California Heroes 2018

Dear Friends,

A constituent brought me an idea of honoring local heroes for their selfless acts. This idea later became Senate Concurrent Resolution 97 in 2014 and named every September as “California Heroes Month.” California now celebrates the unsung heroes in our communities every September. These heroes are those who actively take selfless actions to help their neighbor in need and inspire others to become involved as well.

On October 13, 2018, the “California Heroes Month” ceremony was the last one I got to host as your State Senator to honor them. The ceremony was held at Foothills Christian Church, and more than 150 individuals attended including the honorees, their friends, and families.

You will find more than forty stories of unsung heroes that attended the 2018 California Heroes Month Ceremony. I encourage you to take a moment to learn about their incredible journeys.

Who has gone above and beyond, even with little acts, to make our neighborhoods better? If you would like to nominate someone to receive a Senate certificate of recognition from my office, contact Jennifer Webber at or 619-596-3136 before November 1, 2018 so we can make sure to recognize him or her.

Ann Patounas

Ann PatounasAnn has been a longtime volunteer with the San Diego Humane Society. She also works with Vietnam Veterans to help supply them with essential needs. Ann is dedicated to selflessly serving those most in need in our community.

Anthony “Tony” Zambelli

Anthony “Tony” ZambelliAs a 20-year Kiwanian in San Diego County, Tony oversaw food service for about 75 wounded warriors and their surfing instructors on the beach at Camp Pendleton. How fitting is it that he also sponsored an essay contest for 3rd to 5th graders at Anza Elementary School in El Cajon on the subject of "My Hero?" He provided food service for three additional community service projects benefiting around 150 children and adults. Tony has served for many years as a congressional area representative for a national educational initiative, which promotes contests for high school students and judges them on their knowledge of the Constitution.

Bradley Zink

Bradley ZinkBradley has written 42 children books in 4 years. He has donated 100 percent of the profits, which totaled to be $90,000 back to San Diego County Schools. He has raised over $500,000 for local charities. Bradly brings joy and imagination to our youth through books and imperative financial help to schools and organizations in need.

Brian Kildea

Brian KildeaBrian is known for his dedication to expanding the knowledge of his peers and for selflessly serving our community. He volunteers a great deal of time to teaching programming. Every Wednesday evening and Saturday giving lessons on the basics of the language C++.

Brian Richardson

Brian RichardsonAfter serving the United States Marine Corps with distinction for over 20 years, Richardson now serves as the Fallbrook High School Marine Corps JROTC Military Instructor. With his and another 2018 California Hero, William Wade’s leadership, the program has made a profound difference for the school as a whole and the children in the program as individuals. Within the first 2 years of the operations at FHS, the program has reached a capacity of 160 cadets and received national recognition for both physical fitness and academic achievements.

Dr. Carmen Garcia

Dr. Carmen GarciaCarmen is an educator who continually strives to make each student, teacher, and family acknowledge and appreciate the value of education in our community. She achieves this with strength, understanding, and passion. Education often struggles with budgets, policies, and politics, but Carmen remains true to pushing and providing what students need - an education that will make them great citizens and contribute to our society.

Catherine Sousa

Catherine SousaAs the President of the Board of Directors of the Fallbrook Food Pantry from 2010 – 2011, Catherine displayed incredible leadership to make Fallbrook a better community. She was a key participant in the establishment of the monthly neighborhood distribution of fresh produce sponsored by the San Diego Food Bank.

Chad Jochens

Chad JochensChad helped the community of Santee by teaching financial classes to his church and community to provide adults and young adults lessons on how to budget for a successful financial future, and those people that attended his classes have been grateful for the priceless lessons.

Charles and Linda Van Kessler

Charles and Linda Van KesslerLinda and Charles Van Kessler are the founders of Passion 4 K.I.D.S. (Kids In Desperate Situations) They work incessantly to support kids in desperate situations. They fundraised to build a wheelchair accessible home for Baby Izaiah Wallis who was left paralyzed and brain damaged by a teen drunk driver. They have also been great leaders within our community and mentors to pursue others charity goals.

