Downey: 40 under 40 (2018)
When the Downey Patriot published its first “40 Under 40” list last year, the question we most often received was, “How are you possibly going to find 40 extraordinary young people from Downey?”
The real question should have been, “How do we limit it to just 40 people?”
We faced the same dilemma this year, as we were inundated with nominations across various industries, including athletics, medicine, performing arts, business, and politics. Several people nominated promising students for their extraordinary work in high school or college.
After dozens of interviews – in-person, via email, and over the phone – and lots of hand-wringing, we present, in no particular order, the second installment of “40 Under 40” — 40 Downey people under the age of 40 doing remarkable things in their communities and/or careers.
1.) Lana Joy Wahlquist
Lana Joy Wahlquist is an actor, director, producer, and educator who has been working in the field of theatre for 15-plus years.
As a founding member of Downey Arts Coalition, Lana has enjoyed producing and directing plays, staged readings, and other performing arts events in and around Downey. Most recently she has directed local productions of “Defying Gravity” by Jane Anderson and “A Civil War Christmas” by Paula Vogel.
As an actor, she has appeared on such stages as “A Noise Within,” “The Hudson,” Sierra Repertory Theatre, and “The Odyssey.”
As an educator, she has taught theatre at Cerritos College, Cal State Northridge, and Norwalk High School, where she also directed more than 10 plays.
Lana is an accredited leader with La Leche League International, a volunteer organization designed for mother-to-mother support of breastfeeding. She has been active since 2007 and speaks regularly on panels about breastfeeding, and added a monthly meeting in Downey.
“Lana has been such an incredible source of support for my son and me throughout our breastfeeding journey,” said Erin Wiebe. “I reached out to La Leche League when we were having a very difficult time breastfeeding and Lana was there for us every step of the way. She empathetically listened to my tears, gave invaluable advice for my concerns, and enthusiastically celebrated each of our successes. Breastfeeding has been an amazing experience and we would not have been able to do it without Lana.”
2.) Erika Gonzalez
When Erika Gonzalez attended Coachella for the first time, she was enamored with the bohemian chic fashions that other women were wearing. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a whole lot of option to find styles like that in Downey.
That is, until Gonzalez brought it to her city.
Gonzalez is co-owner and primary operator of Gypsy Queen, a boutique style shop found on Paramount Blvd.
While owning and operating a business is still new to her, Gonzalez continues to learn and grow along with her business.
Using her keen eye for fashion trends and a mastery of social media, Gonzalez has expanded a once trailer boutique into the storefront that Gypsy Queen is today, and provided Downey women with a way to express their free-spirits through fashion.
3.) Jonathan O’Neill
Jonathan O’Neill isn’t legally an adult but he’s already making a name for himself in the world of mixed martial arts.
O’Neill has won three championship belts in Muay Thai, a form of martial arts that consists of stand-up striking using feet, shins, elbows, and fists. His record currently stands at 7-1, and he’s set to defend his WBC belt early next year.
The young champion credits his early success to his father, Eric O’Neill, his coach and mentor Isaias Nambo, and the rest of the team at King Cobra in Downey, where he trains.
4.) Ricardo Perez
Ricardo Perez is a civil litigation attorney who practices law out of Downey. He has litigated and settled numerous high-profile cases; most recently, Perez secured the release of Marco Contreras, who was wrongfully convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was released in 2017 after serving 20 years in prison.
Perez is active in the Downey community, volunteering regularly with the Warren High School Ideas Club, organizing free legal fairs and citizenship clinics, and he actively supports Downey Art Vibe, the non-profit which oversees Stay Gallery, where he served for many years on the board of directors.
Perez also co-founded Ferias Legales, a non-profit organization devoted to bringing free legal resources to underserved communities.
5.) Hans Fritz
Hans K. Fritz is the owner and CEO of HKF Consulting LLC. Hans began his consulting business over four years ago and is primarily based out of Downey, but services other areas in LA County. As a political consultant, Hans works for four currently elected Downey city council members, including Mayor Rick Rodriguez, and two former Downey mayors such as Mario Guerra. Hans has been involved in nine statewide and local campaigns, eight of which have been successful.
HKF Consulting LLC also offers media and sales consulting to foreign and domestic companies looking to improve their online presence and growth within their industry.
Hans is majoring in business administration with a concentration on entrepreneurship at CSU Dominguez Hills where he is also very involved having served as the marketing director for the Latinos Student Business Association.
Growing up, Hans always envisioned himself as a business owner. It was after being surrounded by the right motivating people that gave Hans the push he needed to start his own business. Although only owner-operated, Hans has grown his business exponentially over the past couple of years.
