Downey’s Volunteers of the Year shine at celebration

PHOTO BY JESUS TORRES   Moises Rios-Hernandez, Martha Sodetani and Cecilia Gonez at last week’s Coordinating Council awards dinner.

PHOTO BY JESUS TORRES

Moises Rios-Hernandez, Martha Sodetani and Cecilia Gonez at last week’s Coordinating Council awards dinner.


DOWNEY — More than two dozen community and civic leaders were honored as “Volunteers of the Year” at the Downey Coordinating Council’s annual awards ceremony last week at the Rio Hondo Event Center.

Honorees were selected by their respective business or non-profit.

Below is a full list of honorees, along with their bios as they appeared in the event’s program.

Stacy Brabant (Assistance League of Downey)

The Assistance League is proud to name Stacy Brabant as our Volunteer of the Year. Stacy has been actively involved in AL leadership roles for the past 25 years and currently oversees the management of our 100-year-old Casa de Parlay Johnson home and gardens. She has taken the position to new levels.

Stacy has served as Assisteen’s coordinator, collectively, for 12 years, guiding over 50 students per year through programs which include: Glamour Gowns, Christmas Distribution, Teens Helping Teens, Story Time Festival, Operation School Bell, Christmas Caroling at Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center, Second Tyme Around Shoppe, Spring Tea and Fashion Show, Garden Day, and Self-Improvement Day.

Congratulations to Stacy on being our Volunteer of the Year.


Luis Cervantes (Courage Forward)

Luis Cervantes, father of four, served four years active duty in the United States Marine Corp, including three combat deployments.

After his discharge, he rejoined the military in 2011, serving six years in the Army reserves. In 2017, he joined Courage Forward.

Luis is one of those rare individuals who cares more for others than himself. As part of his volunteer duties, Luis visits patients at the Long Beach VA, and assists veterans with their claims and benefits. Luis is an advocate for all veterans who need help with appointments or any other issues at the hospital or in the community. He speaks with young veterans who need guidance or help when they leave the service.

Luis is proud to serve and make this place just “a little better.”


Fausto Rojas and Theresa Espinoza (Downey City Library)

The Downey City Library honorees this year are a mother and son duo who both believe strongly in building up their community through volunteerism.

Both have been volunteering at the library since 2012. Fausto Rojas has provided assistance with the summer reading program, and assisted teachers in our reading classes.

His mother, Theresa, is a first-grade teacher who takes time after her own work day to come to the library to read to the community. Theresa is also a summer camp reading teacher, and she plans to continue volunteering for the library this summer after Fausto goes to college.

Congratulations, Fausto and Theresa.


Cleola Brown (Downey Coordinating Council)

Cleola has had many leadership roles in her numerous years being an active member in the Downey Coordinating Council.

Holding title as President for years 2013-15, Cleola has served for many years as vice president, secretary or treasurer – stepping up when needed to complete any board she is involved with. In 2017, Cleola was selected Woman of the Year by the American Business Women’s Association.

She is a valuable volunteer – acting as hospitality person for the monthly Downey Coordinating Council luncheons. You can tell she enjoys helping and she is appreciated by all.


Rose Schneeberger (Downey Kiwanis Club)

Rose Schneeberger has been a member of Kiwanis International since 1988, and of the Downey Kiwanis Club since 1999, serving on the board, and in recent years as treasurer and president.

Demonstrating a profound commitment to serving children, Rose helped the Downey club raised $120,000 to inoculate young girls and women of child-bearing age in underdeveloped countries against maternal neonatal tetanus. Most recently, Rose organized a joint effort between her church and her club to raise money for legal representation for children separated from their asylum-seeking parents at the U.S./Mexico border.

In 2012, Rose received the Distinguished Service Award from Downey Kiwanis and in 2018 Rose was named Kiwanian of the Year.

Joanna Peterson and Rose Schneeberger. Photo by Pam Chambers

Joanna Peterson and Rose Schneeberger. Photo by Pam Chambers



Maria Fernandez (Downey Lions Club)

Part of the mission of Lions Clubs International is to empower volunteers to serve their communities, meet humanitarian needs, and encourage peace. This year’s honoree is Maria Fernandez.

She is a charter member of the Downey Lions Club and has been instrumental to the success of our service club from its inception in 2010. Through her strong leadership and work ethic, she has devoted countless hours to help organize events in order to ensure that important service projects are fulfilled.