Charlie Plavi

Charlie PlaviAfter retiring several years ago, Charlie decided to give back to the Community. He has helped the Santee Santas Foundation, the Santee Lakes Foundation, Santee-Lakeside Rotary Club, the City of Santee and several other non-profits. At their events, Charlie can be counted on whenever and wherever you need help, and he is a Super Santee Volunteer. Without his help, events such as the Concert at the Lakes and the Bluegrass Festival would not have been as successful as they have been.

Chloe Alison Reinhold

Chloe Alison ReinholdChloe is a 12-year-old warrior who has battled Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) since she was 9-years old. In her three-year battle, she has been in pain on crutches and unable to walk for 23 of those months. She has shared her story with people when they ask why she is on crutches and why she cannot walk by telling them all about CRPS. Chloe strives to raise Awareness for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome to prevent bullying, promote understanding, and hopefully one day find a cure.

Dr. Daniel Gambino

Dr. Daniel GambinoDaniel is the president of California Chiropractic Association, and he is committed to excellence as a doctor and as a teacher. He is skilled and a compassionate practitioner, as well as, a motivated and visionary teacher. Daniel has lectured around the country on natural strategies to healing and healthy lifestyles. He has taken a special interest in students in the health care fields and currently runs an extensive network of Pre-Chiropractic Clubs in the San Diego area.

David Haessig

David HaessigDavid and his company, Evolution Controls, Inc. have been there for Team Spyder, the robotics team that represents the Poway High Engineering Academy, to help students to gain STEM training and provide robotics support for the team. Year after year, he serves our students through their generous support making it possible for FIRST Robotics Team 1622 to attend three regionals and the Championship. Team Spyder was able to attend competitions throughout the country and outside the United States. They won six trophies, this is not only impressive but also is more than any team in San Diego has ever accomplished.

Dillon Wright

Dillon WrightDillon is a Firefighter Paramedic for the Rincon Fire Department. He has been assigned to numerous wildfires as a Fire line Paramedic and in many cases, has performed lifesaving emergencies in the field while assigned to these massive fires. In addition, he continues to serve the community and his fire department with the great pride and integrity. Dillion has been a Firefighter Paramedic for the Rincon Fire Department for 20 months.

Dr. Donald W. Welch, Ph.D., LMFT

Dr. Donald W. Welch, Ph.D., LMFTDonald is the founder and executive director of Center for Enriching Relationships, Inc. (CER), a non-profit professional counseling service, whose main mission is to provide counseling for the underserved in San Diego County.  CER has offices throughout SD County and many of these offices are in churches where therapists provide counseling to the congregants and the surrounding community.

Duane Dubbs

Duane DubbsDuane graduated from the Sheriff’s Academy in 1993. He attended the Route 91 concert in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 1, 2017.   It was there that he and his three friends, who are also Sheriffs acted bravely beyond what would be expected of anyone, in the effort to save the lives of wounded people. Duane and his friends were awarded the Medal of Life Saving from the Sheriff’s Association in the early part of 2018. Unfortunately, Duane was not there to receive it, as he passed away on January 15, 2018. His daughters received the award on his behalf.

Dr. James Valtmeyer

Dr. James ValtmeyerJames is an exceptional doctor and Chief Chair for the Department for Family Medicine at Grossmont Hospital. He applies the same diligence and interest across his patient load and often takes on additional cases where he can help the patients in a better way. Dr. Veltmeyer is far above “the norm” and deserves to be recognized as a hero for his untiring efforts and the vast difference he has made in so many peoples’ lives and their health.

Dustin S. Nelson

Dustin S. NelsonDustin works with at- risk youth and does so in a caring way. One of the projects that is dear to Dustin’s heart is RESPECT Project with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department that he is in charge of operating. This is a character-building and mentoring program designed for teenage youth. Currently serving the North County region, RESPECT Project offers decision-making skills, encouragement, and comprehensive resources to students and their families.

