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Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) will honor six individuals for their outstanding contributions to the community during its North County “Looking Forward” Awards Dinner on June 3 at the Radisson in Santa Maria.

Awards will be presented to Virginia Perry Souza, Herb Kandel, Elsa Velasco, Steve Heuring, Patricia “Pati” Cantú and Ines Ruiz.

Perry Souza will receive the “Looking Forward” Award for strong leadership and vision in community building, civic engagement and improving the quality of life in our community.

Her community activism began when she served as one of Toru Miyoshi’s Women’s Commissioners in 1986. Joining the Rotary Club in 1996 expanded her volunteerism to international horizons.

In 1996, she founded The Natural History Museum in Santa Maria along with her late mother, Rena Perry. The Natural History Museum has been located in the Historic Hart Home for almost 20 years and the nonprofit encompasses community history as well as natural history.

In 2013, she co-founded Buena Vista Beautifiers. She brought together and continues to lead a diverse group of people to address neglect, beauty and safety issues surrounding Buena Vista Park, Santa Maria’s oldest park. All the major stakeholders in the park neighborhood as well as residents and property owners have addressed neighborhood needs, common goals and solutions, including bike days, spring celebrations, park and road cleanups, holiday decorations and the city’s renovation of the park.

Dr. Herb Kandel will receive the Environmental Protection and Sustainability Award for valuing, protecting and preserving our natural resources and environment.

Kandel has been an active leader in nonprofit organizations since he was the editor of the Los Padres Interpretive Association Journal at 24 years old. In 1991, he helped conceive and found the 12-acre Nipomo Native Garden. He initiated and led the Nipomo Creek Committee from 1999 to 2005 to collaborate on habitat protection, pollution, agricultural sustainability and flood prevention.

Kandel served as a board member or president of Dana Adobe Nipomo Amigos for more than a decade, co-authored grants that protected 140 acres of viewshed, and authored a $2.9 million grant toward the construction of a Nature Education Center.

Kandel also served over a decade as a Trustee and as president of the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County. He was instrumental in protecting a 172-acre parcel of land in the Point Sal area and preserving the 960-acre Pismo Preserve. He helped the conservancy secure a 2,700-acre easement of Alamo Creek, the headwaters of the Santa Maria River.

Elsa Velasco will receive the Social Justice Award for promoting fairness, tolerance, respect and compassion for all people in the community.

Velasco was born and raised in Santa Maria. As an emergency care technician, she tends to some of the most vulnerable patients throughout Santa Barbara County.

She volunteers with Gay Rights Advocates for Arts, Culture and Equality (G.R.A.C.E.), a grassroots association from the Santa Maria Valley working towards advancing the needs of the LGBT community and its allies through social networking, advocacy, and community coalition building.

Velasco also volunteers with Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), a political advocacy organization focused on immigrants rights and economic justice, and volunteers with the Fund for Santa Barbara, where she serves as co-chair of the Grant Making Committee.

In her free time, Elsa enjoys music, poetry, being outdoors, spending time with her family and friends and being an active member in her community.

Steven Heuring will receive the Giving Back to the Community Award for giving back selflessly to the community through volunteer activities and community projects.

Heuring has been a member of the Vandenberg Village Association for eight years, serving now as its president. He coordinates its monthly meetings, its monthly Adopt-A-Highway cleanup and other cleanup efforts. The VVA also serves as an educational resource for residents needing assistance from Santa Barbara County.

Heuring is a founding member and chairman of the Vandenberg Village Park and Playground Coalition, which started in 2012. The VVP&PC is working with the County to build a park and playground and has raised nearly $20,000 so far.

He has been a member of the Vandenberg Village Lions Club for three years and is in his second year as its president. He is a supporter of Lompoc Valley in Bloom. He was supportive of the formation of the Vandenberg Village Farmers Market; he has watered nearly all the flower barrels in the village, and is generally helpful to friends and neighbors. He also helped the Santa Maria-Bonita School District obtain computers through the Computers for Leaning program.

Patricia “Pati” Cantú will receive the Working Families Award for helping working families with issues such as health care, housing, education, workers rights, equity, recreation and cultural services.

Cantú's passion is to bring equity to all in the community. Recognizing lives that are cut short due to violence has motivated her to tackle the root issues that are causing hurt to marginalized citizens. Her search in finding healing has taken her to One Community Action, pushing the city to bring a national soccer complex to Santa Maria, requesting that the city include youth and parents in policy making, and pushing for ethnic and gender studies for all schools.

Cantú facilitates Community Circle, has coached and is a board member with the Santa Maria Valley Youth Soccer Association, and is the current treasurer for Juan Pacifico Ontiveros PTA. She has joined two new boards, Cowboy Freedom and Corazon del Pueblo.

She strongly believes that it is important to empower all families to strive for the pursuit of happiness and speak out against inequities. She believes we must always help our brothers and sisters to heal and achieve quality of life.

Ines Ruiz will receive the Youth Activist Award for actively inspiring youth to become leaders in the community through work for social justice.

Ruiz began getting involved in the community when she was a freshman in 2016. She served as an intern for Salad Carbajal’s congressional campaign where she phone banked and went knocking from door to door.

The following year, she and her friends spread the word for the event, “A Day without Immigrants.” They spoke to local businesses and put flyers all over town on foot. 

This year, Ruiz is one of the founders of a youth-led organization named Santa Maria Valley United. They have organized walkouts (peaceful protests) against gun violence. Their goal is to for congress and our local elected officers to pass more gun control laws.

“I only want to make a difference in my community and encourage my peers and those who haven’t found their voice to speak up for themselves,” Ruiz says. “Like Maya Angelou once said, ‘If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.’”

SBCAN is a countywide, grassroots organization dedicated to creating sustainable communities by promoting social and economic justice and preserving our community’s environmental and agricultural resources.

For more information, visit www.sbcan.org, call (805) 563-0463, or email info@sbcan.org.

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