2022 Unsung Heroes of the Year Awards
Our Unsung Hero of the Year awards 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 men and women who have made extraordinary contributions in helping champion our cause of inspiring hope and ending homelessness in Orange County.
Three words that describe Affi: “Leadership, innovative, and a hard worker.”
Affi displays exceptional abilities to coordinate with other departments and providers. He builds strong rapport and connections with clients, and serves as a role model to his team for direct and indirect services at Illumination Foundation.
Affi is a natural leader that takes initiative to implement new ideas to improve efficiency for the team, like when he implemented a new technique to track notes which was subsequently utilized by the rest of his team.
Three words that describe Ann: “Dedicated, an excellent communicator, and positive.”
Ann always goes above and beyond for Veterans, and in every way. She takes on difficult tasks and problem solves to make sure that the Veterans she works with are housed even when multiple barriers are present. She leads by example and sets a standard of professionalism that influences the whole team to strive for excellence. Whatever task needs to be completed to contribute to successfully housing a Veteran, Ann is willing to do. She is willing to complete administrative tasks, speak to a veteran, and go on the field to coordinate with properties and vendors.
In one instance, Ann worked closely with a high barrier Veteran and had to coordinate with a property provider, and a moving company after the Veteran did not show up for the scheduled lease signing. Ann was able to use her patience and communication to ensure that the property management and the Veteran connected to make the move in happen.
Three words that describe Carlos: “Teamwork, compassion, and respect.”
Carlos has been a guiding force for many of Orangewood Foundation’s youth. His desire to learn and grow so that he can better serve the young people is inspiring. Carlos advocates for the youth, he meets them where they are and helps them find their voice as they find their place to call home.
At one point, Carlos had been working with a young person who had been experiencing homelessness for his entire life. When this youth almost lost an opportunity at housing due to a misunderstanding, Carlos went above and beyond to advocate for this young person and helped the young person advocate for themselves. This showed the young person that they were cared for, valued and feel that they had a team working with them.
Three words that describe Chelsea: “Charismatic, thoughtful, and genuine.”
Chelsea has been nominated as South County Outreach’s Unsung Hero for her dedication to preventing households from experiencing homelessness. Chelsea was part of a team that had assisted over 700 households with financial assistance towards their rent and/or utilities. Chelsea was also the staff member in charge of getting households to apply for a reduced utility cost program. Chelsea has accomplished all these contributions while brightening up every person’s day she encounters. South County Outreach is very thankful to have someone like Chelsea at the organization.
Chelsea has gone above and beyond routinely, but there was one time where she had an in-person meeting with a family. It was a single mother and 2 young children. Chelsea was able to entertain the children with crayons/coloring books, while also being present and empathetic with their mother. There was a noticeable difference between the family when they arrived compared to when they had left, all due to Chelsea’s ability to brighten up anyone’s day.
Three words that describe Courtney: “Creative, committed, and an attitude of ‘going above and beyond'”.
Courtney has worked with several different client groups during her time with FAM. She has worked with formerly chronically unsheltered adults in FAM’s Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) program as well as families with children in FAM’s emergency shelters. When working with people in the PSH program, she showed an ability to work with adults, often with disabilities, and assisted them in setting and achieving their goals. In her work with families, Courtney has consistently shown a high level of care and compassion in her interactions with the families, along with creativity in helping them achieve their next housing step.
Courtney’s caring attitude extends to her work colleagues. She is always willing to help other staff members who have questions about resources, paperwork or how to interact with a client.
Around last Christmas, FAM hosted an “Adopt a Family” event where individuals, companies and service groups collected gifts for different families they ‘adopted’. All of the shelter clients were encouraged to sign up for the event. When several of Courtney’s clients were unable to come to the office and pick up their gifts on the designated day, Courtney picked up the gifts and spent several hours that day dropping them off to her clients.
Three words that describe Hannah: “Resilient, a ‘do what it takes’ attitude, and passionate.”
Hannah has been an advocate for the most vulerable people in Orange County. During her time at American Family Housing, she’s connected many clients with resources. Many of her clients have sung her praises as she has helped transform their lives. Hannah has been an integral member of the team, training up staff, providing support to all case managers and orgainzing the ramp-up to full occupancy for the organization’s new Project Homekey site. The organization got 100 people off the streets in large part by her help leading the way.