Dustin Trotter

Dustin TrotterFor years, Dustin has been involved with the Santee Santas Foundation. Dustin is a part of the Santee Mobile Home Owners Action Committee. Dustin is being recognized for his unwavering dedication to serving his community and for his commitment to civic engagement.

Erik Jockinsen

Erik JockinsenEric is the president of the Valley Center Building committee, which takes care of our 96-year-old community hall. Erik is also part of the Valley Center Optimist Club and the Valley Center Pageant Association. The Valley Center Optimist club helps support youth in our community and the Valley Center Pageant Association helps send young ladies to college.  You can always find him helping out a fundraiser throughout our town.

Gelia Cook

Gelia CookGelia has served on the Lakeside School district board for over 20 years. Along with serving on our local PTA and Councils, she is also on the Board for raising money for Children's Hospital. She is a hero to the Children and parents of Lakeside for her dedication in volunteering and caring.

Jay Renard

Jay RenardAs a photojournalist, Jay has spent the last 8-year capturing the essence of San Diego East County. He has attended local council meetings, city events, chamber events, and the 9/11 memorial events. The East County Herald has published these photo essays weekly. He is a hero for passionately capturing and preserving the story of our community.

Joan McVeigh

Joan McVeighFor the past 12 years, Joan has provided care for others through Sonrise Church outreach, Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center, and Friends of the Fallbrook Community Center. Her services to the community include visiting shut-ins, raising charitable funds and helping those in need on a one-on-one basis. As a former social worker, Mrs. McVeigh uses her talents and caring heart to make difference for the greater good of our community.

John Hossick

John HossickJohn is a Navy Veteran of 15 years and was Sailor of the Month and Year.  During this time, John began his volunteering with Toys for Tots, college groups, and tutoring students.

He has been a Home Owners Association President and has played a huge role in his city of Santee.  He was instrumental in the Santee Mobilehome Owners Action Committee Health and Information Fair for Santee, Easter Baskets for Edge moor, Lantern Crest, and Stanford Court along with his own city’s seniors of 350 baskets. 

Lisa Masten

Lisa MastenIn addition to being a special education teacher and advocate for children, Masten has committed her time to the new Marine Corps JROTC program at Fallbrook High School. Her contributions were essential in the successful MCJROTC Marine Corps Ball.

Lisa Ve Nguyen

Lisa Ve NguyenLisa is a bright young leader who is dedicated to serving her community and wants to make a difference through her actions. She is a member of the LEO Club, KEY Club, and InterACT, all clubs aimed at community service. She was also selected a San Marcos Youth Ambassador and is currently serving her term innovating new ideas and projects for her community. At school, Lisa is a co-supervisor of an environment sustainability project and is on the school's Academic League and the president of Mock Trial.

Madalyn Nguyen

Madalyn NguyenMadalyn has done over 200 hours of volunteer service. She introduced the Society of Women Engineers and National Center of Women & Information Technology to Poway High School as a founding member to promote Women in STEM. Madalyn received the Ada Lovelace Scholarship for computer programming at University of California San Diego and outstandingly received the President’s volunteer award for service in 2017.

Marcel Becker

Marcel BeckerMarcel has provided ongoing support to the Second Chance Program for ex-offender reentry and job training. He is a motivational speaker. He shares his personal story of redemption and triumph that provides inspiration and hope to individuals during their most challenging times, rebuilding their lives after battles with addiction and periods of incarceration.

Mark Allan

Mark AllanMark is involved in strengthening the Mt. Helix Park Foundation and helps the institution that has made the park safe, clean, and available to thousands of people who continue to enjoy its beauty. He has served as a committed member of the foundation and held leadership positions. He is an exemplary volunteer, pouring his time and generous spirit into projects and initiatives that shore up our community.

Rodger Dohm

Rodger DohmRodger is an advocate for students and the advancement of STEM in Poway Unified School District as a teacher and a Ramona Unified School District Board of Education Trustee. He is a teacher and a robotics coach for Team Spyder, the robotics team that represents the Poway High Engineering Academy. His passion for molding our youth to be outstanding citizens is unrivaled, and we are grateful to have him as an educator and leaders in our community.

