Empowered By Orange County United Way

United to End Homelessness Honors Diverse Unsung Heroes

It takes a community of people working together to end homelessness, and the work is hard.

Around Orange County, there are hundreds of people working diligently to ensure our homeless neighbors are seen, sheltered, connected, and housed. 

This year we introduced our inaugural Unsung Hero of the Year awards to call out and acknowledge people from our partner agencies who go above and beyond, those who are tirelessly working day in and day out to end homelessness in our community. 

It takes more than talk to ensure that our community’s children, families and individuals have access to stable housing. It takes people of action. Their compassion, devotion and passion shine through in all that they do, and they deserve to be recognized.

We thank the following nominated 19 men and women who have made extraordinary contributions in helping champion our cause of inspiring hope. 

Ana Sanchez, a caring and compassionate case manager with American Family Housing who has successfully housed 12 clients and ensures they are on target with medical appointments, resources and services. Ana is committed and dedicated to assisting AFH’s clients to get housed, and consistently looks for new opportunities, resources and services for her clients.

Carlia Oldfather, a Director of Operations for StandUp for Kids who partnered with Saddleback College to serve homeless students on-site. 

From the start, Carlia had an unparalleled ability to connect with homeless youth, and kids trust her. She has served in the streets, helping kids find shelter in a motel at midnight, fostered a dog so she could help two young people exit homelessness, and works to forge new partnerships with school districts throughout Orange County, multiplying the youth served many times over. 

Carlia also launched standup for Kids’ first Young Entrepreneur’s Program, which allows homeless youth the opportunity to learn critical business skills and ultimately launch their own businesses. 

Cindy Campbell, a volunteer social worker for Friendship Shelter, who has provided volunteer care for individuals experiencing homelessness in Laguna Beach.

She leads by example, engaging and building relationships with extremely vulnerable, hard-to-reach individuals. Her commitment to the people she serves extends beyond the shelter’s walls to ongoing services and support after they have been placed in housing. 

For decades, Cindy has provided volunteer care for individuals experiencing homelessness. 

Demona Barlow, a program manager for WISEPlace who has served vulnerable homeless populations for over 20 years. 

Her can-do attitude along with openness for continued learning, accountability and improvement make her a champion for people experiencing homelessness.

Demona is an advocate for housing and pushed further toward Housing First, a recent innovation in human service programs and social policy regarding treatment of people who are homeless. Most would find this difficult and resist, but Demona was the first to rise to the occasion and did not let fear stop her. 

Edith Hernandez, a supportive service coordinator for Families Forward who engages with formerly homeless families in affordable housing through job training programs, financial literacy, and supportive services. 

Her advocacy and passion for the production of affordable housing with upward mobility services is contagious. Edith works tirelessly to engage with formerly homeless families in affordable housing to promote economic mobility, stability, and graduation out of affordable housing. 

Jade Smith, a veterans’ outreach supervisor for Tierney Center Veteran Services, Goodwill of Orange County who leads her team to identify and provide emergency shelter to over 100 veterans monthly.

Jade is well known and respected in the Orange County veteran community. Her compassionate leadership to provide services to veterans and their families is done with humility, empathy and love.

Jade applies her expertise to provide emergency shelter and starts the process for referrals for Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers. She coordinates closely with the VA Long Beach Healthcare System and serves voluntarily as the vice-chair for the Housing Working Group with the OC Veterans and Military Families Collaborative.

James Brooks, O.C. Programs Director, Emergency Services for Mercy House Living Centers. 

James is the definition of commitment and compassion, and his level of genuine care for those who are experiencing homelessness is remarkable. He is always engaged, and his easy-going nature allows him to navigate challenging situations. Mercy House is honored to have him as part of the team.  

Jessica Fajota, MSW, a program manager for Supportive Services for Veteran Families at Volunteers of America Los Angeles. 

She displays exceptional talent for recognizing and cultivating the potential in others and has been instrumental in forging strong community partnerships, which allows for enhanced services for our veterans. 

Under her leadership, VOALA SSVF has successfully housed 2,500 individual veterans and families. She demonstrates the importance of connecting with veterans who are in vulnerable situations, and always shows kindness and empathy. Her holistic approach has ensured veterans become stably housed and that they receive the best overall services, resources and connections with community partners. 

Jordan Hoiberg, an outreach and engagement specialist for Illumination Foundation who worked with United to End Homelessness / WelcomeHomeOC and the Santa Ana Housing Authority to lease-up 30 homeless voucher holders. 

Jordan is always advocating for clients’ needs. Jordan joined the Illumination Foundation Housing team as an Outreach and Engagement specialist, and it quickly became clear that his heart was one of service and that no issue was too large or too small to tackle. He embodies one of Illumination Foundation’s strongest Guiding Principles of Humility, and he takes true pride in the services he provides. 

Without Jordan, both WelcomeHomeOC and the Housing Authority would not have been able to house 30 families in 30 days as part of the House 30 campaign. 