6.) Jesse Kalashyan
Practicing law is never set in stone; it’s more about being able to solve unique problems in creative ways, and that’s what Jesse Kalashyan likes about it.
Kalashyan is an immigrant from Armenia. He and his family came to the United Stated in 1996 when he was nearly 6 years old. During his childhood, Kalashyan’s parents instilled in him to work hard and find success pursuing his interests.
He found that interest in law during high school.
The 2009 Warren High School graduate received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Berkeley, then went on to get his Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School in 2017.
Since then, Kalashyan’s work portfolio is quite weighted, including time spent working at the U.S. Mission to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. One of his biggest trade disputes while in Geneva was representing the United States, on behalf of Boeing, versus the European Union, on behalf of Airbus.
If that wasn’t enough, Kalashyan now works for Skadden, a high caliber international law firm that represents some of the biggest companies in the world.
It’s a good thing he likes to apply himself, because Kalashyan says at times the work can be very demanding, which makes sense when you consider the $4 billion aerospace and defense merger he already has under his belt.
7.) Jailene Lemus
This could be one of our future Supreme Court Justices.
Despite her young age, Jailene Lemus could probably hold her own in government.
As part of Downey-South Gate Youth Government, she was selected as one of 25 students to represent California’s Youth and Government program in the Conference of National Affairs over the summer of 2017. As part of the Downey Youth Commission, she organized Student Government Day, Hosted Warren’s first voter registration drive in 2016, and communicated with her city council on youth related issues.
She then interned with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.
Now attending Wellesley College in Boston, Mass., the aspiring lawyer continues to be active in the workings of government: she currently serves as the Student Body Representative of the Elections Committee at Wellesley, as well as the CPLA Representative of the Wellesley Democrats and the Treasurer of the Committee of Political and Legislative Awareness.
8.) Art Montoya
You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone more “Downey” than Art Montoya.
He attended Rio Hondo Elementary and Griffiths Middle School, where he was active in DJAA and the AYSO. He went on to Warren High and found a love for community service, giving his time to the yearbook staff, Key Club and CSF, while playing football, cross country, soccer, and track and field.
After graduation, he went on to Cal State Long Beach. In the summer of 2011, Montoya completed an internship with Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, an eye-opening and inspiring experience that motivated him to get more politically involved.
Montoya graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a bachelor’s degree in political science with a concentration in law, policy, and politics. He moved on to UC Irvine to obtain his master’s degree.
In 2016, Montoya saw another opportunity for service and ran for City Council. He lost to eventual winner Rick Rodriguez, but for Montoya it was ultimately a blessing, as he was able to study abroad, including in Hungary, Germany and Cuba. He graduated with his MBA in 2017.
Today, Montoya is a law student at the La Verne College of Law and has been elected class representative in the Student Bar Association. Upon graduation, he plans to go into business law and found a non-profit to help youth access higher education.
9.) Bianca Salgado
For most young people, the most involved in government they get is when they vote at the polls. But for Bianca Salgado, her engagement runs much deeper.
Salgado says that she found interest in “how America functions” in high school. The 2013 Downey alumnus began studying Political Science at Cerritos College, receiving her Associates degree in 2016. She went on to receive her Bachelor’s – again in Poli Sci - with an emphasis in Global Politics and a minor in Philosophy at California State University Long Beach, which she completed this year.
Continuing on trend, Salgado is responsible for the Downey Coalition for Sustainable Development Goals, which is centered around having the significant various round-table discussions surrounding the 17 Global Goals and to ensure and record the implementation of each of the 17 SDGs as each goal is achieved in the local community and in the long-term approach of neighboring cities within Southern California.
Her newest endeavor is as a Youth Engagement Coordinator with the Humanity Lab Foundation.
10.) Haley Guerra
She’s only 26 years old, but Haley Guerra has already made her mark in local politics.
Born and raised in Downey, Haley has been involved in planning and strategy for several state and local candidate races in California. She’s served as communications director for Mayor Pro Tem Rick Rodriguez and Cerritos College board trustee Bob Arthur.
Her experience also includes work in support of the military, such as coordination of Army, Reserve, and National Guard planning, travel for California, and daily coordination with the Secretary of the Army and CASA offices in the Pentagon.
At a young age, her education and experience has given her unique opportunities to work with non-commissioned officers, battalion commanders and generals, helping to assist the Army. Her planning and coordination skills were also put to use locally as she helped plan Downey’s first Military Career Day and Gangs Out of Downey’s first Public Safety Forum.
Haley has volunteered at the Second Tyme Around Thrift Shop and with Operation School Bell. She was a member and appointed vice president of the board of the Assistance League of Downey.