Rose Garner and Sylvia Nollet

Rose and Sylvia are extraordinary members of the Santee Mobilehome Owners Action Committee. The committee has executed a high quality of life as their mission thanks to an energetic team members like Rose and Sylvia. Just this year, they have been involved with almost 1,400-backpack give away to students of Santee. They have knocked on doors all over San Diego County to help those in need. Each month, this group has brought folks together to form a community of strength and partnerships.

Rose GarnerSylvia Nollet

Russell Wise

Russell WiseRussell responds to disasters anywhere in the state. Over the years, he has gone on several mud-outs. (Removing mud from homes after a catastrophic mudslide). This past year Russell has responded to two ash-outs in San Diego County. He also helps our neighbors in Mexico by building houses in the poorest of neighborhoods. Russell Wise is a true servant always ready to help.

Sandy Renard

Sandy RenardFor the past five decades, Sandy Renard has trained more than 200 registered nurses as Certified Wound, Ostomy, Continence Nurses (CWOCN) in both San Diego County and around the United States. These nurses have then been able to train additional registered nurses to become CWOCNs to perpetuate this important nursing specialty.

Stephen Abbott

Stephen AbbottStephen protects us through his work at the North County Fire Protection District with dedication and compassion. He shows his commitment to public safety with excellent leadership and unrivaled enthusiasm.

Taha Hassane

Taha HassaneTaha is a spiritual leader at the Islamic Center of San Diego, and his interfaith work has united San Diegans on shared values. He has been working and volunteering in San Diego for over one decade. Taha has been honored by KPBS and many other organizations for his dedication to his community. He is a board member of the Interfaith Worker Justice and a board member of the Interfaith Shelter Network.

Teri Crutchfield

Teri CrutchfieldTeri is the founder of a nonprofit animal rescue in Ramona called Saving Animals & Healing Hearts Inc., a volunteer-based organization that depends solely on the efforts of volunteers and supporters. Her excellent leadership has helped abused, abandoned, neglected, and homeless animals. She has slept outside watching over a very sick horse, rescued alpacas from auction with horrific eye infections causing blindness, rescued pigs with life threatening pneumonia, and saved countless dogs and potbellied pigs from death row.

Tina Sardina

Tina SardinaTina is a fantastic advocate for anti-bullying efforts. She changed people’s outlook on public school administrators. Tina currently serves as the La Mesa-Spring Valley Schools Human Resource Assistant Superintendent, and she is understanding, compassionate, and requested teachers to conduct discussions in their classrooms about bullying and being a good citizen.

Dr. Tracy Nguyen, O.D.

Dr. Tracy Nguyen, O.D.Tracy loves spending her time to lead the future of the STEM field by mentoring students through Poway High School’s Robotics Club. She has also helped coordinate events with elementary and middle schools to help spread the awareness about STEM so that more students can be involved.

Deputy Sheriff William Chad Zerbe

Deputy Sheriff William Chad ZerbeWilliam was nominated by a citizen that he saved from being harassed and victimized. William protects, listens, and makes the community a safer place to live by bringing comfort to the community. When you talk to William, you can tell that he loves his job and he wants to do the best that he can to help everyone that comes to him.

William Pommering

William PommeringIn the past decade, William has been volunteering and participating with Santee-Lakeside Rotary Club and their foundation, Santee Lakes Foundation, Santee Santas Foundation, Santee Chamber of Commerce, and the City of Santee. He has supported and worked at many of their events over the years, including those that support high school students and help out individual and families in need. He has met the Rotary credo of “Service Above Self.”

William Wade

William WadeAfter serving the United States Marine Corps with distinction for 24 years, William has successfully influenced youth as Senior Military Instructor of the Marine Corps JROTC program of Fallbrook High School. William helps children who saw no way out of poverty or gangs turn their lives around and see many alternatives to a brighter future. He supports area events from 9/11 commemorations to nonprofit activities.