Santa Barbara County Action Network honors volunteers

This article by Jeanne Sparks appeared in the Santa Maria Times on June 8, 2018:

Dr. Herb Kandel accepted the Environmental Protection and Sustainability Award from Santa Barbara County Action Network during a dinner Sunday at the Radisson, and gave credit to others who worked to protect the environment.

“I celebrate staff and administrators of all who serve the public,” Kandel said. “We as citizens, organization members, volunteers, board members -- help create the working environment for professionals to do their best work.”

He also recognized landowners, and called them "heroes" for putting their properties into conservation easements. People need to learn from diverse members of the community, including youth, to move the conservation effort forward, he said.

Five others were recognized at SBCAN’s North County “Looking Forward” Award Dinner and Fundraiser: Steve Heuring, Patricia “Pati” Cantú, Elsa Velasco, Virginia Perry Souza and Ines Ruiz.


Kandel has been involved in environmental issues for decades, including co-founding the Nipomo Native Garden and Nipomo Creek Committee, working with Dana Adobe Nipomo Amigos, the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County, and helping protect land around Point Sal, Pismo and Alamo creeks.

Heuring received the Giving Back to the Community Award for his involvement with the Vandenberg Village Association, the Vandenberg Village Park and Playground Coalition and the Vandenberg Village Lions Club. He supports Lompoc Valley in Bloom, was supportive of the formation of the Vandenberg Village Farmers Market, helped a school district get computers and waters the flower barrels in the village.

“I don’t know why I do what I do,” he said. “I just do what I do ’cause I do.’”

Cantú received the Working Families Award.

“Everybody deserves to be here. Everybody deserves the pursuit of happiness,” Cantú said. “It doesn’t matter your race, gender or legal status. That’s why ethnic and gender studies are so important.”

Cantú is motivated to find solutions to the issues that cause harm to marginalized people. She has been involved in One Community Action, Community Circle, Santa Maria Valley Youth Soccer Association, Juan Pacifico Ontiveros PTA, Cowboy Freedom and Corazon del Pueblo.

Elsa Velasco received the Social Justice Award.

She is involved with Latino Legacy Award committee and Corazón del Pueblo Heart of the People Cultural & Creative Arts Center of Santa Maria Valley. She is an emergency care technician and part of the Community Health Coordinating Committee for Cottage Health.

She has volunteered with Gay Rights Advocates for Arts, Culture and Equality (G.R.A.C.E.), Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), and the Fund for Santa Barbara.

Velasco dedicated her award to folks who are battling mental health issues and urged everyone to fight injustice and love those who are hard to love. “We stand up for others, no matter what, if we have that privilege. We recognize privilege and stand,” she said.

Souza received the “Looking Forward” Award.

She co-founded the Santa Maria Natural History Museum, which has been serving the Santa Maria Valley since 1996 and is housed in the Historic Hart Home on McClelland Street.

She also co-founded and continues to lead Buena Vista Beautifiers. The group has addressed neighborhood issues of neglect and safety, leading projects such as bike days, spring celebrations, and park and road cleanups. Their efforts have led the city to renovate the park.

Souza’s song “Wagon Wheel” was performed by a quartet that included a high school foreign exchange student she had hosted, Nai-Yun Chang. She was joined by Quentin Karamitsos, Gerrit Sperling and William Sperling. Vocalist Gale McNeeley and pianist Lynne Garrett also performed for the other award winners, each one having a song of their choice sung to them.


Souza fought back tears as she accepted her award. She was moved by the sentiments of the earlier award winners and the audience reaction to them.

“There’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come, and so … we act, and that’s what makes grassroots so wonderful, because you don’t have to be super well-educated. All you have to have is passion and heart and love for one and another.”

Santa Maria High School student Ines Ruiz received the Youth Activist Award.

Ruiz served as an intern for Salad Carbajal’s congressional campaign, spread the word for the event, “A Day without Immigrants,” and co-founded a youth-led organization named Santa Maria Valley United, which has organized peaceful protests against gun violence.

In accepting her award, Ruiz described the day she recently took her SAT test. She was trying to get out of a shopping center that was blocked by traffic from the Elks Parade. She had been waiting for a long time, and was behind five or six other cars that had also been waiting, so she told her friend, “Take the wheel man,” and got out of her car.

“I got out, I got a cart and I blocked traffic,” Ruiz said. “As I saw the people in front of me passing that I allowed them to go, they were thanking me, and that’s when I realized, ‘this is what I do.’ It is small, yeah, but I love to do that. I love helping others.”

This is the first year SBCAN has given the Youth Activist Award. The other awards have been given almost every year since 2005.

For more information about SBCAN, visit