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September 13, 2013

Gavilan College presents 2013 Community Spirit Awards

WHO: Presented by the Gavilan College Board of Trustees to Rich Firato, Community Solutions, and Affordable Solar Roofs in Morgan Hill; Maria Skoczylas, Leadership Gilroy, and Manzanita Magic of Gilroy; and Dennis Osorio, San Benito Stage Company, and Tonascia Farms, of San Benito County.  Following is information about each award-winner, with comments from their nominations.

RICH FIRATO: Rich Firato has been a volunteer in the Morgan Hill community for over 10 years. He has never been recognized with an award although he is appreciated by all who work with him as a volunteer. Rich has been serving on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors for 3 years. In that capacity he has brought the Friday Night Music Series to an all time attendance high. Raising the caliber of music has brought this free community event to the attention of 250 - 500 people each week for 12 weeks. Rich thinks outside the box and is an idea person. He was able to build (by himself) a Taste of Morgan Hill concert venue, free to the community, in 2012. With a luau theme the amphitheater at the CCC was transformed into a Hawaiian concert for all to enjoy. He has built (in his backyard) Morgan's Cove, an event venue. He now donates this backyard for fundraisers for the Morgan Hill Rotary, Leadership Morgan Hill, Community Solutions, Sobrato High School and the Chamber.  Rich is this year's Chairman of the Board for the Morgan Hill Chamber. He has made great strides in partnering with the downtown association to bring a cohesiveness to Morgan Hill. He works well with everyone and his goal is make Morgan Hill a better place to live and work. He has raised a wonderful family who he has taught to give back. He is an active Rotarian and practices truth, fairness to all, good will and better friendships.

AFFORDABLE SOLAR ROOFS: Affordable Solar Roofs has been a leader in south county for environmental excellence since 1995. The company is locally owned and operated. They have developed eco-friendly practices, demonstrating their stewardship to the natural environment, thus improving our community and region. Affordable Solar Roofs is a relatively small firm with a broad range of home efficiency focuses for residential and businesses. Their consultations with customers help the average homeowner lower their energy use and make their home healthier through solar energy. They promote that "green friendly" sense of doing business. The owner, Pam Garcia, has been involved as a committee member of the local "Earth Day" since the inception of this spring event. She and her staff contribute to south county, both Morgan Hill and Gilroy, in volunteering time to help whenever asked.



COMMUNITY SOLUTIONS: Individuals and families in our community are facing overwhelming challenges every day. Whether the at-risk youth in need of support, a woman fleeing domestic violence or an adult who has been isolated by their mental health challenges, Community Solutions is there to help them in their time of need. According to the Morgan Hill Police Chief, David Swing, “I started working with Community Solutions as a patrol officer. As I worked with the staff through calls and cases related to domestic violence, I began to learn more about their organization and all they do to help our community. I have seen firsthand the opportunities they have provided for the clients they serve. I have also heard stories from their clients about their experiences working with Community Solutions’ staff and volunteers.” The executive team demonstrates leadership throughout the County promoting the needs of those who need support, advocating for people who lack a public voice, and initiating partnerships so resources and expertise can be brought together to collaborate, rather than compete. Community Solutions saw significant growth over the past five years, during a time that the economy was hit hard and many nonprofits were forced to shrink services. Community Solutions is now the largest human services agency in the area, as well as a significant employer. Morgan Hill is a better place because Community Solutions is an integral part of it.



MANZANITA MAGIC: Retired Lockheed engineer Roy Guist spends his days carving pendants and other jewelry out of manzanita burls, and his weekends at the Gilroy Farmer's Market, or Gilroy Arts Alliance, or other local festivals, selling his creations. Wife Sue Guist and other family members are partners in the booth. They began this interest after the Croy Road fire in 2003, during which they lost their home. Roy discovered that the burned manzanita trees had left behind burls that were great for woodworking and began to experiment, eventually creating "Manzanita Magic" as his line of products is known. The Manzanita Magic booth is an attraction, with top-spinning contests, and a wide variety of locally created products. The Guists donate their proceeds to the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship to fund a scholarship program for Gavilan College nursing students. This year the group provided $6000 in scholarships. 



