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Community heroes honored at annual fundraising event

Kasten Delgado, a staff member at the Youth Alliance afterschool program at Calaveras School, is one of four people who will be honored at YA's annual hero awards.

Youth Alliance fundraiser recognizes San Benito, Gilroy residents
Youth Alliance fundraiser recognizes San Benito, Gilroy residents

The Youth Alliance, formerly the Hollister Youth Alliance, will honor four community members at its Community Hero Awards on March 30 at San Juan Oaks Golf Course.

The annul fundraising event marks the first one since the nonprofit expanded services into the Gilroy area, and staff members were sure to include both communities in the celebration.

The Youth Alliance will honor Mary Damm and Kasten Delgado, from San Benito County, and Guadalupe and Alfredo Lopez, from Gilroy. The staff members advertised in the communities for nominations of people who have shown exemplary commitment to youth as well as for a teen who has been an inspiration to others for the inspiration award.

“As we’ve begun our work it’s amazing to see the similarities as well as the different needs,” said Executive Director Diane Ortiz, of the Youth Alliance’s work in Gilroy. “We work with so many people and we know it’s important to partner with other folks who are like minded and have the same vision of healthy youth.”

The Youth Alliance provides a variety of services in San Benito County, including after school programs, summer camps and counseling for families in need. They were a key partner in the Dunne Park project, which led to improvements at the downtown park last year. In Gilroy, they are running an afterschool program at Glenview Elementary School.

She said the expansion into Gilroy is taking small steps as they figure out what the needs are in the area.

“It is important to find out what the different strengths are out there before,” they expand more, she said. “We want to hear form the community what is important and what is a priority, and we will slowly be able to do that.”

She said the group has been well-received in Gilroy and is finding support from other agencies.

“It’s our intention never to duplicate services here but to fill the need and to be an advocate for our kids,” she said.

The youth in one of the Hollister programs, Joven Noble, helped out with the preparations for Saturday’s event. The high school students are certified by the Community Media Access Partnership (CMAP) so they spent some time videotaping honoree Mary Damm for a presentation that will be made at the awards dinner.

“Mary is one of those individuals who does not like the spotlight and she is very humble,” Ortiz said. “She has championed so many causes in the community. She is very dedicated.”

Ortiz said Damm has been involved in the United Way, Boy Scouts and has served in many other ways. She said Damm’s family company, Damm Water, has also been willing to contribute by donating water for events or rallies.

“She is so supportive in so many different ways,” Ortiz said. “It is the philosophy that we all need to work together. She’s been an exceptional leader in the community.”

Honoree Kasten Delgado exemplifies what the Youth Alliance is all about, organizers said. A college student at Gavilan College, who now works for the Youth Alliance, he started out as a volunteer.

“He was very committed to working in the afterschool program as a volunteer,” Ortiz said. “He led some of our youth activities in summer camp and was a youth worker.”

After gaining some job experience as a volunteer, he was later hired on to the staff.

“He has had different struggles in his life, but you would never know it because he is continually positive and optimistic,” Ortiz said. “If he doesn’t have a car, he will ride his bike.”

In addition to working with the Youth Alliance, Delgado has coached youth in San Juan Bautista and has been a role model to other youth as well as the adults with whom he works.

“He is a great role model to all of us, actually,” Ortiz said.

Enrique Luna, a Youth Alliance board member, said he looks forward to the Hero Awards as a chance to connect with new people in the community.

“We wanted to recognize people from both communities,” he said. “I’m always amazed. I can’t see how anyone works that many things into a day that these folks are doing.”

He said this year he wasn’t familiar with three of the honorees.

“It’s a nice social gathering to add a new familiarity with others,” he said. “A big part of the Hero Award is I get to see people I don’t know. It’s an introduction for me to the community.”

Luna said the event has strived to recognize teens in recent years.

“It’s not just city leaders, but youth who are working with youth,” he said. “The youth are also heroes.”

Ortiz said the event is the main fundraiser for the Youth Alliance.

“We are able to continue our services because of the commitment from the community and response we get with this fundraiser is really important to being able to sustain some of our programs,” she said. “We do some of the things that we believe are priorities such as a safe place for kids to be, counseling support and family support.”

Luna said though the event is a fundraiser, he finds another aspect of it more important.

“They really do very authentic and very cool things for youth,” he said of the honorees. “I think that’s the biggest part – the recognition of work that lots of people do. It’s an opportunity for community members to tell us who should be recognized with the award.”

Youth Alliance Community Hero Dinner

The event will be held on March 30 at San Juan Oaks Golf Club located at 3825 Union Road in Hollister. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for Reception & Auction Preview, Program and Dinner at 7 p.m. Music and mingling until 11 p.m.

Tickets are available for $50 a person online at www.youthall.org or you may send a check payable to the Youth Alliance:

Youth Alliance, Attn: Hero

P.O. Box 1291 Hollister CA 95024-1291.