Kim Stinson, an operations manager for Pathways of Hope who keeps complicated HUD and other governmental agency contracts in order.

From cutting checks to making sure staff has the HR support it needs, Kim is the person who keeps things moving and makes the agency’s life-changing work possible. 

Lisa Costa, a veteran liaison for Orange County Association for Mental Health, who, as an army veteran, encourages veterans to seek services through the VA and other social services agencies. 

Lisa is a shining example of compassion for forgotten service men and women struggling to stay alive on the streets of the United States.

Lisa experienced homelessness after returning to the U.S. from Germany. Back on her feet, she now devotes her life to tirelessly serving unhoused veterans and is truly passionate about linking them with services and moving them into permanent housing. 

Lisa constantly pursues opportunities to learn more and develop additional skills and certifications. She coaches and empowers, helping veterans find strength to overcome their circumstances and to seek recovery and self-sufficiency. 

Lisa Evans, a supervisor at Orangewood Foundation, who serves in the drop-in resource center for the transitional age youth population experiencing homelessness for the past 13 years. 

She is kind, an advocate, a great listener and mentor, shows youth respect and trust, and is able to hold youth accountable in a loving and supportive way.

You will never see Lisa without a smile on her face. She goes out of her way to get to know each youth who comes into the center, develops individual relationships, gets to know their strengths, and builds off of those successes to encourage them to keep moving forward. 

Lisa also is an integral part of the community- she serves with heart and passion, hits the streets, meets new people and identifies additional services to ensure the resource center has all up to date resources. 

Captain Nesan Kistan, Divisional Secretary Orange County, Corps Officer, Tustin Ranch for The Salvation Army who partnered with cities to allow The Salvation Army to open a 224-bed Anaheim Emergency Shelter in 79 days, accelerate efforts to build Centers of Hope in Anaheim, Santa Ana and San Clemente, and ultimately provide permanent supportive housing to hundreds of people who need it most. 

Captain Kistan’s vision is to transform lives with courage and innovation empowered by faith. 

His ministry is built on a platform of love and compassion, and his commitment to ending chronic homelessness in Orange County is evident every day – from providing love and support to shelter residents, to collaborating with city leaders to address housing, and holistic services.

Paola Flores, a senior asset manager for Jamboree who works with Supportive Services and Property Management to ensure permanent supportive housing residents are treated fairly and given the opportunity to succeed.

Paola is compassionate and looks for creative solutions to try and see that no one housed falls back into homelessness.

Paulette Holm, a census manager with City Net Homeless Outreach Team who led the team’s coordination work for the 2019 Point in Time Count under the direction of the County of Orange. 

Paulette managed the process with positivity and an excellent work ethic by organizing volunteers and collecting data that told stories of the true needs for people who are homeless. These traits are incredibly valuable for someone working to end homelessness since a whole-heart attitude and passion to serve is what the field most desperately needs. 

The data’s impact continues to be used today for services that help end homelessness in Orange County.

Roxana Garcia, an intake coordinator at Grandma’s House of Hope who has enrolled approximately 400 women and men into the organization’s program during her two years of employment.

Her passion and dedication shows in the work she does, as everyone who speaks of her says she made them feel welcomed and seen. 

Roxana is the first person women and men speak to when they are seeking information about the program. She remains calm and professional, and she ensures they leave with referrals and resources regardless if they enter the program. 

Ruby Vazquez-Navarro, a volunteer and program coordinator at Chrysalis who helps homeless clients reclaim their humanity and feel safe by making sure they feel heard and valued.

In every interaction Ruby has with clients, she helps them reclaim their humanity and makes sure they feel heard and valued, while also giving them space to self-reflect in a way that builds their confidence.  

One of Ruby’s primary responsibilities is to facilitate job readiness classes to clients who are often eager to get through the classes so they can complete the program process. 

Ruby’s positivity and compassion serves as a reminder that no matter how challenging the issue of homelessness is and how much trauma our clients face, they will triumph, and homelessness will be eradicated in our community, one spark of hope and interaction at a time. 

Sofia Nava, an OC HUD VASH Case Manager on the Housing Team. 

Sofia embodies integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence. 

She is a team player who willingly fills in for others, anticipates the needs of the program, brings great ideas to the table and takes initiative. She goes above and beyond in her work. 

She has played a vital role in the restructuring of the OC HUD VASH teams to better streamline the services provided to Homeless Veterans. She has been a contributor to the housing resource fairs, has increased voucher utilization, helped increase number of referrals to OC Public Housing Authorities, increased the number of Veterans housed and has been a positive representative of VA Long Beach Healthcare System. 

Soledad Rivera, a Family System Director at Family Solutions Collaborative who works alongside 21 family-serving agencies with a mutual goal of ending family homelessness by 2020. 

Her life commitment to serving families in need is inspirational and contagious.

Over the years, Soledad has worked tirelessly to support and connect, going above and beyond for families experiencing homelessness by connecting them to immediate housing opportunities. 

Currently, as the Family System Director for the Family Solutions Collaborative she is helping end homelessness for good.