Latino Leadership Award winners announced

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Nine Ventura County educators are slated to be recognized by El Concilio Family Services on March 26 at its 22nd Annual Latino Leadership Awards dinner at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center.

Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director, said the awardees include a retired migrant education specialist, a retired school teacher who still motivates young people through a community theater arts program and a college dean with 40 years in the field of education. She said the theme of the awards banquet is “Excellence in Education.”

“The awards focus is on individuals who have contributed to the betterment of the Latino community in the field of education,” Gutierrez said. “These are the ones who really are bringing the Latino community up through education.

“These are people who are working behind the scenes and not getting recognition,” she added.

Gutierrez said the award winners are Elmelda P. Almanza, Oxnard School District; Javier Gomez, founder of Inlakech Cultural Arts Center; Carmen Guerrero, dean of Career and Technical Education, Oxnard College; Art Hernandez, Ventura County Community College District trustee; Fundi Legohn, Oxnard High School; Joseph M. Medina, California State University, Northridge; Lupe Murillo, Pacifica High School; Pilar Pacheco, California State University, Channel Islands; and Alex Rivera, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

Almanza, who recently retired, has worked with children and parents for more than 36 years to encourage them to become productive and professional citizens in the community. For the past two years, she has collaborated with Driscoll Farms to provide food and blankets for 200 families in need during the holidays.

Although retired, Gomez continues to educate and motivate youth through the Inlakech Cultural Arts Center, which he founded in 1976. Inlakech provides a bilingual artistic education program that promotes cultural awareness.

Guerrero has served in a variety of educational positions at all three colleges in the Ventura County Community College District. She also served as event planner and marketing specialist for the De Colores Art Show in Santa Paula and as president of the Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce.

Through his position as a Ventura County Community College District trustee, Hernandez has worked with the community college district to increase programs and quality staff for Oxnard College, which serves the highest percentage of Latinos in the county. He has also helped to foster relationships between Oxnard College and CSU Channel Islands.

Legohn is an educator, musician, composer and arranger who is the performing arts director at Oxnard High School. He has organized cultural exchange music trips to Ocotlan, Jalapa and Veracruz, Mexico; Hawaii and the Bahamas.

Medina’s goal is to acquaint youth to university life, financial aid and scholarship opportunities. He encourages them to pursue higher education and has created a mentor program using positive role models. He has worked with local Latino-owned businesses to get more Latino youth to attend college campus tours.

Murillo’s mission for the College Club is to promote a higher level of education for students at Pacifica High School. She has coordinated trips for students to universities throughout California and the East Coast and has assisted students in their efforts to receive National Hispanic Scholarships, the GATES Millennium Scholarship and other scholarships, allowing them to attend Harvard University, the University of New Mexico and Texas A&M.

Pacheco, as associate director for the Center for Community Engagement at CSU Channel Islands, was instrumental in obtaining the Smithsonian Museum’s approval for the university as one of 15 locations nationwide to host the Bracero Oral History Project traveling exhibit.

Rivera has recruited and trained Latino community leaders to serve as mentors while encouraged students to stay in school to pursue a college education. He is active in the Oxnard College mentor program (Puente), the Ventura College Math Engineering Science Achievement program (MESA), and the Workforce Investment Board of Ventura County (WIB).

Gutierrez said a standing-room-only crowd is expected for the awards dinner.

“The awards dinner is still very well received,” she said. “We had a great number of nominations, more than the last three years.”

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