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Our Heroes

Ben Heller and Sam Karas Award Recepients

Our Heroes through the years

We look to recognize these people for their tireless efforts to promote the CCA’s mission and values through contributions of their time and talent.



Bill Monning was born in Los Angeles and received degrees at U.C. Berkeley and USF School of Law. It was during his time in Berkeley that Bill first volunteered with the United Farm Workers Union Legal Department.

After taking the Bar Exam in 1976, Bill moved to Salinas to work as an attorney with the UFW. It was shortly after his move to Salinas that Bill met Dana Kent who was also working with the UFW. Bill and Dana settled in Salinas where they raised their two daughters, Laura and Alexandra.

In 1978, Bill joined California Rural Legal Assistance where he helped to establish the Migrant Farmworker Project. During this time, Bill represented workers on healthcare, education, housing, and workplace safety issues. After several farmworker crew poisonings, Bill worked with others to establish the Monterey County Pesticide Coalition and advocated for the first county ordinance to require the posting of warning signs after toxic chemicals had been applied. Working with farmworkers, doctors, and public health advocates, the field posting ordinance became a model for statewide legislation.

At CRLA, Bill worked with Lydia Villarreal, Anna Caballero, Juan Uranga, Tim McCarthy, Ricardo Villalpando, Juan Martinez, Hector de la Rosa, Sabino Lopez, and many others who have also helped to build CCA over the years.

In the early 1980s, Bill and Dana co-founded the Salvadoran Medical Relief Fund, based in Salinas and committed to providing support to civilian victims of the war while working with members of the refugee community in Monterey County. As a member of the National Lawyers Guild, Bill was also active in human rights campaigns to negotiate the release of political prisoners in Central America in the 1980s.

In the 1990s, Bill opened a private law practice where he continued to represent farmworkers on employment, immigration, and injury cases. Bill also worked as a professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (now Middlebury) and the Monterey College of Law where he served as the executive director of the Mandell-Gisnet Center for Conflict Management.

In 2008, Bill was elected to the California State Assembly and in 2012 to the California State Senate, where he became the Senate Majority Leader from 2015-2019. During his tenure in the legislature, Bill authored legislation designed to expand farmworker health and safety protections including SB 1087 that requires farm labor contractors to provide sexual harassment prevention training to all employees and SB 200, the Safe, Clean Drinking Water Act which was signed into law by Gov. Newsom in 2019 and allocates $1.3 Billion over 10 years to build or remediate water systems in underserved communities. In addition to these bills, Bill championed farmworker overtime pay legislation and led the fight to block methyl iodide (a lethal chemical) from being licensed for use in California.

Since Bill completed his tenure in the State Senate due to term limits, he has engaged in teaching, writing, and spending time with his family. Bill and Dana have three grandchildren and remain committed to building healthy communities.


The mission of the Matsui Foundation is to empower students through education and to enrich their lives through knowledge and income opportunity. Established in 2004 by Andy Matsui, president and founder of Salinas orchid grower Matsui Nursery, the Matsui Foundation is funded by the Matsui family and Matsui Nursery, and has granted more than $8 million in scholarships to more than 200 underserved students in Monterey County. The Matsui Foundation had also committed to fund over $4 million in three-year scholarships for computer science students enrolling in the innovative CSin3 bachelor’s degree program that was offered by Hartnell College and California State University, Monterey Bay.

Andy Matsui has always valued education. In Po Bronson’s book, “Why Do I Love These People?” Andy asks “Whom do I really owe? To whom am I indebted?” The answer was in his heart. He loved his company and the people who worked for him, most of whom were Mexican immigrants in the very situation he was in 40 years ago. The Matsui Foundation embodies The Ben Heller Award in their work for Monterey County who have shown courage, leadership, and strong commitment to our community and to the goal of improving living, housing and health conditions in the Pajaro and Salinas Valleys. For this effort, the Center for Community Advocacy (CCA) has selected The Matsui Foundation to receive the 2019 Ben Heller Award for Leadership and Courage.


Spreckels Crossing, Tanimura & Antle’s groundbreaking farmworker housing complex, has become the standard for providing decent housing to our area’s farmworkers.

Center for Community Advocacy (CCA) bestows the Ben Heller Award for Leadership and Courage annually to a member or members of the community who have shown courage, leadership and a strong commitment to the farmworker community and to the goal of improving housing and health conditions in the Salinas and Pajaro valleys.

For its effort to provide quality, affordable housing for agricultural workers, the Center for Community Advocacy (CCA) has selected Tanimura & Antle to receive the 2017 Ben Heller Award for Leadership and Courage.

The Ben Heller Award for Leadership and Courage was established in 1996 and is named in honor of Dr. Ben Heller, who served on CCA’s Board of Directors from its founding in 1988 until his death in 1994.

Located on the same property as Tanimura & Antle’s main office, Spreckels Crossing housing facility consists of 100, two-bedroom, two-bathroom fully furnished units. The employee-only residential housing complex has the capacity to accommodate up to eight employees per unit; though if preferred, they have the option to rent a room with fewer occupants.

Originally built to meet the requirements of the H2A Visa Program, the facility can house up to 800 employees. When domestic employees heard that Tanimura & Antle was building employee housing, many showed interest in traveling from other growing areas to work during the Salinas harvest season.

