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Community Action Commission Honors Three ‘Champions’

More than 200 people gathered to pay tribute to the Community Action Commission’s 2013 Community Action Champions last Thursday at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott in Buellton.

Honored as Champions were Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley; Miguel Chavez, CEO of Santa Maria-based MJA Cooling Inc.; and the Orfalea Foundation.

The event benefited the agency’s Santa Barbara County Youth Corps program.

“This was a gathering of people that have diverse interests, beliefs and backgrounds who came together to honor those that have made enormous contributions to the community,” said Fran Forman, executive director of the CAC, a private, nonprofit agency.

Among those attending the Champions event were Santa Barbara City Councilman Grant House, Goleta City Council members Michael Bennett, Paula Perotte and Ed Easton, Lompoc City Councilwoman Ashley Costa, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, Michael Chen of Wells Fargo Bank, The Fund for Santa Barbara Director Geoff Green, former Goleta mayor and Santa Barbara Airbus CEO Eric Onnen, former Guadalupe Superintendent of Schools Hugo Lara, current Guadalupe Superintendent of Schools Ed Cora, Tim Harrington and Bob Manning of the Workforce Investment Board, Phylene Wiggins of the Santa Barbara Foundation, and CenCal Health CEO Bob Freeman.

Community businesses and nonprofit agencies attending or supporting the event included the California Endowment, Santa Maria Energy, Chapman Associates, Lincoln Financial, BB & H Benefit Designs, Sysco, Montecito Bank & Trust, Wells Fargo Bank, First 5 Santa Barbara County, Legal Aid, CALM, CenCal Health, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, and the Santa Barbara Foundation, Lompoc and Santa Maria affiliates.

Dudley, is dedicated to ensuring “that the most vulnerable victims have justice.” She has worked for the District Attorney’s Office since 1990 and was elected district attorney in 2010. She has prosecuted more than 1,000 cases.

Dudley was inspired to become a lawyer while working as a director of Children’s Services for CAC. She was troubled by unresolved cases of child abuse and realized that she had a passion for protecting children. She was advised that the best way to ensure children’s protection was to “go to law school.” So that’s what she did. Dudley began attending law school at night while she still had three children at home under the age of 7.

Her educational roots run deep in the community. In addition to her law degree, Dudley has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC Santa Barbara, a master’s degree in education from Antioch University and a second master’s degree in educational administration.

Her favorite memories of the CAC are the times when she would take her guitar out on the grass at the Goleta Head Start Center and play for the children. She told Head Start staff that they should, “Never lose sight of how powerful and important they are. They make a difference in lives.”

Dudley cares deeply about our community. She constantly asks herself, “Can I do more? How can I reach more people who do not have a voice?”

Chavez, owner of MJA Cooling, came to the United States 46 years ago. His first job in the United States was picking strawberries. He received amnesty in 1974 and in 1976 married his wife, Alicia. When his wife became pregnant with their son Juan, Chavez decided that he “wanted something more.”

“I never looked for any kind of help,” he said. “I knew I needed to work hard.”

He leased three acres of farm land and began growing strawberries. With his wife’s help, he built a business. Chavez carried little debt, always paid creditors early and never strayed from his core business. In 2000, he became president and CEO of state-of-the-art cooling facility for fruits and vegetables, MJA Cooling Inc. Son Juan became vice president. MJA Cooling now cools up to 90,000 packages of strawberries a day in peak season.

Chavez treats his employees like family. He provides generous bonuses, recognition awards and prizes. He also gives gifts to their children and helps employees when they encounter problems outside the workplace. Chavez’s daughter-in-law, Alejandra, helps employees and their families connect to community services when they need assistance.

Chavez’s philanthropy does not end with his employees. He generously donates to local schools, the YMCA, Toys for Tots, the CAC, Children’s International, sports leagues, the Salvation Army and his favorite, St. Jude’s Hospital. When it comes to helping those in need, Chavez is a man who does not say no when he can say yes.

The Orfalea Foundation was launched in 2000 to improve opportunities for those most in need in Santa Barbara County and surrounding areas. The foundation’s roots go back more than 40 years, to the college town of Isla Vista, where Paul Orfalea opened a small copy shop called Kinko’s. Based on the fundamental principles of entrepreneurship and collaborative partnership, the innovative business grew to become the world’s leading business services chain, with more than 1,7.00 branches worldwide.

Highlights of the Orfalea Foundation’s work over the past decade include:

» Supporting high-quality early childhood education with innovative programs such as the Outdoor Classroom Project and the Preschool Food Initiative, along with providing financial support for the creation and accreditation of centers such as the Orfalea Children’s Center of Santa Barbara Cottage Health System.

» Awarding more than 3,000 scholarships ($13.5 million) to help make higher education accessible and more affordable.

» Creating REACH, an experiential education program for motivated high school students.

» Developing the School Food Initiative, with the School Gardens partnership, to empower public school districts in Santa Barbara County to implement and sustain nourishing cooked- from-scratch food service operations.

» Building community disaster resiliency through the Aware & Prepare Initiative, by investing in government agencies and non-profit organizations to enhance capabilities to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies and disasters.

The primary objective of the Orfalea Foundation is the empowerment of others. The foundation takes pride in its dedication to this transformative work.

The CAC is a private, nonprofit agency that creates opportunities for low-income families to achieve self-sufficiency. Established in 1967, the CAC served more than 10,000 people throughout the county last year. It operates 15 programs through four core service areas: Family and Youth Services are provided to youth and families challenged by gang involvement, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, unemployment, family violence and incarceration; Children’s Services provides high quality early care and education through Head Start, Early Head Start and Child Development programs;  Nutrition Services feeds senior citizens and children in summer and after-school programs; and Energy Services keeps homes safe and warm through weatherization and repair or replacement of unsafe gas appliances.

When she received her award this year, Dudley said: “I am convinced that I did more good during the four years I worked for CAC as Children’s Services director than during the past 20 years since then.”

— Elizabeth Lee is a grant writer for the Community Action Commission.

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