Maria exemplifies the mission of Lions Clubs International by always empowering others through her devotion, kindness and generosity.


Eneyda Miranda (Friends of the Downey City Library)

Eneyda Miranda is our 2018 volunteer honoree.

She started by working in the back room at the library, sorting all donations and working to shelve them in the store since September 2016. When a bookstore opening was available in 2017, she added to her volunteer time.

In 2018, Eneyda covered 24 bookstore shifts for volunteers who took time off, as well as working her regular weekly shift, volunteering at The Market Place and at a booth for Dia de los Muertos.

Her quiet dedication, and working the many, many extra hours, makes her our 2018 choice.


Moises Rios-Hernandez (Gangs Out of Downey)

Moises Rios-Hernandez is GOOD’s honored volunteer this evening.

Moises, the owner of Luis’ Butcher Shop, gives freely of his resources and time to see that our residents are provided delicious food at GOOD events, including the backpack distribution day at Golden Park, Cops and Kids, National Night Out, and TLC’s annual 5K event. Moises also supports set up and clean up, in addition to donating, cooking and service his delicious offerings.

Moises, a Marine veteran, was deployed twice to Iraq and is now active in Courage Forward, our locally formed and funded veterans’ organization. He likes to give back now that he is able. A favorite activity of his is volunteer to mentor the Woodruff Academy students.

Congratulations to Moises on this well-deserved recognition.


Claudia Garcia (TLC Family Resource Center)

Claudia Garcia was part of the team that helped create and launch the TLC Center of the Downey Unified School District.

Claudia was the clerical assistant and covered the front office throughout our first 15 years of service. Her role “behind the scenes” was extremely instrumental to TLC’s success today. She is passionate, going above and beyond the job description.

Claudia left TLC when she accepted a position as a counselor at Sussman Middle School three years ago. However, she continues to come weekly to help with our Kids Can Cope grieving program, a group counseling program for students who recently lost a close loved one or have a terminally ill family member.

Thank you, Claudia.


Dale Warner (Downey United Methodist Church)

We are pleased to name Dale Warner as the 2019 honoree of the Downey United Methodist Church.

Dale retired after 41 years at Universal Studios, and is now the Lay Leader of our church. Dale is our church’s representative to the California-Pacific Annual Conference and is a certified lay servant in Downey and beyond.

He is a member of our sanctuary choir and our bell choir. He often leads public prayer rand delivers the Sunday message when asked.

He is both humble and eloquent. His good humor, and willingness to serve when asked, is an example to all. Dale Warner is the latest in a long line of those who have served our church and Downey with love, wisdom and grace.

Thank you, Dale.

Dale Warner. Photo by Martha Sodetani

Dale Warner. Photo by Martha Sodetani



Jorge Del Toro (Downey Arts Coalition)

Sculptor and painter Jorge Del Toro has lived in Downey for over 25 years. His artistic talents are surpassed by his generous spirit, and kindness in his heart for animals, the environment, and fellow human beings.

Jorge has been part of the Downey Arts Coalition since its inception in 2010, volunteering countless hours to install art exhibits for others to showcase their work. He has led sculpting demonstrations for children and adults, and never turned down a request to help at any art community event, or to donate his work to raise money for the arts.

His award-winning art often highlights environmental awareness and his love for his native land of Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico.

Downey Arts Coalition is very proud to have him as a founding member and a friend.


Joanna Peterson (Downey Chamber of Commerce)

The Downey Chamber of Commerce is pleased to recognize Joanna Peterson as our outstanding volunteer.

Joanna currently serves on the chamber’s executive board as our immediate past president. She has served as chamber director for over five years and has held numerous positions, including president.

She is the co-chair for our Christmas Parade committee, co-chair for the Ambassador Volunteer Group, and serves on the organizing committees for the Street Fair and golf tournament.

Joanna has a fulltime job as the marketing coordinator for Gallatin Dental. In her “spare time,” Joanna is also a valuable volunteer for the Lions Club, Kiwanis, and Coordinating Council. She is the type of person who cannot say no to any group or individual in need.


Patricia Heineke (The Arc Los Angeles & Orange Counties)

We are proud to honor Patricia Heineke as our Volunteer of the Year.

Pat is a leader and advocate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She is a nine-time president of The Arc Los Angeles & Orange Counties’ board of directors. For the past 20 years, Pat has been The Arc’s representative at the state level with The Arc California, and advocates on the federal level as well.