Amenities of the facility include: 24-hour security, All utilities, Free WiFi, Television, Laundry facilitie, Communal game room with foosball and pool, Community kitchen, Convenience store, Recreational areas for soccer, baseball, basketball, BBQ pits, Easy access to free and voluntary transportation (provided by the company) to and from work

The residential community makes a positive impact on more than quality of life for employees: adaptive reuse of Spreckel’s Sugar Site, traffic is favorably impacted as workers live onsite and are transported by bus to their worksite each morning. The completed project should serve the industry as an example for others to follow suit. Tanimura & Antle believes that all employees are entitled to a healthy community with affordable housing. With employee housing, Tanimura & Antle met 2016 labor needs with domestic workers.


In her capacity as the Chairwoman and CEO of Mann Packing Company, Lorri A. Koster heads one of the most powerful agricultural enterprises in California. What’s more, the company is owned and operated by women, as certified by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. Not only is the CEO a woman, but 65% of the company’s shareholders and a majority of the company’s Board of Directors are women. This is an impressive contribution to the notion of diversity.

Lorri Koster fosters diversity outside the world of commerce, too. Take golf, a sport commonly associated with American mainstream culture. Lorri serves on the Board of Directors of First Tee of Monterey County, a volunteer-based organization that makes it a point to introduce Latino children from east Salinas, many of them from farmworker families, to the game of golf and to the values that underlie the sport. Because Lorri and her cohorts care, Latino children are routinely exposed to the First Tee’s nine core values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, courtesy and judgment; values that will serve these children and their communities well as they transition into adulthood. And, the children learn the game of golf, a sport that would otherwise be beyond their reach.

Lorri Koster also devotes her generosity to helping youngsters, again, many of them from farmworker families, who seek to redirect their lives after experiencing adversity. Lorri serves on the Business Advisory Council of Rancho Cielo, an organization that provides career opportunities for youngsters who otherwise would find none. Rancho Cielo’s success rate is phenomenal. Lorri’s participation is a very important part of that success.

Ms. Koster is among the agricultural industry leaders who champion land-use policies that encourage the construction of affordable, quality farmworker housing. Like her late father—and fellow Ben Heller Award recipient, Don Nucci—she and her company have always responded to calls for help from affordable housing developers and farmworker housing advocates. Lorri and Mann Packing Company are among those who send letters and otherwise advocate for good housing policies.

Lastly, Lorri privately and anonymously provides financial support for families, farmworkers among them, whose children could not otherwise participate in character-building youth activities, many of them sport activities. She does this not because she belongs to a charity’s board of directors or because she is asked to do so. She does it because she is a good woman who wants to help build a good community.

For all these reasons, the Center for Community Advocacy (CCA) is proud and honored to present CCA’s 2015 Ben Heller Award for Leadership and Courage to Lorri A. Koster.


The Center for Community Advocacy (CCA) proudly awards the 2013 Ben Heller Award for Leadership and Courage to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The award honors the Aquarium’s success in promoting social and environmental justice.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has excelled in promoting diversity and fostering educational opportunities for under-served communities. In doing so, the Aquarium has become a model for organizations all over the United States that strive to provide programs that include and serve diverse communities.

The Aquarium has sought to build comprehensive and integrated community partnerships. The foundation for these partnerships include family programs, professional development for teachers of underserved students, free school visits, leadership training, and career training through jobs at the Aquarium.

Seeing the need for youth-focused education, recreational and economic opportunities, the Aquarium has launched several innovative programs such as WATCH (Watsonville Area Teens Conserving Habitats), formerly Mar y Campo (Sea and Field), a community and school partnership with the Pajaro Valley High School, creating a network of opportunities. Other programs include Young Women in Science, Underwater Explorers, and Free-To-Learn. The Aquarium heavily recruits volunteer Student Guides from the Latino community, and then offers opportunities for paid positions. A prominent local institution that has partnered with the Aquarium is the Cesar Chavez Library. The Aquarium contributes marine life images, books and technical support for live web cams of its exhibits as a way to connect families with marine preservation efforts and expand horizons.

The Aquarium’s efforts to be accessible to culturally and economically diverse communities have greatly benefited the CCA community. The Aquarium supports and encourages the efforts of the hardworking families involved with CCA by providing free admission to neighborhood leaders and committee members. The Aquarium ensures accessibility by providing free transportation to the Aquarium. This assistance by the Aquarium helps to build the partnership between the “Mar y Campo” that our community wants and deserves. Thanks to the work of the Aquarium, there will be a critical mass of families and community leaders for whom social justice and environmental justice is the cultural norm.

For the work and vision of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, CCA bestows the 2013 Ben Heller Award to the Aquarium.


The Center for Community Advocacy bestows its 2011 Ben Heller Award for Leadership and Courage on Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas (Clinica) and its Chief Executive Officer, Maximiliano Cuevas, M.D.

Clinica has been providing low-cost health services to families in the Salinas and Pajaro Valleys since 1981, when a group of community volunteers and volunteer doctors got together to design a program to bring health services to agricultural workers. In 1989, CSVS became the first ”federally qualified” health center in Monterey County, enabling it to provide health care services to an ever increasing number of farmworkers who could not afford to pay for those services. Every year since 2001, Clinica has earned the highly respected Gold Seal of Approval from the Joint Commission Accreditation Healthcare Organization (JCAHO). Today Clinica provides quality care, integrity, professionalism, mutual respect, innovation, and accountability.

Clinica stands as the major provider of quality primary health care services to farmworkers in the Salinas and Pajaro Valleys. Clinica reports more than 100,000 patient encounters per year, working with approximately 40,000 active patients. Clinica physicians have delivered more than 10,000 newborns since 1986. Clinica’s broad spectrum of services means that farmworker families can receive services from pre-natal care to pediatrics, dental services, general medical services and everything in between, all using a sliding scale fee structure. In addition to the broad health services available, Clinica has a pharmacy available for families. Given that Salinas has one of the highest uninsured populations in the state, Clinica’s services are essential to ensure that our community’s residents receive health care. No one is turned away based on their insurance status.

