Santa Barbara County Action Network to honor North County residents

June 05, 2015 12:00 am  •  Ryah Cooley [email protected]

Awards dinner slated for Sunday

What: Santa Barbara County Action Network's North County Looking Forward Awards Dinner

When: 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Historic Santa Maria Inn, 801 S. Broadway in Santa Maria

Tickets: Dinner tickets cost $65 per person for members and $70 for nonmembers. Tickets can be purchased at

Here are the awards to be presented — and their recipients: 

 Laura and Ron Selken.jpg Al Thompson.jpg Deborah Tobola.jpg

Social Justice Award: Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt

This award is given for promoting fairness, tolerance, equality, respect and compassion for all people in the community. Recipient Lawanda Lyons-Pruitt is the chief investigator for the county Public Defender’s Office, the first African American female in California to hold the distinction. She is a founding member of the Defense Investigator Training Accreditation Academy and a board member of the Defense Investigators Association.

She also is the president of the Santa Maria-Lompoc NAACP and hospitality chair and trustee of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. She is a member of the Five Cities Diversity Coalition and of the Santa Maria Valley Democratic Club.

Lyons-Pruitt said she has always had a passion for social justice and making sure that everyone is recognized and treated as equals. 

"I am truly honored, and I actually believe that I stand on the shoulders of everyone in the cemetery who made this day possible for me," Lyons-Pruitt said. "We're celebrating inclusiveness, tolerance ... all those things that are important to social justice."

Giving Back to the Community Award: Laura and Ron Selken

The Giving Back to the Community Award recognizes those who give back through volunteer activities and community projects. Recipients Laura and Ron Selken serve their community in many ways. 

The Selkens volunteer with the Santa Maria Noontimers Lions, where Ron has served as club president and Laura is serving as secretary and newsletter editor.

They also are involved with the Democratic Club of Santa Maria Valley, with Laura serving on the board and editing the monthly newsletter. Laura also sits on the boards of the local Literacy Council, the North Santa Barbara County Manufactured Homeowners Team, the AAUW and Santa Maria Public Library. She also serves on the county Library Advisory Committee. 

"We really feel that members of the community are what make a community great," Laura said. "I want to make a difference and make it a better place for everyone."

Looking Forward Award: Deborah Tobola

This award recognizes strong leadership and vision in community building, civic engagement and improving quality of life for local residents. Recipient Deborah Tobola started the local Poetic Justice Project in 2009 to engage formerly incarcerated youth and adults in original plays that examine crime, punishment and redemption. It helps people to reintegrate into the community.

Several Poetic Justice Project actors have gone on to act in local community theater productions. One started a theater company; another stars in a new Web TV show. 

"I'm delighted and deeply honored," Tobola said. "Our vision is to unlock hearts and minds with our works. And I think we do that for the people onstage who have been incarcerated and for the people in the audience."

Environmental Protection and Sustainability Award: Al Thompson

The Environmental Protection and Sustainability Award is given for valuing, protecting and preserving natural resources and the environment. Recipient Al Thompson has interpreted Chumash uses of native plants and is the garden historian at La Purisima Mission. He has encouraged exploration of wildflowers and plants along the mission trails, and one of the trails was eventually named after him. He also is a docent at the Arroyo Hondo Preserve, where he leads hiking tours and explains the importance of natural habitats. 

"We have to counteract the damage we have done to the environment through the industrial revolution," said Thompson, a Lompoc resident. "The time is coming now when we'll have to pay the bill. I would hope that everyone would try to pay attention to and preserve the environment."

Working Families Award: Peoples' Self-Help Housing

This award honors the work of helping families obtain affordable health care, housing, educational and job opportunities. The organization Peoples’ Self-Help Housing is the recipient of this year's award. PSSH develops affordable housing and community facilities for low-income households and home ownership opportunities for working families, seniors, veterans, the disabled and the homeless in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties.

Since 1970, PSSH has developed about 380 self-help homes in Guadalupe, Santa Maria, Tanglewood and Los Alamos, including 117 in Santa Maria for farmworkers and their families and 57 units for limited-income elderly residents and developmentally disabled households; 80 units in Orcutt; and 80 in Guadalupe.