One specific time, Hannah worked with a couple who began experiencing homelessness after losing their jobs due to a car accident. Hannah was able to get the couple document ready and matched to an housing voucher which gave them the opportunity to end their homelessness. Elated, the couple immediately started searching for an apartment in Orange County. They spent every available hour trying to find an opening, but unfortunately, they received denial after denial. Hannah did not let the clients lose hope and finally was able to make a connection with a complex that accepted their application. The couple signed the lease, immediately moved in and are extremely happy to be in a home of their own.
Jagadev “JD” Sharma
Three words that describe Jagadev: “Leadership, teamwork, and a positive attitude.”
Mr. Sharma is a Senior Social Worker and Team Lead for the Orange County HUD-VASH Housing Team. He embodies the Veterans Affairs ICARE values through his servant leadership, compassion, dedication, and team-based attitude. He is vital to the success of the collaborative housing navigation partnerships and the Long Beach VA Healthcare System. Mr. Sharma has been instrumental in overseeing the referral process of HUD-VASH Veterans to WelcomeHomeOC program and his diligent efforts has resulted in successfully housing 157 Veterans through this partnership.
Mr. Sharma’s dedication to serving homeless Veterans is truly admirable. He is the first to step in and provide assistance where needed and is always willing to go the extra mile for those he serves. He maintains a calm demeanor and is able to manage high stress situations. He is a role model to his peers and for his team. He always strives to provide high-quality care and excellent service for all Veterans. Currently, Mr. Sharma has taken additional duties in response to a high volume of homeless Veterans being referred to the OC HUD-VASH Program. He has also taken the role of Clinical Supervisor to support a MSW Graduate Student interning with the program.
Three words that describe Jocelyn: “Creative, honest and collaborative.”
Jocelyn Morales is a vital member of the Family Solutions Collaborative (FSC) team. She does a lot of important work to ensure the Family Coordinated Entry System is functioning as a well-oiled machine, connecting families to the appropriate housing supports. As the Senior Family System Specialist, Jocelyn offers leadership, guidance, and expertise to continuously enhance the system and support Family Access Points. She goes above and beyond to offer assistance to fellow team members and providers working together to end family homelessness.
In addition to supporting Family Access Points, Jocelyn oversees the daily operations of the Family Bed Reservation System. When a family shelter opening becomes available, she is behind the scenes to match a family experiencing homelessness to the opening and coordinates with different providers to support that family with entering the shelter. She has played a crucial role in the development of the family homeless response system and continues to support system innovation.
Three words that describe Julia: “Grace, a positive attitude, and leads by example.”
Julia took the lead on Human Options, Inc.’s Emergency Housing Voucher program for survivors of domestic violence. She collaborated with partnering Orange County domestic violence agencies to distribute 100 vouchers to individuals and families displaced due to domestic violence. She then worked with the WelcomeHomeOC program and housing authorities throughout Orange County to place individuals and families into permanent housing. Julia leads with positivity, grace, and a willingness to serve that is palpable to the survivors she works with, as well as the staff members fortunate to learn from her.
Three words that describe Julie: “Energetic, problem solver and dependable.“
Julie is a passionate Housing Specialist II with the City of Santa Ana Housing Authority. She has over 20 years of experience as a seasoned case manager. She is helpful and reliable. She collaborates with property managers and service providers to house the most vulnerable individuals/families in the community, people who are experiencing chronic homelessness.Julie is a qualified trainer, and she has embraced her role as trainer for the new team members. Julie’s excellent communication skills, her drive to solve problems, and her collaborative spirit are the attributes that make her a superstar in the agency.
Three words that describe Kami: “Leadership; collaboration; positivity.”
Kami has been with Chrysalis for over 5 years. When Chrysalis opened the Orange County office, Kami jumped at the chance to lead the new site. From inception, Kami has worked alongside various staff members to build the Orange County office. As it approaches 5 years, her accomplishments are endless. She grew the team to twice its original size. She helped increase the client pool to support the organization’s social enterprise, while encouraging job seekers to take a leap into their employment journey with Chrysalis. She has supported five staff through promotions. Kami has led organization and department-wide initiatives that will have lasting impact.