Doctor Cuevas, the son of a farmworker family from the San Joaquin Valley, has been a visionary CEO. Under his leadership, Clinica has witnessed dramatic growth while maintaining its commitment to providing high quality health care to those least able to afford it. More importantly, Dr. Cuevas has insisted that, throughout Clinica’s expansion and no matter how stressful the work becomes, farmworkers are always treated with respect and dignity. Dr. Cuevas is a gifted physician who chose to use his skill to help farmworkers rather than to engage in a more lucrative practice. He is well known and respected by all social justice leaders and institutions.

Doctor Cuevas often tells audiences that rural health clinics, staffed by Latino physicians who spoke Spanish, were not even a dream when he grew up in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley, alongside his siblings and farmworker parents. What he does not mention, is that is that it took someone like him to develop and nurture a network of modern, state of the art, culturally and linguistically competent rural health clinics for farmworkers who toil in the fields of the Salinas and Pajaro valleys. Well Max, you might not mention it, but, the Center for Community Advocacy certainly does. And to celebrate your good work, we present you and Clinica with the 2011 Ben Heller Award for Leadership and Courage.


Dana Kent, M.D. received a B.A. from Radcliffe College/Harvard University, an R.N. degree from Hartnell College, and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. She completed the residency program in Family Medicine at Natividad, where she was co-chief resident.

Dana’s advocacy for farmworkers began while she was in college, volunteering for the United Farm Workers. There she met Richard Chavez and Fred Ross, Sr., who recruited her and others to join the UFW for what she thought would be the summer. She worked for the UFW for 3 years: on the boycott in New York; at the UFW’s clinic in Delano, CA; and in the legal department in Salinas. She met her future husband, Bill Monning, who was working for the UFW as an attorney, on Gabilan Street in Salinas, CA in 1976.

In the early 1980’s, in response to the increasing number of Salvadorean refugee farmworkers and their needs, Dana co-founded the Salvadoran Medical Relief Fund, helping that population access health care, housing, and trauma services.

Also in the early 1980’s, Dana volunteered as a clinic interpreter at what would become the Monterey County Pesticide Coalition, in response to a mass pesticide poisoning incident.

During that era, Dana helped perform the demographic research that ultimately secured the funding for Clínica Popular, now Clínica de Salud del Valle de Salinas.

After finishing her Family Medicine residency at Natividad, Dana spent her clinical career as a family doctor in Natividad’s clinics in Salinas and Monterey County Health Department’s clinics in Marina and Seaside, providing care to farmworkers and other historically underserved populations. During her residency, Dana worked in Chiapas, Mexico treating farmworkers in indigenous communities during a cholera epidemic.

Recognizing the devastation of chronic disease in her patients and their families, Dana spent the last 10 years of her professional career turning her attention toward disease prevention in the underserved population, working with Natividad Foundation, where she co-created and co-directed the philanthropically-funded “5 Steps to Prevent Diabetes” program, an evidence-based diabetes prevention program located in community sites throughout Monterey County and hosted by community partners. She was privileged to work with CCA on this project, specifically with Norma Ahedo. During this time, Dana was also Medical Director of Natividad’s Diabetes Education Center, where she again was honored to work with Norma Ahedo and Sabino López in the service of the Center’s farmworker patients.

Dr. Kent lives in Monterey County with her husband, Bill Monning. They have 2 adult daughters and 3 grandchildren. She has always felt that collaboration with others and support from our family has been essential to her work.


Luis Alejo was raised in Watsonville, the son of farmworker parents. From that inauspicious beginning, Alejo developed a sense of personal commitment to helping his community. Alejo has given expression to that commitment by authoring landmark legislation as a Member of the California State Assembly; legislation that helps disadvantaged and underrepresented families throughout California.

Assemblymember Alejo boasts a long and impressive list of legislative victories. CCA urges all our friends to visit the Assemblymember’s web site (http://asmdc.org/members/a30/) to review his legislative accomplishments. While mindful of those accomplishments, tonight we celebrate Luis Alejo as a loyal and good member of our community.

Luis stayed in our community by choice. His educational achievements—undergraduate degree from U.C Berkley, law degree from U.C. Davis and masters degree from Harvard University—opened doors that could have led him away from us. But he chose to stay; to stay to do good work on behalf of our good people.

Luis is not just a member of our community. He is a leader in our community. CCA-trained farmworker leaders experienced Alejo’s leadership in a very positive manner several years ago, while Alejo was still the Mayor of Watsonville. The farmworker leaders mobilized more than 100 of their peers to advocate for a dental hygiene program that would benefit their children.

The farmworkers spoke eloquently about the need for the program. Opponents, however, became unruly and started attacking the integrity of the farmworkers. From the dais, Alejo masterfully guided the debate, allowing opponents to state their views but preventing them from hijacking the proceedings. At all times during the debate, Alejo affirmed the integrity of the farmworkers who supported the measure. In the end, the farmworkers won the vote; thanks in large measure to Alejo’s skillful leadership.

Alejo has proven to be as skillful a leader during his tenure in the California State Assembly as he was those many years ago as the Mayor of Watsonville. He has earned many accolades along the way in recognition of his work.

We add to the awards that Luis has earned. But we do so not just to recognize his good work, but also, to honor him for staying true to us; for remaining a good and loyal member of our community even as his talents take him to other heights.