An accomplished athlete, Haley was captain of the varsity water polo and swim team at St. Joseph High School, and was recruited to play water polo at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, where she led the school to two consecutive league championships.
After transferring to Loyola Marymount University, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 2015. While at LMU, she was a poll research analyst for the Center for the Study of Los Angeles.
Haley currently resides in Downey with her son, Benny, and fiance, Tyler. She is a personal banking officer at Financial Partners Credit Union.
11.) James Williams
When he graduated from Downey in 2009, James Williams didn’t know what he wanted to do.
Graphic design looked like a promising field, but at the time costs for editing software such as Photoshop were steep. That wouldn’t work.
He had been on Downey’s football team for four years, but didn’t see too much play time due to being short (and truthfully, he was okay with that). If he was going to do sports, it probably wasn’t going to be on the field.
Then he started thinking about comments he had received throughout school about the quality of his writing. His teachers said he was good, so maybe that was the way to go.
Williams’s first big break in writing came in the form of The Downey Patriot, when editor Eric Pierce gave him a shot. After Williams’s saw his first article published, he was hooked.
Along with currently pursing a Journalism Degree at Cal State Long Beach, Williams is working full time as the digital sports producer for Southern California News Group. He is also co-President of the National Association of Black Journalists CSULB chapter.
At the time of writing, Williams is now preparing to head out-of-state to take part in the Associated Press Sports Editors Fellowship.
12.) Ana Godinez
Ana Godinez’s love of art started at a young age and followed her to USC where she graduated with a degree in English Literature and Fine Arts. After college, Ana put down the paintbrush to become curator and youth program coordinator of Stay Gallery where she introduced many young students to local arts for four years.
Ana has worked behind the scenes as a graphic designer for several local companies and organizations. You may not know her face, but you have definitely seen her work. She has created websites and graphics for Stay Gallery, Elysian Salon, Avant Garde, Ferris Legales, and Downey Christmas Parade. She has also painted a vibrant geometric mural inside of Poached Kitchen along with her abstract paintings that adorn a section of the 3rd floor of PIH Health in Downey.
Today, Ana continues to lend her artistic hand to local organizations while working as the Creative Director of Akash Winery & Vineyard and graphic designer at Lil’ Libros. Ana is currently working on illustrating her first children’s book with Lil’ Libros which is set to be published in fall of 2019.
13.) Blake Boyington
Blake Boyington was born and raised in Downey and is the product of Downey schools, graduating from Downey High in June of 2017.
He has always loved to help; his history of volunteering began at Gallatin Elementary, where he spent his recesses helping the custodian sweep and mop the cafeteria.
In middle school, Boyington decided the Downey community was in need of a Facebook page where they could learn about local crime. Since the creation of the “Crime Blog of Downey”, the Facebook page has racked up nearly 5,000 members.
This past June, Boyington’s efforts were recognized when he was selected to receive the Mayor’s Downey DNA Award.
In between going to school, working and running his Facebook page, Boyington found time to become a Buena Park police explorer, in which he dedicated over three years and earned the rank of sergeant.
Boyington currently works as a server at Norm’s restaurant in Downey and attends Cerritos College, where he is majoring in Business. He plans on pursuing his dream career in law enforcement upon receiving his degree.
14.) Sofia Jamora
With more than 2.3 million Instagram followers, Downey’s Sofia Jamora is one of the country’s most popular models, and not just on social media.
Sofia created her Instagram profile in 2014 and gained huge popularity after she was featured in a Lolli Valfre swimsuit campaign. She went on to model for Frankie Bikinis and Love Piper, and gained further fame when Sports Illustrated featured her as its “Lovely Lady of the Day.”
She can also be seen in Zayn Malik’s music video for his song “Let Me.”
15.) Ryan Cho
Ryan Cho was one of the few people across the country to earn a Congressional Award Silver Medal, recognizing his extensive work in the community. The Congressional Award is a public-private partnership created by Congress to promote and recognize achievement, initiative, and service in American youth aged 14 to 23. Cho, and other young people across America, earn the Congressional Award by setting and reaching personally challenging goals that build character and promote community service, personal development, and citizenship.
In earning his Congressional Award Silver Medal, Cho volunteered more than 100 hours of service to the Downey FoodHelp food bank, and organized multiple fundraising campaigns for Crops of Love. For his personal development program area, Cho improved his artistic skills across several media, including drawing, acrylic, watercolor and sculpting.
For his physical fitness program area, Cho successfully increased his Kendo skill level and achieved the rank of nikyu. He also increased his strike count and now averages 20 strikes per match.
Finally, for his expedition program area, he traveled to San Francisco, where he explored Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
16.) Daniela Rodriguez
Daniela Espinoza Rodriguez is founder of The Social Cat, empowering small community businesses to tell their story through modern day social media photography.
