WATSONVILLE — Volunteers who devote their time to the benefit of the community were honored Thursday evening during the 16th annual Cesar E. Chavez Community Awards ceremony.
Put on by the Watsonville Parks and Community Services Department, about 100 people filled the Community Room in the Civic Plaza to congratulate the awardees.
Honored Thursday were Ann Lopez, Adriana Rocha and her family, Denise Gomez, Carlos Olivarez, Marianne Keehn and Tony Roman.
Every year, the Parks and Community Services Department asks the public to nominate people who demonstrate community involvement, volunteerism and non-violence/conflict resolution.
The keynote speaker for Thursday’s event was Erandi Garcia, founder of Juntos Podemos, a campaign dedicated to violence prevention.
“Being a volunteer is not easy, but it is very rewarding,” she said. “The best recognition you can get is knowing you are working hard and making a difference.”
• Ann Lopez is the founder and director of the Center for Farmworker Families, which provides services for hundreds of immigrants. The center helps farmworkers from across the Central Coast by purchasing clothes, providing food, tutoring for students and more.
• Denise Gomez has been a volunteer advocate at CASA of Santa Cruz County for nearly 10 years, working with seven children in foster care. Among other duties, advocates meet with their designated child two-to-four hours a week until they are established in a safe home. It is estimated that Gomez has volunteered more than 1,500 hours to the children over the years.
• For the past three years, Adriana Rocha and her children have provided gift bags to homeless people in Watsonville. The initiative has grown every year, and in December, the family distributed 200 bags to homeless people in sloughs, under bridges and along the Pajaro River.
• Carlos Olivarez is active with the CONTIGO Program, a gang prevention and intervention program in Watsonville. He currently holds a leadership role in the program's Parent Leadership Committee, and is also a volunteer with the Watsonville Police Department's Neighborhood Accountability Board.
• Marianne Keehn, office administrator for United Presbyterian Church, is an advocate for homeless people in Watsonville. She joined the Pajaro Valley Homelessness Task Force Steering Committee in 2016, and proposed to the UPC governing board that the church should open its doors to the Warming Center Program. She has served as a volunteer at the warming center since.
• For the past 10 years, Tony Roman has been a cross country and track coach for youth, including at Pajaro Middle and Watsonville High schools. He also works in the Parks and Community Services Department's facility rental program and special events division.