Kurt Gollnick has been a soccer coach for farmworker kids in East Salinas; a prime mover in the effort to bring recreational facilities to kids who live in the Salinas Valley; a supporter of social justice candidates seeking public office; and, a great mentor for the Center for Community Advocacy (CCA). All the while, Kurt has served as the Chief Operating Officer of Scheid Vineyards, the largest wine grape grower in Monterey County. If a Renaissance Man ever walked the fields of the Salinas Valley it has to be Kurt Gollnick.

At CCA’s behest, Kurt has frequently appeared before the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to advocate for ordinances that promote the construction of affordable housing for farmworkers and other low-income working families. When he does so, Kurt lends the gravitas of his leadership position within the business sector to the efforts of social justice advocates. Several years ago, Kurt played a key role in helping to forge an eclectic coalition of agricultural industry leaders, organized labor groups and social justice advocates; a coalition formed to defeat a ballot measure that would have severely restricted economic and housing opportunities for low-income working families.

More recently, Kurt joined the efforts of The California Endowment (TCE) and local social justice advocates to transform East Salinas from a community where people feel isolated and marginalized to a community where residents feel that they can decide what their neighborhoods should look like, and to a community where residents feel that they have access to the resources that they need to make real their vision for East Salinas. In this tenyear TCE funded initiative, named “Building Healthy Communities”, Kurt has focused his energy on efforts to expand the soccer field complex that borders east and north Salinas. He was also instrumental in overseeing the donation of a large area of land owned by Scheid Vineyards in order to increase available playing fields in Greenfield. Providing recreational opportunity for children and adolescents of all backgrounds is a burning calling for Kurt. In fact, he helped found and currently serves on the board of a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing recreational opportunities for youth and others in the Salinas Valley.

Kurt Gollnick also served on the CCA Board of Directors for six years, until term limits ended his tenure. During that time, Kurt helped to lead CCA through a historic expansion and helped CCA secure important capital assets, including our office building. CCA looked to Kurt’s business acumen to make financial decisions that maintained CCA in solid fiscal condition.

The CCA Executive Director is blessed to interact with many mentors who volunteer their talents to help improve the quality of life in our community. I am, personally, incredibly fortunate to have learned from Kurt Gollnick. I have seen Kurt act with courage to bring together sectors of the community that otherwise have little contact with each other. It takes courage to initiate power relationships between people who, on the surface, appear to be inexorably in competition with each other. It takes leadership to help those people realize that they share certain values and that they can work together to implement those values.

Kurt has acted courageously to exert his leadership in a manner that helps farmworkers and other low-income working families. For that reason, CCA bestows the 2012 Ben Heller Award for Leadership and Courage on Kurt Gollnick.


According to a 2013 Monterey Health Department report, “Monterey County is designated as a primary care shortage area by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. Most of the county is medically underserved, which includes dental and mental health services.” For that reason, The Center for Community Advocacy (CCA) works hard to improve farmworker access to health care. In this year’s Ben Heller Award recipient, CCA has found a formidable ally.

Pete Delgado and the Salinas Valley Memorial Health Care System (SVMHCS) have opened a medical clinic in Gonzales, a city heavily populated by farmworkers and other low-income working families. The clinic provides improved access to health care to a community that desperately needs it. For this effort, CCA bestows its 2016 Ben Heller Award on Mr. Delgado. The Award is fitting because it is named in honor of Ben Heller, a physician who dedicated his life to caring for farmworkers, both as a doctor and as founding Board Member
of CCA.

Pete Delgado is president/CEO of Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, where he is responsible for directing the leadership and operations of an integrated network of health care programs, services and facilities. The Healthcare System encompasses an acute care public district hospital licensed for 269 beds, ten urgent care clinics, and a group of primary care and specialty physician practices with 70 practitioners. Salinas Valley Memorial employs more than 1,650 people and its medical staff includes 297 board-certified physicians.

Mr. Delgado was a founding member of the National Forum for Latino Healthcare Executives. This national organization strives to increase the representation of Latinos at the executive level of hospitals across the country. The Hispanic Business magazine recognized Delgado as one of the Top 100 Influential People of 2009. During his tenure at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, Mr. Delgado has expanded access to care, greatly increasing the services available to all members of the community, regardless of their ability to pay.

Mr. Delgado has led the effort to introduce SVMHCS’s power and prestige to a farmworker community in the Salinas Valley. CCA sees this as the beginning of a continuing effort to make health care more accessible to farmworkers. CCA is proud to present its 2016 Ben Heller Award to Pete Delgado.


The Big Sur Land Trust sees a future where natural landscapes, working lands, urban open spaces and healthy communities are cared for by people who share a love of nature and a deep appreciation for the richness of their diverse cultures.

The Land Trust’s values promote healthy lands by conserving and caring for the magnificent natural landscapes, habitats and waterways of our region to ensure a sustainable future; healthy people, by providing opportunities to experience the healthful benefits associated with access to parks and open spaces, fresh food, clean air and water, and a deep connection to nature; and healthy communities, by engaging in partnerships where conservation and civic participation increase community vitality, economic prosperity and social equity.

The Big Sur Land Trust inspires love of land across generations, conservation of our unique Monterey County landscapes, and access to outdoor experiences for all.

Since 1978, the Land Trust’s generous donors have conserved 40,000 acres of treasured landscapes all around Monterey County that have been protected and cared for. While its work remains strongly tied to its founders’ original focus on land conservation, over the last several years the Land Tust has been expanding its efforts to include the well-being of people and stewardship of the land.