“Small business empowers the community by strengthening the local economy, creating more jobs and a greater future for our children,” she says.
Before starting The Social Cat, Daniela worked in nonprofit healthcare for 11 years from direct patient contact, while at the same time assisting the homeless on skid row and assisting in Human Resources and Marketing Business Development. She also worked to help low-income families obtain healthcare.
Daniela developed a successful children’s literacy program, providing 13 health clinics with a steady supply of free books for children ages 3 to high school. She also worked with the Los Angeles County Supervisors office and local governments to help connect youth and working mothers to their communities through social media.
Daniela is a leader and supporter of Latinx businesses, helping family-owned businesses push their everyday products with a cultural flare. A member of the Rotary Club of Downey, Daniela said she is inspired by the club’s motto -- “service above self” -- in her business pursuits.
Daniela has been married to Marco Rodriguez for three years and enjoys spending time with her family, mostly her nieces and nephews in which she has modeled her life to be their role model, exposing them to the importance of community service, public policy, and self-empowerment.
Fun fact: Daniela was crowned Miss Ethnic World 2011 and has worked in radio for Guadalaupe Radio 87.7 FM and Super Estrella 107.1 FM alongside radio personality Ysaak Alvarez.
17.) Gordon Sodetani
Gordon Michael Sodetani calls himself “fortunate” to live in Downey, but in reality it’s Downey that’s fortunate to have him.
Gordon’s penchant for community service started as a Warren High School student, when he was appointed by the City Council to Downey’s Youth Commission. At this same time he became active in the YMCA’s youth programs.
This experience sparked his passion for governance and working with children. Through organizations like Downey Sister Cities, the Downey Rose Float Association, Gangs Out of Downey, and the YMCA, Gordon learned the value of volunteering and paying it forward.
Gordon is currently a graduate student at USC, pursuing a master’s degree in teaching, with an expected graduation in May 2020. He’ll begin student teaching in a local school district in January.
This final stretch of higher education at USC will prepare him for his goal of becoming a middle school teacher. His stand in life is for students: “giving them the tools to be successful so they can bloom and have every opportunity available to them.”
Before USC, Gordon was a student at Cal State Long Beach (graduated May 2018), where he joined his Alpha Gamma Omega fraternity. He organized study sessions for members, served on the fraternity executive board as secretary, treasurer and pledge master. He also joined a Men’s Successive Initiative group at Long Beach that supported and mentored groups for men from African-American and Latino backgrounds, and organized study sessions and coordinating panels for incoming students of color.
Gordon has interned for Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard and Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, volunteered as a camp counselor for the YMCA, and most recently volunteered with USC Town and Gown Day of Service by making jewelry for cancer patients hospitalized at Keck Hospital of USC.
His goal is to become a middle school teacher.
“My stand in life is for students,” he says.
18.) Julianna Gamiz
Not every 6-year-old can say they had their big movie break starring alongside Mark Whalberg, but Julianna Gamiz can.
Gamiz (now known as “The movie star” by her classmates at St. Dominic Savio Catholic School), recently starred in “Instant Family” as Lita, the youngest of three siblings who are adopted out of foster care by a couple who become parents overnight.
You may also recognize her from tv series Jane the Virgin, where she played “Young Jane” (a role she was thrilled to land, since she loved the show before appearing in it).
Between takes, you can probably find Gamiz singing and dancing, or at Disneyland hurtling down the flume of her favorite ride, Splash Mountain.
She’s just a normal kid like everyone else, it just so happens that she’s famous too (and she loves it)!
Look out Hollywood, ‘cause a new star is on the rise. No autographs, please.
19.) Alex Dominguez
Alex Dominguez remembers getting the newspaper on his front porch every week as a kid, so when he sees his name on a byline in the paper now he gets a certain thrill out of it.
Dominguez was introduced to journalism in his junior year at Warren High School. After seeing his first story in print on the front page of the school paper, he was hooked. Dominguez went on to receive his degree in Communications with an emphasis in Print Journalism from California State University Fullerton.
In Spring 2015, Dominguez began writing for The Downey Patriot as an intern, eventually working his way up to a contributor and finally Staff Writer.
Dominguez covers a range of topics from news, breaking news, local politics, human interest and entertainment. He is an award-winning journalist, including a two-time Los Angeles Press Club Award finalist.
Aside from writing, Dominguez returns to Warren every year to speak to students of his former teachers about life after high school, college, and entering the workforce. He previously volunteered at Northwest Downey Little League and District 29 by announcing for tournament baseball games. He’s also highly involved in church activities, volunteering in Imperial Highway Church of Christ’s yearly VBS program and serving on the North Downey Church of Christ’s Trustee Board.
