Norwalk honors its Citizens of the Year

NORWALK - Maxine Sears, a longtime public safety volunteer who officially retired Friday after 20 years of service, was named Citizen of the Year by the Norwalk Community Coordinating Council on Sunday. The surprise announcement was made during at the coordinating council's 77th annual awards banquet, this year hosted at the Norwalk Arts & Sports Complex.

Sears, who will also be recognized by the City Council on Tuesday, said she plans to stay busy by donating hours at the senior center.

Luisa Cruz, a student and volunteer docent at the historic Hargitt House Museum in Norwalk, and PTA advisor Nichole Golightly were honored at Citizen of the Year nominees.

The coordinating council also honored eight community leaders with its Keystone Service Award: Marlene Hardy, Anita Ortiz, Karen Kessler, Lynda Fisher, Amy Garcia, Rob Cazares, Elizabeth "Betty" Mummert and Richard LeGaspi.

Grissel Chavez was honored as the coordinating council's Member of the Year. Chavez sits on the council's board of directors and is responsible for producing its newsletter and social media efforts.

Six local students were presented scholarships as Youths of the Year: Nicole Amaro and Heejin Byun of John Glenn High School; Jesse Flores of Norwalk High; Vanneza Ponce and Erik Ramirez of Southeast Academy; and Caitlin Roberto of Whittier Christian.

Heejin Byun also earned the first annual Helen Brown Memorial Scholarship, issued to a deserving high school student pursuing a career in journalism and creative writing.

The scholarship was created in memory of longtime civic leader Helen Brown. A Norwalk resident for 52 years, Brown was heavily involved in the community until her death earlier in February.

A highlight of Sunday's event was a $5,000 donation to Friends of Norwalk Libraries from the coordinating council to enhance summer reading programs at both Norwalk libraries.

In the past year alone, the Norwalk Coordinating Council has distributed more than $14,000 to the local community, including $3,000 in scholarships to high school students and $1,500 in scholarships for returning veterans attending Cerritos College.

The organization also donates to Angel Tree, the local fire explorer program, Cerritos College's Thanksgiving food drive, the city's food pantry, the mayor's prayer breakfast, and other causes.

Former mayor Gordon Stefenhagen is the group's president.