For this effort, the Center for Community Advocacy (CCA) has selected The Big Sur Land Trust to receive the 2018 Ben Heller Award for Leadership and Courage. CCA bestows the award annually to a member or members of the community who have shown courage, leadership and a strong commitment to the farmworker community and to the goal of improving housing and health conditions in the Salinas and Pajaro Valleys. CCA is proud to present its 2016 Ben Heller Award to the Big Sur Land Trust.



Veronica Leon has been a CCA community leader since 2015. She was introduced to CCA by her daughter Mariluz Tejeda, who volunteered with CCA in the same year. After learning about the organization, Veronica attended a CCA training to help increase the number of farm workers receiving health care coverage in Monterey County, and began to actively participate in events, trainings, development, and civic participation. Veronica said the following:

“Before knowing about CCA I was a shy person, I didn’t like to have conver-sations with people I didn’t know.”

Now Veronica finds fulfillment in talking to residents, elected officials, foundations, and other stakeholders. Her organizing skills, eagerness to make an impact and passion for community improvements have been noticed through her participation during the acquisition of the Sanborn Ranch House (a future community center in East Salinas). She is a graduate of the Salinas Valley Resident Leadership Academy, and steering committee member of the Alisal Vibrancy Plan. Furthermore, she participated in “My Vote Makes A Difference” campaign, The Carr Lake development and others. In fall of 2015, she enrolled in English classes at Hartnell College, which later developed into pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Education and will be graduating in the spring of 2020. In 2018, she became a U.S. citizen because she was empowered to make her vote count. In her spare time she enjoys walking in the park and spending time with her husband, daughter and son.

Stacey Palmerin became a part of CCA’s Youth for Change (YFC) cohort in the spring of 2016, when she was invited to participate by another YFC youth participant leader. During her participation, she was actively engaged in the development and implementation of the YFC higher education curriculum with the purpose to educate youth and parents about the paths to college, technical and vocational opportunities.

At the beginning she was very timid and shy, but, over the course of her program participation, Stacey developed her skills and capacity as a young leader. She transformed her shyness into expression and communication. She was this year’s keynote speaker at the YFC graduation. Later, while facilitating the YFC Curriculum sessions, she found a passion for teaching and wants to pursue a career in education. Currently, she studies liberal arts at the California State University at Monterey Bay, hoping to support and empower youth development in the future as an elementary school teacher, the same way CCA empowered her to become involved in her community. In her spare time she enjoys spending time with her family and playing tennis.

Herlinda Romero, a Gonzales resident, began working with CCA in 2009. She was invited to join the Promotora program and began participating in health presentations and training. Before learning about CCA, Herlinda was not very prone to getting involved with community issues, and was going through difficult times battling depression and loneliness. Thanks to her participation in the Promotora training, she gained confidence and felt happier. She developed her ability to perform presentations on health topics with doctors and a diverse group of people. Currently, she works with the elder population and mothers. She states the following:

“It is never late to learn. I like to inform and connect people with the services available in our community. CCA has been my school and god willing, I will continue working here!”

Linda, as she is referred to by staff, is one of our most active and consistent leaders, and an example of perseverance and will power. She is always present in the trainings and is always willing to share what she has learned. Furthermore, she has supported housing campaigns and marches against family evictions. Also participating in health and civic engagement campaigns such as “Health for All” and “My Vote Makes A Difference.” She is always advocating for services needed in our community.


There are many forms of leadership; all of them authentic and effective. Tonight we celebrate a special form of leadership; one that uses persuasion, perseverance and negotiation to win the support of an erstwhile adversary. Tonight, we honor the CCA-trained, “Farmworker Advisory Committee.”

The Committee is the only one of its kind in California, having been formed two years ago as an adjunct to the Office of the Agricultural Commissioner of Monterey County (Ag Commissioner). All 59 counties in California have an Ag Commissioner. The Monterey County Ag Commissioner is the only one that has a farmworker advisory committee.

This year, the Farmworker Advisory Committee partnered with the Ag Commissioner and five of the area’s largest agricultural companies to launch a pilot project that improves the warnings that must be posted when growers apply pesticides to their fields. The improvement allows farmworkers, themselves, to determine when it is safe to reenter the fields after an application. Previously, farmworkers had to rely on the word of their supervisors whenever they were asked to enter a field that was still “posted.” On such occurrences, supervisors would tell the farmworkers that their employer had forgotten to remove the signage and that it was safe to reenter. Farmworkers were left to ponder whether or not it was really safe to reenter. Now, farmworkers will be able to tell for themselves.

Previously, regulations required growers to post warning signs whenever their fields are sprayed with pesticides. The signs, however, had no information showing the date on which farmworkers may reenter the fields. Under the pilot project, participating growers will include the date when reentry is safe.

The Farmworker Advisory Committee worked for many months to devise a scheme that made it manageable for both the Ag Commissioner’s enforcement staff and for the participating growers. The Committee first conducted conversations with the Ag Commissioner and his staff to gain their support. The Ag Commissioner then facilitated conversations with the five participating growers. Ultimately, the three sectors (farmworkers, growers and regulators) reached consensus to secure the protections that farmworkers need with a scheme that made it manageable for the growers and the Ag Commissioner.

As part of the scheme, up to 60,000 farmworkers in Monterey County will receive bilingual (English/Spanish) information cards – similar to business cards – advising them to call the Agricultural Commissioner’s office if they suspect violations of pesticide safety rules. The cards also advise employers that it is illegal to retaliate against farmworkers who seek the help of the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.