20.) Julian Park
Julian Park doesn’t necessarily consider himself a filmmaker; he hasn’t “made it.” For now, he just calls himself a hobbyist.
But that hasn’t stopped him from exploring his passion for the art. He describes film as “magic,” considering how it takes a little bit of everything - writing, directing, acting, and photography - to come together in perfect harmony to make a great film.
Although he says he has his “normal day job,” Park has managed to already make a couple of films. His first, a documentary on Downey street artist Bumble Bee, caught the attention of the Downey Arts Coalition.
It’s his most recent film though, “Invincible Boy,” that he is currently shopping out to different festivals. Invincible Boy, Park describes, is “about remaining a child and holding onto that childlike wonder that you can do things, whatever you want in the world.” It was shot in and heavily features Downey.
As he approaches the new year, Park says he plans to continue to learn and hone is filmmaking skills. He doesn’t necessarily look for the mega success and fame of other notable film makers, just hopes to be able to one day establish himself and make a living doing what he loves.
21.) Branden Vasquez
Brandon Vasquez was a guitar player and had been in and out of a few bands throughout middle school and high school, so you might be surprised to learn that he traded in his strings, fret and whammy bar for a turntable.
By the time he graduated from Warren in 2011, Vasquez had found a deep interest in music production.
He entered Cal Poly Pomona to study audio engineering. In the meantime, he needed a way to sustain himself.
Vasquez bought his first DJ equipment and started making the transition to producing, while also DJing parties and events to make a living. It wasn’t long though before his new endeavor turned into more than just a way to make some cash.
In 2017, Vasquez officially created his “artist project” and the mantle of Don Dirty. Later that year in December, he was given a chance to be a guest DJ on 99.1 KGGI in Riverside.
As it turns out, the guest DJ opportunities ended up being a sort of tryout, and Vasquez was hired on in March as a full-time mixer with four airtime spots.
22.) David Niemeyer
It’s been a phenomenally successful couple of years for the Warren High School Band and Color Guard program, and much of that is due to the work and dedication of director David Niemeyer.
Niemeyer graduated from Washington State University in December of 2002. Half a year later, he was the new director of the already successful and established band program at Warren.
Under Niemeyer, the band and guard program has continued to expand and grow, now including two jazz bands, two percussion ensembles, winter guards, a concert band, wind ensemble, and of course the award winning marching band.
In fact, Niemeyer and the marching band recently climbed to new heights, winning back to back gold medals in Southern California School Band and Orchestra Field Tournament Championship competition in 2017 and 2018.
Niemeyer is also the spearhead behind the newly minted Downey Unified All District Marching Band, bringing all four middle schools and both high schools together to represent the community through their musical prowess.
Niemeyer was named Teacher of the Year in October.
23.) Sam Sarofeem
24.) Sarah Sarofeem
Sam and Sarah Sarofeem were born two years apart but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to mistake them for twins.
They’re not just siblings, they’re also best friends, and spend much of their time outside school working at their parents’ two restaurants, The Olive RestoBar at the Downey Promenade and the Green Olive. Both are also heavily involved in after-school activities and volunteerism.
Sam, a freshman at Downey High School, is part of the KIWIN’s service club and is a Boy Scout, poised to earn Eagle Scout honors next year. He also plays the cymbals in the school band, is proficient in guitar, and is on pace to earn a black belt in karate next year.
Sarah, an eighth grader at Doty Middle School, has long shown leadership qualities, going back to fifth grade when she was voted Character Council president. She’s an accomplished dancer, competing nationally in tap, jazz, hip hop and contemporary.
At age 11, she auditioned for “Vaelina El Musical” and, despite her young age, was cast as a background dancer. She was named a Little Miss Downey princess in 2014.
Sam’s future goals include attending UCLA and possibly becoming a neurosurgeon. If Sarah doesn’t become a professional actress or dancer, she also would like to attend UCLA and become a plastic surgeon, helping people with reconstructive surgery.
25.) Ben Alemu
In January of this year you were introduced to Ben Alemu, who had been just named a finalist in the 2017-18 Westly Prize for Young Innovators of California for his creation of SENDforC, a national network of student mentors designing high-impact educational service programs and entrepreneurial initiatives for underserved schools.
Alemu was made a runner up in the competition, receiving $5000 from the Westley Foundation on their annual competition.
SENDforC continues to keep Alemu busy, as he says he spends 20 to 30 hours a week of volunteering. He is currently the organizations Executive Director.
After the Westley prize, SENDforC decided to hone in on their San Diego and Bay Area communities and have recently launched their third and fourth partnership high schools in California.