She is a dedicated leader, a mentor to many, and is known for her warm heart. The Arc values her work ethic and dedication to the hundreds of individuals served by our organization.

Pat is a champion and we are so proud and honored to have her serve on our board.


Sal Cervantes (Toastmasters Club 587)

Sal Cervantes has been a member of Toastmasters Club since 2009. During this time he served in every officers role, including president.

He has helped transition the club into the new digital format by welcoming and mentoring the computer savvy generation so they can complement their technical skills with the ability to communicate effectively.

As a child, Sal’s family worked up and down the state as farm workers after emigrating from Mexico. He lived in Norwalk during his teenage years and went to college in New York City, where he met his wife, Rosa. They raised a son and two daughters in Downey.

We honor Sal for his outstanding leadership of our club and for being a great role model and mentor in our community.


Zach Rehfeld (Food Finders)

Zech Rehfeld has been a wonderful, dedicated volunteer of Food Finders since June of 2015.

He picks up donated food every Friday at Kaiser Permanente Downey. Each Friday, Zach also delivers 25 bags of food from our Food 4 Kids program to Hart Elementary School to that families have enough to eat over the weekend.

Zach is always available when we need some extra help, like during our post office canned food drive, and collecting food from schools before they go on break.

Zach lives in South Gate and is a published author of a book titled, “10 Short Stories.” His current project is building a self-sustaining electric vehicle. Zach spent many years as a silhouette artist at Disneyland.


Maria Marin (FoodHelp)

Our volunteer of the year is Maria Marin.

We met Maria when her daughter needed volunteer hours at Warren High School. At some point, Maria started working independently and apart from her daughter. She spends her time helping our neighbors get their food and is very hands-on. It doesn’t matter if she’s helping someone or cleaning; it’s always done with the ideal attitude – no complaints, no hesitation, and with welcoming kindness.

Maria is quiet and unassuming. She models what we expect from our volunteers – to love our neighbors. When you meet her, the first thing you’ll notice is her warmth and joy. She has an infectious smile.

We’re so glad she chose FoodHelp to be here she gives her time.


Yvonne Moreno (Downey Federal Credit Union)

Yvonne Moreno has been employed with Downey Federal Credit Union since the spring of 2016.

She played a huge part in the success of our Relay for Life team and helped Team DFCU soar to No. 1 in fundraising for this event.

She’s active in activities such as the Arc Walk, decorating the Downey Rose Float, and Bite of Reality, an education activity provided at local high schools. Each year, Yvonne lends major help to the Gangs Out of Downey luncheon by coordinating reservations, payments, registration, and seating.

She also finds time to volunteer at her father’s nursing home, Brookdale in Whittier, visiting not only her dad, but also other patients who may not have visitors. And she does everything with a smile on her face.


Bobbi Bruce (Downey Historical Society)

Bobbi Bruce has been an active board member and docent for the Downey Historical Society for over seven years.

She has expanded her contributions to the organization by taking on writing articles under the title, “Things You Didn’t Know About Downey,” for the weekly Downey Patriot. She is involved in attending meetings for the Downey Cemetery and Sister City organizations.

Bobbi Bruce and Mayor Pro Tem Blanca Pacheco

Bobbi Bruce and Mayor Pro Tem Blanca Pacheco

Her love of history brought her to the history center, and being able to share what she has learned about Downey makes her volunteering exciting and fun. Congratulations, Bobbi!



Jennifer DeKay (Downey Rose Float Association)

Jennifer DeKay has been involved with the Downey Rose Float for many years, dating back to 1990 when she was a princess on our Miss Downey Court.

Jennifer has been a board member for many years and was our president for two years. Not only did she head our organization, she also chaired many of our main fundraisers such as Parade of Winners, Murder Mystery and Casino Night, to name a few.

Jennifer has run the Miss Downey Pageant for the past four years. She also worked with L.A. County and the City of Downey to make sure we have a location to construct our float for years to come.


Larry Lewis (Downey Symphonic Society)

Larry Lewis has been on the board of the Symphonic Society for several decades, including terms as president and vice president.

As our president, Larry’s harmonious management style has been to hold back and let everyone enter in discussions and contribute. In addition to his love of music, Larry is a win connoisseur who generously provides champagne for our receptions; so now we call him the King of Champagne.

Larry also has served on the Downey Family YMCA Board of Managers. A star in his yoga class, Larry can maintain the “tree” position, standing on just one leg.

Larry has been instrumental – Larry loves puns, so the pun is intended – in orchestrating an excellence of musical quality to present to Downey.