It took leadership to implement the provisions described above. It took uncommon leadership to do so in a way that garnered the support of the Agricultural Commissioner and the region’s largest agricultural companies. For this leadership, the Center for Community Advocacy bestows the Sam Karas Farmworker Leadership Award on the Farmworker Advisory Committee.


A true leader inspires others into action. The leader’s courage becomes the courage of his/her followers. The noble action of a leader morphs into the noble action of many. True leaders convey great stories— great tales in John Steinbeck’s world—that make people feel great; great enough to take noble action.

The two leaders whom we honored, Antonio Briseno and Ulises Foronda, have inspired many others into noble action. Antonio has motivated countless parents to become leaders for their families; leaders whose companionship children seek, thus minimizing the lure of youth street violence. Ulises has motivated neighbors to lead campaigns that secure resources to make their neighborhoods safe and family friendly.

Antonio is a CCA-trained neighborhood leader who helps CCA implement our “Strong Families” program, a youth violence prevention initiative. The Strong Families program teaches strategies that help parents keep their children anchored to their families. The program teaches family communications skills and positive discipline techniques.

Thanks to Antonio’s efforts, he and other CCA-trained leaders now teach the Strong Families curriculum at most of the Catholic parishes in the Salinas and Pajaro Valleys. This has dramatically increased the number of families that benefit from the program. The expansion will result in a reduction of the number of youth who are attracted to delinquent behavior. It was Antonio who convinced the Catholic Diocese of Monterey to incorporate Strong Families into the activities at the various Catholic parishes. CCA had tried to accomplish this for years. It took Antonio’s leadership—his compelling story about the impacts of the Strong Families program—to move the Diocese to its decision. For this, CCA gratefully bestows the Sam Karas Farmworker Leadership Award upon Antonio Briseno.

Ulises Forondais is a CCA-trained leader who is the President of Salinas Poder Popular, a CCA program that brings together neighborhood leaders and public officials in a special venue called a “Concilio.” At Concilio meetings, the neighborhood leaders and public officials discuss measures that can be taken to make East Salinas neighborhoods safe and family-friendly. Working through the Concilio, Ulises helped to lead a campaign that mobilized residents at several East Salinas neighborhoods to secure resources—both public and private—to revitalize a community park that had fallen into complete disrepair. The park had become a harbor for criminal activity including drug dealing and prostitution.

Ulises first presented a vison to his neighbors. He described the possibility of a park with recreational equipment and picnic areas where families could take their children. The vision—or tale, as John Steinbeck would call it—was great and, as Steinbeck would say, the listeners became great. Ulises’ presentation inspired his neighbors to take action. They mounted demonstrations in the area surrounding the park to attract attention and supporters to the cause.

They met with public officials, including police commanders and city council members. They took the matter to the Poder Popular Concilio where neighborhood leaders and public officials together devised a plan to secure resources to transform the community park. In the end, they succeeded, thanks to Ulises’ leadership. Ulises’ vision became the vision of his peers. His call to action became a commitment to action for his neighbors. Ulises became the most valuable of neighborhood assets—a leader with followers. For this, CCA proudly bestows the Sam Karas Farmworker Leadership Award on Ulises Foronda.


Many of us have, at one time or another, confronted situations where persons use authority to impose their will irrespective of harmful consequences. Sometimes we accept the results, perhaps vowing to prevent the same injustice from occurring in the future. Other times, we take a stand, there and then, knowing that authority wields power but hoping that justice creates change.

The CCA-trained Village Park Residents Committee chose the latter path.

In early 2012, state authorities ordered a landlord to close a mobile home park–Village Park–in the unincorporated, mostly farmworker community of Pajaro in Monterey County. The authorities alleged that certain defects rendered the mobile home park unsafe. The closure would make homeless twenty four farmworker families who owned mobile homes at the park and who had no other place to relocate the mobile homes. The families contacted CCA to ask for guidance.

With CCA’s assistance, the families formed a residents committee and elected leaders from amongst their ranks to represent the families before the state officials. The officials, however, refused to negotiate with the families, stating that, pursuant to their protocols, they would deal only with the owner of the mobile home park. A state official, we were told, would make one last trip to the mobile home park to consult with the owner but she would not speak with the families and she would not lift the closure order.

The families decided to gather at the mobile home park to greet the state official and seek an audience with her. When she arrived, the state official told the families that she would not meet with them or with CCA, their representative. Undaunted the families followed the official as she made her rounds, all the time explaining their situation and offering to negotiate a solution. Ultimately, the official agreed to negotiate.

By the end of the day, the families and the official negotiated an agreement that addressed both the needs of the families and the responsibility of state officials. The families selected a subcommittee of residents to oversee implementation of the agreement and to meet with the state official a few weeks hence to conduct a further inspection. After the further inspection, the state official gave the mobile home park approval to continue operating. Power and Justice had worked together to preserve the families’ home sites.

For taking a stand, knowing that authority and power was arrayed against them, and creating a space where justice could bring about change, CCA proudly bestows the 2012 Sam Karas Farmworker Leadership Award on the Village Park Comité.


Each year, CCA bestows a farmworker leadership award to CCA-trained neighborhood leaders who exhibit extraordinary courage while taking action to improve farmworker health and housing conditions. Since 2003 the tribute has been known as the Sam Karas Farmworker Leadership Award, in honor of founding CCA Board member and long-time CCA friend, Sam Karas. Sam died in 2003 after a life time of community service dedicated to helping farmworkers and other low-income working families.