Alemu also recently received his degree in Bio Chemistry and Cell Biology from the University of California San Diego, with a minor in education studies.
26.) Fabian Chavez
Downey is responsible for many successful musical acts, including The Carpenters, Metallica’s James Hetfield, and Weird Al Yankovic. Who’s to say that Fabian Chavez isn’t next on that list?
Chavez was exposed to music at a very early age, having started playing the drums at the age of 2. He later added Latin percussion and saxophone to his repertoire, now claiming that these are his “main instruments.”
While attending Griffiths Middle School and later Warren High School, Chavez participated in several school ensembles. Deciding to continue his musical education beyond the Downey Unified School District, Chavez went on to receive a Bachelors of Music Degree in saxophone performance from California State University, Northridge with an emphasis in Jazz.
Still in his young career, Chavez can already say that he has performed with Grammy Award winning and Grammy Nominated artists such as Ms. Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Angelique Kidjo, Mac Miller, Saint Motel, Sergio George, Miguel Bose, Bobby Rush, Maluma, La India, and Dariush among others. He also released his first single – Tranemanya – earlier this year.
Chavez is also a co-founder of Darknote Collective, a music production team that already has music placements on the big and little screens.
Chavez was nominated for a Grammy this year for best Rap album for his contributions on Mac Miller’s “Swimming.”
27.) Mark LaVigne
Mark LaVigne graduated from UCLA in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics. While at UCLA, he was active in its Hooligan Theatre Company, performing in productions and serving as its director of education for two years. In this role, Mark organized groups of theatre students to visit inner-city schools and put on workshops for them.
After leaving UCLA, Mark earned his Master’s degree in Criminalistics from Cal State Los Angeles. He works in Downey for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Crime Lab. He’s been there for over a year as a forensic analyst and recently was given a promotion to a criminalist position.
This is the third fall Mark has taught a class at Cal State Los Angeles, an incredible feat for someone only 25 years old. He currently teaches Introduction to Forensic Science in the graduate program and has also taught a similar class to undergraduates and a laboratory class in the graduate program. Cal State Los Angeles houses the crime labs of both the LAPD and Sheriff’s Department.
28.) Clint LaVigne
Like his younger brother, Clint LaVigne also graduated from UCLA, majoring in Communications and graduating in only three years with honors.
He immediately began work at William Morris Endeavor (WME) talent agency in Beverly Hills. He stayed there for a few years before moving to HBO in its Development Department. Again, he stayed there a few years until he was asked to become the assistant to the president at Amblin Entertainment, Steven Spielberg’s television production company.
He maintained that role for over a year until he was asked to assume the title of creative executive for Amblin, a job that he continues to hold. In this position, he is the gatekeeper for incoming scripts from writers to the agency. This past year, he has found the writers, directors, producers, actors and “packaged” shows to present to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and others on behalf of Amblin Entertainment.
His first show, “The Haunting of Hill House,” premiered on Netflix on Oct. 12 and has been receiving great reviews. He has three more projects in pre-production and production.
29.) Alyssa Rico
It wouldn’t surprise us if, 10 to 15 years from now, Alyssa Rico was running Downey’s Parks & Recreation Department.
That’s a lot of pressure to put on a person, but it’s a goal that Alyssa doesn’t shy away from. A lifelong Downey resident, Alyssa began working at the Barbara J. Riley Community and Senior Center as a facility attendant in 2008 before a promotion to activity specialist in 2010.
She later became the senior center’s recreation director, coordinating and implementing the facility’s programs and activities, and organizing leisure time activities such as contract classes for pre-school, teens, adults and seniors.
In 2014, she was promoted to recreation coordinator in charge of special events. Her job was to executive large scale events, such as Kids Day, Taste of Downey, and the Halloween pumpkin patch, while staying within budget. She also secured sponsorships, marketed these special events to ensure optimal attendance.
Alyssa was hired as Community Services Coordinator by the City of Moreno Valley in October 2016 where she has even greater responsibilities, including training all senior recreation leaders and overseeing sports budgets. She’s also the city’s liaison for the Arts Commission.
Alyssa is the current treasurer for the California Parks & Recreation Society (Recreation Section) and vice president of the Southern California Municipal Athletic Federation (Inland Empire chapter). She was also a Women in Leisure Services board member from 2014-16.
Alyssa graduated from Biola University with a bachelor’s degree in Community Studies and from Biola University’s Crowell School of Business with a master’s in Business Administration. She graduated with honors.
30.) Evan Longoria
A product of West Downey Little League, Evan Longoria is perhaps Downey’s most accomplished athlete.
Drafted by the Rays with the third overall pick in the 2006 MLB draft, Longoria went on to become the 2008 American League Rookie of the Year. He made three consecutive All-Star games between 2008 and 2010, and won three gold gloves for his defensive work at third base.
