Ruiz, Reyes, Salas, Sepulveda, Espinosa, Nelson & Rios Michel honored by Latino Town Hall

August 17, 2001
Santa Paula News

Santa Paula Latino Town Hall (LTH) celebrated contribution to community at its fifth annual awards ceremony held Aug. 5 where leaders in business, youth, education, community service, sports, performing arts and humanitarian efforts were lauded.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesSanta Paula Latino Town Hall (LTH) celebrated contribution to community at its fifth annual awards ceremony held Aug. 5 where leaders in business, youth, education, community service, sports, performing arts and humanitarian efforts were lauded.Richard Ruiz, Paul Reyes of Reycon Construction, Irene Salas, Ray Sepulveda, Chris Espinosa, Donna Nelson and Barbara Rios Michel were the 2001 Latino Town Hall Awards recipients.The crowd at the Community Center was welcomed by Jesse Ornelas and Deacon Al Guilin led the invocation. Special guests included Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, City Council members Laura Flores Espinosa and John Procter and former Mayor Al Urias.LTH President Robert Borrego thanked “all who are here to honor Santa Paula’s hidden treasures. . .”Ruiz was honored with the Community Service Award for his wide involvement in many facets of Santa Paula, ranging from Veterans of Foreign Wars to Little League; a baseball diamond at Harding Park is named in is honor for Ruiz’s years of devotion to youth sports.Ruiz was always first to be on hand to “Clean up, rake up, cut the grass,” to enable children to enjoy sports activities, said David Lopez, who presented Ruiz with the award. Ruiz first became involved with Little League in 1963. With his constant involvement, Ruiz is a “giant,” among those who are dedicated to community, Lopez noted.Ruiz dedicated his award to “All of you who volunteer. . .”The achievements of Sepulveda, a teacher for 33 years and director of the SPUHS Agricultural Academy, and his devotion to educational excellence earned him the Education Award, said Rodney Fernandez. “Ray has gone beyond being an educator and shown his students life skills,” including responsibility, teamwork and giving back to community.The SPUHS Ag Academy was founded four years; a collaborative of educators, universities and over 70 local agri-business mentors, the 22 Class of 2001 graduates were collectively accepted to 66 universities and earned over $500,000 in scholarship awards.Gonzales Guerro, an aide to Senator Dianne Feinstein, presented Reyes with the Business Award, noting that his Reycon Construction has passed the “high-watermark of success and accomplishment for the community. . .and you have given back to the community,” through quiet and steady support of many events and organizations, especially those that benefit youth.
This year Reycon Construction is celebrating its 25th anniversary; the company at times hires up to 200 people locally. Reyes’ philosophy is that the success of the company is due to the dedication and work of the employees.Salas, honored for Sports, has “Given so much to the community,” said Assemblywoman Jackson. “. . .she’s there for the kids where and when they need her,” especially at-risk youth.A coach in several sports, Salas’ emphasis on the sportsmanship that molds character is well known, and her efforts “speak volumes, although Irene does so in a quiet way,” Jackson noted. And like many teachers - Salas is on the staff of Isbell Middle School - facing budgetary problems, Salas often “Takes money out of her own pocket because she cares, loves and cares for the children of Santa Paula. . .”Espinosa’s high-energy and devotion to many issues garnered him the Youth Award, presented by Ornelas, who reminisced about a 1994 meeting about summer camp. “Chris entertained us with magic tricks,” said Ornelas, but his interest and compassion for other young people, his peers, was also notable.Espinosa has also been heavily involved for several years with the creation and now operations of the Santa Paula Youth Task Force, creation of the Youth Five-Year Action Plan, Santa Paula Health Coalition, LULAC, and as National Guard Military Camp’s Student Body President.Espinosa credited his parents, Laura and Victor Espinosa, as well as Borrego and Ornelas for being strong role models.Nelson’s direction of student choral groups earned her the Cultural Arts Award. “I’ve seen Donna go from school to school, playing for them to sing to. . .she does a great job with the kids,” said presenter Ofelia de la Torre, a SPESD Trustee.Nelson started studying piano at age 8 and has been involved in theater for decades. “Her enthusiasm and exuberance in teaching the children brings out the best in them. She recognizes the cultural background of all of children and plays all types of music,” for the students to enjoy and learn. “Donna reminds us of the importance of the arts. . .”Rios Michel was honored with the Raymond Garcia Humanitarian Award - named for the late LTH co-founder - for her dedication to the FLAIR literacy program.Hank Lacayo, a nationally recognized political activist and co-founder of Destino 2000, presented the award. Lacayo said Rios Michel, widowed at a young age, believes her “greatest achievement is her four children.” Her first job was at age 12 and she joined FLAIR to garner more office experience. Thirteen years later, Michel has an “integral role in the FLAIR program, generously giving her time and dedication with heart and passion,” to an array of duties related to FLAIR literacy programs and its participants. “Barbara meets the requirements of this award including her recognition the dignity and value of all people,” Lacayo said.

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