This year’s recipient is Rancho San Vicente, a housing committee located in Soledad California. The 84 housing subdivision includes more than 40 self-help homes. The self-help program provides the opportunity for participants to build their homes. The families of Rancho San Vicente were successful in purchasing their new home, however, the purchase came with restrictions. Due to these restrictions families began to organize seeking ways to improve or modify restriction. In the organized efforts families researched, met with elected official, city staff, stakeholder and other neighbors to expose their case. In 2011 families where referred to CCA for additional support.

The families struggle and hard work came with positive results. Over the year’s CCA and stakeholder helped improve the effects and limitations of the restriction. Rancho San Vicente families currently feel a sense of ownership, a better environment, and have achieved the American dream. What a victory for these families, in the face of fear, uncertainty, feeling these restrictions were unfair, these families persevered throughout all challenges to obtain the change in their community. Rogelio Tinajero, resident of Rancho San Vicente and committee leader expressed “I now feel my home is an asset that will benefit my family’s future”.

While Sam Karas was on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, a reporter asked Sam why he would work so tirelessly for farmworkers if he was elected to represent the Monterey Peninsula. Sam immediately responded, “Farmworkers are important people, too.” Yes, Sam farmworkers are important people and the recipients of this year’s Sam Karas Farmworker Leadership Award prove you right.


The Migrant Education School Readiness Program is for children ages 3-5 and their families. The preschool services consist of the three following components:

The first component is a home base service, which consists of visiting the family in their home. It is so wonderful to have the migrant families open their door to allow us to visit their humble homes. These homes can be far out in a rural area outside of Watsonville, or anywhere within the city limits. The home could be set up in a garage, a cart-port, a room in someone else’s home, an apartment, or a trailer. Many of the families are hesitant to say yes, since this is something new and it means maybe having trouble with the homeowner by allowing an agency visit their property unannounced or by receiving prior notification. We do our best to assure them that we will not cause troubles for them in this aspect. We agree to see them wherever they feel comfortable. Sometimes we have to sit outside the property. On occasion, we do need to present ourselves with the owner and explain our visits. This is a huge barrier for us to cross but we are successful most of the time. It is of great importance to us to assure that these most needed families receive the services. Even if it means sometimes getting, poison oak, or running from dogs. We always end with a laugh and make the experiences the most positive.

Once we are okay to visit, we schedule the day and time, which is a very flexible schedule for us. It could be any time of the day, afternoon, evening. As the visits progress, we build a trusting bond with much trust, where the family receives all of the community service information they may need individually such as health care, food, clothing, schools etc. They may ask us to help fill out forms for them since they may not know how to read or write, and finally we are able to introduce the preschool program to them. Once the 6 visits are completed, we offer them the opportunity to enroll in a center, but if they cannot attend, we will continue to visit during the year.

The second component is a center base bilingual preschool service, which is scheduled 4 days per week for 3 hours long in seven locations throughout Watsonville. During the learning time in the centers, one or both parents attend an English class while their child learns in our pre k classroom. Once a week, the parents meet as a group with the preschool teacher and they receive special trainings offered by the community. Such as the Second Harvest Food Bank to acquire healthy eating habits and free food. We collaborate with the Center for Community Advocacy to offer the families all of the services offered by the center such as renter’s rights, health awareness and other agencies in the vicinity.

The third component is a swimming class. Each Friday the families are welcomed to come and learn swimming skills as a family.


The Sam Karas Award for Farmworker Leadership usually honors a group of farmworkers who form a neighborhood committee that advocates for improved housing and health conditions. This year, the award goes to the man who has helped to forge all of those committees. Sabino Lopez, CCA’s Deputy Director and Lead Farmworker Trainer, created the model that CCA uses to help farmworkers organize neighborhood committees. He is also the person who has successfully implemented the model, both by hands-on direct involvement with neighborhood leaders and also by teaching CCA’s other Farmworker Trainers to implement his model. Sabino has been doing this, and helping to guide CCA’s organizational development, since 1990, when CCA first opened its doors.

It’s high time that CCA honors Sabino’s work. It’s also a good time to do so because Sabino is retiring. Sabino was one of a small group of persons who fashioned the blueprint for CCA. He wanted an organization that gave farmworkers the tools they need to, themselves, create positive change. Other organizations were providing wonderful services to farmworkers; services that farmworkers sorely needed. But, the organizations, by and large, treated farmworkers as an audience—as a recipient—rather than as activists who could, themselves, deliver the changes that their community needed. Sabino set out to change that.

He created a model that fosters new farmworker leaders who engage their peers in conversations about positive change, leaders who form alliances with persons and institutions that can help realize change and leaders who guide collective action to address the needs of the farmworker community. The model is impressive enough. But, Sabino’s commitment to it is even more impressive. After helping design the blueprint for CCA, and before CCA had nothing more than a dream for attracting funding, Sabino was recruited to join the “Janitor’s for Justice” movement in San Diego. In San Diego, Sabino helped office building janitors gain higher wages, better benefits and improved work conditions. Sabino became a star in the Justice for Janitors and he was well on his way to a comfortable career. He bought a condominium and settled his family in for a stable life in San Diego. But before he had left Salinas, Sabino gave his word to Lydia Villarreal, CCA’s founder: he would return to work for CCA if CCA ever got funded.

Just as Sabino was settling in to a successful career and a stable family life in San Diego, CCA received its first grant. Lydia called Sabino. Sabino told Lydia that he would return because he had given his word that he would. Sabino left a promising career and comfortable life in San Diego to return to Salinas to help a fledging non-profit with only one start-up grant. He did so because he is a man of his word. Because Sabino has remained a man of his word, because his word has generated improved living conditions for thousands of farmworkers and because his word has made CCA into a premier social justice organization, CCA proudly bestows the 2015 Sam Karas Award for Farmworker Leadership on Sabino Lopez.