The KDB Committee (Keep Downey Beautiful)

The Keep Downey Beautiful committee, in conjunction with the city of Downey, has initiated a number of successful projects over the past four decades: graffiti removal, tree plantings, litter cleanups, “waste in place” school program, beautification awards for homes and businesses, recycling, Arbor Day celebrations, adopt-a-street program, and playground painting and installation projects.

The Keep Downey Beautiful committee is a unique group of individuals volunteering their time and energy towards improving the quality of life in Downey. Congratulations and keep up the good work.


Richard Daggett (Polio Survivors Association)

Our honoree this year is Richard Daggett, who has been our president for more than 30 years.

Richard came to Downey as a boy in 1950. He contracted a very severe case of polio in 1953, just after his 13th birthday, and spent nearly three years at Rancho Los Amigos.

In his autobiography, he wrote, “Having had a severe case of polio…certainly made me more sympathetic to the everyday struggles faced by most people. Did polio make me a better person? I hope not. I would like to think that I would have been a good person, no matter what my life experiences included.”

Be assured, Richard, your efforts have improved the lives of thousands of people, and encouraged many to follow your example and volunteer their time. You are an inspiration.


Shirlee MacDowell (Woman’s Club of Downey)

Shirlee MacDowell has been a member of the Woman’s Club of Downey for 59 years, and served on the board for more than a decade.

She has served as our Parliamentarian and taught Parliamentary procedure to many of our members. She has been involved with the selection of scholarship recipients for many years through the Woman’s Club Foundation. A scholarship for music is given yearly in her name.

Most notably, she has dedicated years of her life to running our club’s bingo every Thursday. Under the leadership, the club has raised over $500,000 for Rancho Los Amigos hospital.

She is a leader, mentor, and selfless volunteer dedicated to helping others in this community.


Cecilia Gonez (Soroptimist International of Downey)

Cecilia Gonez has been a member of Soroptimist International of Downey for almost four years.

She is currently the fundraising chair. She also heads the Stop Human Trafficking event. She has worked tirelessly on events so our club can raise the funds we need to give our scholarships to our local high schools.

Cecilia’s efforts also help us fund our Dream It Be It program, a mentoring program for high school-age girls, and our Live Your Dream program, which grants an award to a woman who is head of household and returning to school to make a better life for herself and her family.

Congratulations, Cecilia.


Priscilla Flores-Hernandez (Southern California Resource Services for Independent Living)

It is my pleasure to nominate Mrs. Priscilla Flores-Hernandez as our Volunteer of the Year.

Although Mrs. Hernandez is an employee of Southern California Resource Services for Independent Living, her selflessness transcends her work to impact as many lives as she can reach usually going outside her scope of work and unnoticed by most.

This past year, Mrs. Hernandez organized over 50 women with various disabilities to donate their time to those who are experiencing homelessness by putting together care packages with essentials, collecting blankets for the winter, serving meals, assisting at food banks, and working with L.A. County on various community projects.

Mrs. Hernandez is deserving of this year’s volunteer award.


Ana Lemus (PTA HELPS)

We are pleased to honor Ana Lemus as our Volunteer of the Year.

Ana has been a dedicated worker at our food pantry for over five years and can always be counted on to “dive in” to whatever is presented. She is passionate about the integrity of the food shelfing room, contributing extra time to this effort.

Ana has been a PTA mom for her entire 13 years in the Downey Unified School District. Elementary school teachers appreciated that Ana continued as a classroom volunteer after her children had been promoted. She also contributes time to Keep Downey Beautiful and the American Red Cross.

Ana wants to make the world a better place and be a good role model for her children. Congratulations, Ana.


Ralph Granata (Rotary Club of Downey)

The Rotary Club of Downey is honored to present Ralph Granata as our Volunteer of the Year.

Ralph became a member of Rotary in 1997. Over the years he has dedicated many hours of “service above self.” For many years Ralph has faithfully sat at the check-in table each and every Tuesday – always smiling, welcoming members with kind words and encouragement.

He shares his positive attitude with us, quietly reminding us what a difference a smile and a kind word can make.

Congratulations, Ralph, and thank you for your dedication and service to Rotary for so many years.

Barbara Lamberth, William Medina and Ralph Granata at a Rotary Club of Downey meeting.

Barbara Lamberth, William Medina and Ralph Granata at a Rotary Club of Downey meeting.

NewsEric Pierce