Rooting for Longoria became slightly more difficult when he was traded to the San Francisco Giants prior to the 2018 season.
31.) Monica Rivera
You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone more motivated for success than Monica Rivera.
As a freshman student at USC, Rivera landed an internship with a property management company. By the time she graduated four years later, she was the company’s leasing and marketing director.
Rivera’s success in the real estate industry propelled her to her current position as business coach and team leader at Keller Williams in Downey, where she leads a staff of 150 real estate agents. Her priority, however, isn’t necessarily to drive sales and commissions; it’s to help the agents – and their clients – achieve multi-generational wealth.
Helping others achieve their dreams is what Rivera does best. She co-authored “Latina Empowerment Through Leadership” in 2017, in which she shares her struggles and triumphs as a Latina woman.
She’s been invited to speak and lead workshops on topics ranging from motivation to branding and business, and has written articles for the Huffington Post, examining the intersections of culture, wealth-building, real estate, and politics.
“When someone says I can’t do something, either because I’m young, a woman, or a Latina,” that pushes me,” said Rivera.
32.) Ernesto Rojas
A Doctorate is no easy feat to come by, but Ernesto Rojas is so up for the challenge that he looks to have two within eight years.
While he was at Warren, Rojas could have been described as the poster-child of success. He was a Golden Bear recipient in Science as a Freshman (most Golden Bear Awards go to seniors). He was within the top students of his class. He was drum major of the marching band. You can add Prom King to the list as well.
Not much has changed since.
Rojas went on to UCLA, where he just earned a degree in Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology (MCDB) and a minor in Biomedical research. He graduated with College Honors, Highest Department Honors, and Magna Cum Lade.
And still he shows no signs of slowing down.
Rojas is currently traveling to and interviewing at several top-notch schools, with eyes set on earning a MD and Ph-D.
The ultimate goal?
Rojas plans to work studying infertility. While he says he primarily wants to work in a research lab, he hopes to one day be able to work with couples who have difficulties conceiving and ultimately give them a shot at the family that they’ve dreamed of having.
33.) Mariah Lora
Mariah Lora isn’t like most teenagers, or most adults for that matter.
Last year, as a senior at Warren High School, Mariah was elected by nearly 4,000 of her peers to serve as ASB president. As president, she founded Small Acts of Kindness, a non-profit that promoted nice gestures among students. The organization hosted a dinner for Paramount High School’s ASB, after the school’s ASB advisor was shot and injured in the Las Vegas terror attack.
Mariah also hosted the First Annual Silent Heroes Company, bringing Warren and Downey High’s ASB together to host an awards ceremony for 10 outstanding people from Downey who embody selflessness, compassion, hardwork, and go above and beyond to protect and develop students in the Downey Unified School District. A few of the recipients included a Warren High security guard, a Downey police officer, a teacher, Dr. Mary Stauffer, and a librarian.
As a high school junior, Mariah was elected as majority floor leader in Assemblymember Cristina Garcia’s Young Legislators program. By the time Mariah graduated, she had a 4.06 cumulative GPA, earned a CSF Seal Bear distinction, and was captain of the varsity basketball team, leading the Bears to a CIF championship.
Mariah was crowned Miss Downey this past spring and has continued her charitable endeavors at Cerritos College, co-founding an English honors society for English majors such as herself. She is an honors program scholar and is working on undergraduate research that will be presented at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research. She also plays point guard for the Cerritos College women’s basketball team.
Mariah plans to transfer to a university in 2020 and double major in English and education. She also plans to run for local office in Downey and eventually the state, advocating for equality in our school systems.
34.) Alejandra Barreto
A first-generation college student from a family born in Jalisco, Mexico, Alejandra Barreto earned quite the achievement this year: she was chosen as a Gates Scholar.
Alejandra was one of only 300 students across the nation selected out of a pool of 28,700 applicants. As a Gates Scholar, Alejandra received a scholarship that not only pays her college tuition, but also housing, books, transportation, health insurance and other costs.
The scholarship is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Alejandra moved to Downey from Lynwood when she was in middle school, attending West Middle School. She moved on to Warren High School, graduating this past June.
Alejandra began attending USC this fall, double majoring in Human Biology and Spanish. The scholarship will also send Alejandra to Spain to study abroad for an entire semester.
While at Warren, Alejandra graduated with a 4.92 GPA (second highest in her class), and competed in SkillsUSA competitions, making it to the national level three times. She also played varsity water polo and swimming during all four years as a Bear.
Alejandra credits her success to her teachers.
