into our region after the chaos in Afghanistan. She previously won the United Nations’ San Diego chapter Humanitarian Award and was inducted into the San Diego County Women’s Hall of Fame in 2017.

El Cajon Councilman Phil Ortiz, for spearing efforts to establish a La Mesa Business Disaster Recovery Fund after the May 30, 2020 riot. The fund raised over $204,000 to help dozens of businesses that were vandalized, looted or burned. Now, along with the East County Chamber’s Foundation, Councilman Ortiz is leading efforts to raise donations to assist Afghan refugees who are coming to East County, including many who helped the U.S. military, along with their families.

Anna Marie Piconi Snyder for her efforts to help the poor and homeless as Founder and CEO of You Did It For Me, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to companionship and community action for people in East County trying to secure or maintain housing, food, healthcare, education, and work. With a passion for bringing resources to East County through regional and county-wide collaboration, she has also served as Consulting Project Director for the East County Homeless Task Force and is a leader on the steering committee. In addition, she is a lay minister and coordinator of the Holiday Angel Program at Our Lady of Grace Parish.  


(This award is named in honor of the late Briana Gomez, East County Magazine's multicultural reporter.)

Dr. Shirley Weber, for her successful legislative efforts as an Assemblymember to enact laws providing civil rights protections, police reforms, educational measures, and creation of a task force on slavery reparations. Daughter of sharecroppers who earned a PhD, she also chaired the Assembly Black Caucus before being appointed California’s first Black Secretary of State, where she is fighting to protect voting rights of all Californians.

Rev. Shane Harris, founder of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, for his tireless efforts working with local and national elected officials to reform criminal justice policies, foster care, education inequality, workforce diversity,  and more to assure equal protections for people of color and disadvantaged people. Orphaned at a young age, he survived injustices in foster care and resolved to fight for justice for all.

Buki Domingos, for raising awareness of human trafficking locally and nationally as a trafficking survivor. Previously honored by KPBS and the National Conflict Resolution Center, she is also a board member of Survivor Leader Network of San Diego, National advisory board member for International Rescue Committee, a founder of the Racial Justice Coalition of San Diego, member of the San Diego Black Nurses Association, and radio co-host of “Alafia”: Voices of the African Diaspora.


Erica Pinto, Chairwoman of Jamul Indian Village, for  her generous support of the community and our Community Champions event.  The tribe donated their beautiful rooftop venue and a Hawaiian feast for this occasion.  Under Chairwoman Pinto’s leadership, the tribe has also given generously to help people who are homeless, developmentally disabled individuals, and those in need of addiction recovery services. As the newly appointed Chair of the Southern California Indian Health Council, she has also led efforts to improve healthcare for Native Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The outdoor event will be held Saturday, Sept. 25 with no-host cocktails at 5:30, tropical feast dinner with complimentary wine at 6;30, and awards presentation atop the beautiful rooftop venue at Jamul Casino in Jamul. Guests will also enjoy live music by Slack Key Ohana, dance floor, a silent auction and raffle with thousands of dollars in prizes.

Tickets: Seats are limited!  Early-bird rates are available by Sept. 12 at $60.  Tables for 10 are available at $550 before Sept. 12. All seats increase $10 after Sept. 12. Tickets are available at www.EastCountyMagazine.orgQuestions? Call 619 698-7617.

To protect guests: Proof of vaccination or negative COVID test within 72 hours is required.

East County Magazine gratefully thanks the major sponsors for this event: Jamul Casino, Local Umbrella publishing, San Pasqual Winery, and Vineyard Grant James.

ECM also thanks the event's many generous prize donors including: Hornblower Cruises, Snow Valley Resort, Hatfield Creek Winery, Costco, Prete a Porter Salon & Spa, Nainsook Framing + Art, Soapy Joe’s Car Wash, Pick Up Stix, Crafted Greens, Dulzura Vineyards, Ramona Ranch Vineyards, Wine Works, Samantha’s Children’s Boutique, Village Rock Shop, Yasackuchi Farms, Amethyst Moon, the Corner Store, Carol Wei, Amethyst Moon, and more.

PROCEEDS BENEFIT: East County Media, a 501c3 nonprofit supporting East County Magazine community reporting as well as East County Wildfire & Emergency Alert Service, and Community Champions Awards.

Error message

Support community news in the public interest! As nonprofit news, we rely on donations from the public to fund our reporting -- not special interests. Please donate to sustain East County Magazine's local reporting and/or wildfire alerts at https://www.eastcountymedia.org/donate to help us keep people safe and informed across our region.