MARIA SKOCZYLAS: Maria is a retired school-teacher and a permanent volunteer and advocate for the homeless. She has been active in helping the homeless since 1987, spending hours collecting blankets and going to planning commission and city council meeting with the same message - that people in South County need help. She has volunteered at the emergency shelter that is held during the winter months at the Armory in Gilroy for many years. She was involved in helping form the Homeless Task Force that identified the need for transitional housing, and has served for many years on the Board of Directos for South County Housing. Dennis Lalor of South County Housing calls Maria “the Godmother of Sobrato,” a 60-unit transitional housing project on Monterey Road. On Maria's 80th birthday a celebration in her honor was held at the new facility and all gifts given (over $3,000) were used to buy mattresses for the new center. Maria has also been instrumental in the creation of 26 new units for the disabled. Maria is also a board member of the Gilroy Compassion Center where she’s active in the fundraising, and in volunteering at the quarterly Project Homeless Connect. Maria is the champion in securing donations for Sobrato families: she also helps identify community members to adopt families for the holidays and finds retired teachers to help run story telling for young children residing at Sobrato. She never runs out of energy when it comes to serving others. She has a heart of GOLD and is such as wonderful person and gives tirelessly to help others make a better life for themselves.


LEADERSHIP GILROY: Leadership Gilroy is a nonprofit organization that has worked to train the leaders of the city's businesses, nonprofit organizations, government commissions, and elected leaders. Over 250 participants have completed the program. Through the annual program each class completes a project of value to the community. Many of the projects started or supported by the Leadership classes remain vital and value parts of the community, including Kids Discover the Arts, the Farmer's Market, the Gilroy Demonstration Garden, and many, many more. Numerous community leaders, volunteers, and elected officials are alumni of the Leadership Gilroy program. This year Leadership Gilroy has added Learning and Networking events, and a “Level Two” program for alumni.


DENNIS OSORIO: Dennis has been a valuable volunteer for San Benito County’s event sound systems and entertainment systems for many, many years. He serves on the Hollister Downtown Association’s Lights On Celebration and Street Festival & Car Show committees. For the parade he sets up and takes down equipment, and provides labor to furnish tow announcer stages along the parade route. One year he had to water-proof everything due to the rain! For the street fair his secures the equipment, accessories, and stages AND arranges for 4-5 professional bands. Dennis repeats this donation of his time, service, and equipment for the two City of Hollister Air Shows too. Her also serves on the Airport Advisory Commission. Dennis is nominated due to his overwhelming generosity with “service to his community” his motivation to help where ha can and all with a smile!


SAN BENITO STAGE COMPANY: Founded in 1999, the San Benito Stage Company is a non-profit performing arts association dedicated to producing local musical and theatrical workshops, plays, and performances. Its goal is to provide high-quality live entertainment for the entire community of San Benito County, while developing performing arts skills for its members. The San Benito Stage Company (SBSC) is a non-profit organization that not only builds character but also fosters creativity and self esteem while developing performing art skills for individuals of all ages. It strives to bring "a little slice of Broadway" to Hollister. For many families, this is their best opportunity to attend a theatrical production. Their 2013-2014 season will include the teen musical “Changing Minds”, the comedy dinner theater production “Harvey”, the Spring youth musical “Anne of Green Gables” and a summer family musical production of “Les Miserables.”


TONASCIA FARMS: Tonascia Farms is a local business growing organic spring mix, and cilantro and conventional garlic and peppers. They use sustainable growing practices such as crop rotation, water management, minimal use of synthetic fertilizers, and crop protection tools; all in order to pass their ground on to the next generation in a fertile and productive condition. They are generous in their community support, donating to 4H, the FFA, Chamberlains, the Circle of Friends, Baler Athletics and Gavilan College Volleyball.

WHAT: Gavilan College Community Spirit Awards are presented annually to individuals, organizations, and businesses who contribute in a strong, positive way to the communities within the Gavilan Joint Community College. Three sets of awards are presented each year, in Morgan Hill, Gilroy, and San Benito County. Each set of awards will be presented at a breakfast in the community of those being honored. 

Morgan Hill awards: October 3 at the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce Breakfast, 7:15 a.m. at the Morgan Hill Community and Cultural Center
Gilroy awards: October 16, Gilroy Chamber of Commerce Breakfast, 6:45 a.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn
San Benito County awards: Hollister Downtown Association quarterly breakfast, 7:30 a.m., October 23, 2013. Location TBA 

WHY: The Community Spirit Awards were created in 1999 through Board Resolution 739, in order to promote and recognize service to the communities Gavilan College serves. A representative committee of the campus community reviews nominations and selects the award winners. Anyone may nominate an individual, organization, or business in the community for an award. All members of the community are invited to submit nominations for individuals, businesses, and organizations deserving of recognition. A nominee who is not selected may be renominated for the next year. For nomination forms and more information, go to or call (408) 848-4724.


Last modified: August 17, 2011
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