“I know it takes a village, I’ve seen it here at Warren,” Alejandra said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the help of many of my teachers. And through this scholarship, I hope to continue to do the same for others and influence them to follow their dreams.”
35.) Edward Mejia
Education looms large for Downey native Edward Mejia.
Only 24, he works as an admissions counselor for Pepperdine University, encouraging students to apply to the university in the regions he covers which includes Los Angeles, Seattle, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and other regions across the country.
He’s a student at Pepperdine himself, studying to obtain his master’s in leadership in higher education, with a goal of becoming a chancellor of student affairs.
Mejia is part of the Ready.Set.Go. program at Chico State (his alma mater), giving presentations at Downey High School on college life.
36.) Moises Rios-Hernandez
Moises Rios is a Los Angeles native but was raised in Downey, graduating from Downey High School in 2000. After high school, he shipped off to boot camp, serving our country with the U.S. Marines.
After his service, Moises enrolled in butcher school in Kingston, N.Y., in 2012. As a kid, he had spent his summers working at Luis Meat Market in Downey, and the work had always fascinated him. He finished butcher school in 2013 and took over the Luis Meat Market, changing the name to Luis Butcher Shop.
Moises has expanded the restaurant’s reputation in Downey, earning acclaim for a variety of handcrafted dishes, including black pepper country-style ribs, 18-hour smoked brisket sandwiches, and Argentine sausage.
As a veteran small business owner, Moises has also committed himself to the Downey community. He is president of Courage Forward, a support network for local veterans, and is involved with Gangs Out of Downey.
37.) Steve Sedano
There aren’t many young people as dedicated to giving back as Steve Sedano.
Sedano’s first venture into volunteering was at the Downey Family YMCA where he also joined the YMCA Youth and Government program that works imilar to a mock trial.
He is now responsible for the LA Thunderbirds, a non-profit designed to provide the youth of LA, including those with special needs, the opportunities to excel at Lacrosse. He also founded Protect LA, another nonprofit that is dedicated to building a culture of college attendance within South LA.
When away from his nonprofit organizations, Sedano works with Courage Forward, Downey’s local veteran support organization.
Recently, Sedano began working at Shop Now To Fund (SNTF), a tech company that gives away 40% of retail purchases to an organization of the purchasers choice. They are currently helping Courage Forward, A veteran organization that is based in Downey, raise money as well as the Downey Parks and Recreation raise money to build new facilities for Apollo Park.
Having earned a degree in Anthropology with an emphasis in Biology from Cal State University in Long Beach in 2017, Sedano is currently preparing himself for Stanford University where he will pursue his MBA and Dr’s in Education next year.
38.) Walter Sarnoi
Walter Sarnoi started off a little rough around the edges. He was a troublemaker, and was headed down a path that wouldn’t lead him to much good.
But some intervention from the 10-20 club and a love of fighting was able to turn things around for the future boxing champion.
After getting his education at the University of Northern Michigan, Sarnoi set off to focus on his boxing career and his childhood dream of holding a WBC “green belt.”
Sarnoi currently holds a 21-4 record, with 13 knockout wins and no knockout losses. More importantly though, he recently took the title of World Boxing Council Latino Silver Featherweight Champion.
39.) Joseph Manacmul
From an art gallery to street pita? It may not be the most obvious transition ever told, but it’s exactly the path that Joseph Manacmul took.
Manacmul received an Associates Arts Degree from Cerritos College in 2004 and a Bachelor’s of Art’s Degree in History in 2006 from UCLA.
After completing his education, Manacmul would find himself at the heart of Downey’s art scene, serving as Director of Operations for the Downey Art Vibe. He would remain there from 2012 to 2016.
Eventually, Manacmul moved on from the position with Stay Gallery and Downey Art vibe, and entered into a whole different kind of arts: the culinary arts.
Manacmul has made an entirely new mark on Downey in the form of Greek food. As a partner of the Parea Restaurant Group, Manacmul has helped bring Louks Greek Baby Donuts and street food restaurant Pita GR to Downey, the latter of which he currently manages.
40.) Matias Flores
Matias Flores fits a relatively new trend seen here in Downey – young individuals going out, becoming educated and establishing themselves in their profession, then coming back and using their new knowledge to contribute to the city.
Flores received his law education at Loyola Law School, his undergrad at UC Santa Barbara, and in-between became a certified interpreter at the Southern California School of Interpretation. His first job came in 2011 at the Law Office of Nigel Burns in Downtown LA, where he primarily worked on family law.
He opened his own firm in 2016 in Downey, where he says it is now thriving with close to 200 clients.
Flores has also been a member of the city planning commission since late 2012. Having been appointed to the position by Councilman Fernando Vasquez – who termed out this month – his time as part of the commission is likely coming to an end.