Perception is more powerful than reality. How often have we heard that saying? And how often have we felt powerless to force perception to conform to reality?

The farmworker leaders whom we honor tonight have, for years, tolerated a perception that unjustly obfuscates the reality in which they live. With CCA’s help, these leaders have launched a campaign to correct that perception. They are convinced that they and their neighbors, with help from the goodhearted people of Salinas, can make reality become more powerful than perception.

The Acosta Plaza neighborhood lies deep within the heart of East Salinas. Situated off Sanborn Road, a main transit artery in East Salinas, between two heavily populated and transited streets, Laurel Drive to the south and Garner Street to the north, Acosta Plaza hosts more than 300 condominiums, some of them owner occupied but many of them rentals. It is home to at least 2,000 persons.

Acosta Plaza residents work hard, attend church, do well in school, participate in sports and other recreational activities and treat each other respectfully. Acosta Plaza residents sponsor and volunteer to stage neighborhood events that celebrate children, promote healthy lifestyles and spruce up their neighborhood. Our area’s newspapers, television newscasts and radio stations, however, seldom mention these attributes and activities.

Instead, the media rushes to Acosta Plaza only to report violence in the neighborhood. Somber looking reporters, their faces flushed by makeup and highlighted by portable television lights mounted on vans with towering satellite antennas, narrate the story of yet another shooting in East Salinas, broadcasting images of heavily armed police officers presiding over a frightened neighborhood and a frightened people. Chagrined-looking anchors, back at the studio, claim lament at having to fuel the violent perception of East Salinas, as if they have no choice; as if nothing else worthy of their newscasts happens at Acosta Plaza.

The farmworker leaders whose work we celebrate tonight formed, with CCA’s assistance and financial support from The California Endowment, the Acosta Plaza Neighborhood Committee. The Committee aims to not only change the perception that others have formed about Acosta Plaza, but also, to transform their neighborhood from one where residents feel isolated and voiceless to a neighborhood where residents have access to resources that help them improve their sector’s quality of life. To accomplish this, the Committee sponsors neighborhood events that create community (Dia del Nino, Festival de Cultura, health fairs, clean-up days). At these events, the Committee recruits other neighbors to their efforts and, with CCA’s assistance, helps to develop the recruits’ leadership capacity. The Committee also meets with public officials and philanthropic leaders to research assets that the Committee can secure to help its cause. Finally, the Committee mobilizes their neighbors into civic action that generates allies and wins resources to enhance their neighborhood.

The Acosta Plaza Committee provides extraordinary leadership to a neighborhood that desperately needs it. The Committee’s efforts will transform not only the neighborhood but also, how others perceive it. For this, CCA bestows the Sam Karas Farmworker Leadership Award to the Acosta Plaza Neighborhood committee.


CCA’s mission is to help farmworkers and other low-income working families create and lead neighborhood committees (comités) that advocate, on their own, for improved housing and health conditions. Working with neighborhood leaders and comités, CCA helps people transform their individual and neighborhood status from one characterized by deficit and failure to one defined by assets and success. In doing this work, CCA has learned one very important lesson: transformation occurs only when neighborhood people, themselves, lead the charge. Neither individuals nor neighborhoods can be transformed from the outside. The transformation has to occur from within.

We honor a neighborhood comité, the Acosta Plaza Comité, which is energetically engaged in the business of transforming, not just a neighborhood, but, an entire community.

Acosta Plaza is a low-income community in East Salinas that exhibits many of the socio-economic stresses that characterize low-income communities. The residential development is huge, containing 304 units. The community has low educational levels, low income levels and disproportionate crime rates. Over the years, the community has been portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as one riddled with gang violence and physical deterioration.

Although Acosta Plaza has its share of challenges, Acosta Plaza also has wonderful residents and appealing physical attributes. The Acosta Plaza Comité, with help from CCA, is working to change their community from one where shortcomings and deterioration color people’s perception of Acosta Plaza to one where good people and safe neighborhoods are the face that all Salinas sees.

To achieve their goal, the Comité is striving to transform Acosta Plaza from a community where residents feel vulnerable and manipulated to a community where residents feel empowered to (1) decide how their community should progress and (2) access the resources that are necessary to build the community that they want.

Initially, the Acosta Plaza Comité has organized three “clean-up days” at the residential development. The first will allow residents to dispose of materials that they no longer need instead of storing them on their premises. The second will allow residents to dispose of materials that presently clutter the public areas of the community. The third will restore recreational areas that have become unusable through neglect.

Thereafter, the Comité will focus its efforts on securing a vacant plot of land within Acosta Plaza and dedicating its use to community-based activities. The Comité will help CHISPA, a local affordable housing developer, secure title to the vacant land. The Comité will then poll Acosta Plaza residents so that the residents decide what specific use to make of the land. The Comité will also advocate to convince the City of Salinas to re-zone the land from its present intended use (high density multi-family units) to a use that allows community-based activities (e.g., community center; child care center, etc.).

The Acosta Plaza Project made possible by a grant from The California Endowment to four collaborating partners: CCA, COPA, CHISPA, and Second Chance. The grant is part of The California Endowment’s 10-year, multi-million dollar effort to transform all of East Salinas into a vibrant, healthy community. The effort also includes grants to Hartnell College, the Salinas City Libraries and the Salinas Regional Sports Authority, among others. The Acosta Plaza Comité and CCA gratefully acknowledge The California Endowment’s commitment to improve the quality of life for all Salinas residents.