When Chrysalis had to double its social enterprise positions in Orange County, Kami had to significantly increase the client pool to support this growth. She led open enrollment fairs that required collaboration between multiple stakeholders. She had to create the plan and then see it through its execution, which meant that new clients completed the program and left with a work schedule all within one day. In one month of facilitating these enrollment fairs she successfully helped 70 clients through Chrysalis’s program and into a job.
Three words that describe Kathy: “Leadership, innovative, and compassionate.“
Kathy is Families Forward’s Unsung Hero because she truly embodies the spirit of working hard and compassionately without a care for accolades or recognition. Kathy is innovative and led the organization’s Emergency Housing Voucher (EHV) program. She consistently shifted the program to meet the ever-changing needs of the community during a global pandemic. Through her leadership, 100% of Families Forward’s EHV families were successfully moved into housing. Kathy always volunteers to lend a helping hand no matter the project. Kathy is a fierce advocate not only for her families but also her strong team of case managers and housing resource specialists. She is diligent, organized, and always sees her projects through.
For Kathy, going above and beyond is a lot of little things. She works late to ensure each family has a plan of assistance that is personalized to their specific needs. She drops everything to support her team on difficult cases. She strongly advocates to ensure that the families have everything they need to be as successful as possible. No matter how challenging a family’s situation might be, Kathy is kind, compassionate and flexible, hearing client concerns and providing support – whether it be regarding health issues, economic stressors or a domestic emergency.
Three words that describe Kim: “Conviction, selfessness, and inspirational.”
Kim Pennington is StandUp for Kids’ Unsung Hero because of her tireless efforts in supporting the organization’s mission of ending the cycle of youth homelessness, one life at a time.
She is dedicated and passionate, and for three years she has been leading the organization’s WeDeliver program, a food and supply delivery program that every single client can access to meet their basic and nutritional needs. However, her support does not end with the WeDeliver program. Whenever there is a need, she always steps up, making herself readily available. Her positive attitude, willingness to help, the heart and compassion she possesses to help those that need it the most are a clear contribution that help the youth move from surviving to thriving. Kim is an inspiration and without her the organization would have not been able to provide the holistic approach that is necessary for the youth to move from surviving to thriving. Kim is always willing to help with absolutely anything, from delivering food to the youth the organization works with to assisting the fundraising team with events. StandUp for Kids can always count on Kim!
Three words that describe Lillian: “Perserverance, inquisitiveness, and enthusiastic.”
In the short amount of time Lillian has been working at the Mental Health Association’s Multi Service Center, she has embodied compassion, collaboration, and a strong desire to learn as much as possible. She has become a competent case manager and resource specialist who takes initiative and spends endless hours researching appropriate linkages for her members. From day one, Lillian has expressed a passion for mental health, and has utilized her skills to engage, encourage and aid recovery for people experiencing homelessness. Lillian is constantly in the field transporting members to their behavioral health appointments, substance use recovery treatment, mental health appointments, community resources, medical appointments, and emergency shelter housing. She takes time to help members make phone calls, fill out applications, and encourage recovery and growth. She goes the extra mile in order to enhance the Multi Service Center’s members quality of life. She wears many hats that are immensely appreciated. She is emotional support, a cheerleader, an accountability coach, a resource specialist, a researcher, and an advocate. She is always offering a helping hand with a can-do attitude. All members and staff enjoy Lillian and the energy that she brings.
Three words that describe Lorena: “positivity, leader, team player.“
Lorena is person centered and focuses on the needs of the families and their children. She is dedicated to her work at Thomas House and goes above and beyond, even volunteering to support individuals in other departments.
When the mother of a family was undergoing cancer treatment, Lorna supported the mother’s children, doing things like combing the daughter’s hair. When Lorena referred the daughter to Thomas Shelter’s counseling services, Lorena wanted to ensure that she was doing okay, so Lorena did daily check-in calls (including on the weekend) to comfort and support the young girl. They recently moved and Lorena supported them in moving and making sure that they had all the things that they needed.
Three words that describe Lupita: “Fearless, empathetic, and a team player.”
When in doubt, find Lupita! Regardless of the task, regardless if she’s ever done it before or not, regardless if it’s “her job” or not, Lupita is there to tackle anything and everything- and she does so with a smile! Lupita is a team player who fills in for others and is always willing to do more than is asked for. She steps ins to serve those WISEPlace serves and supports program staff with anything and everything. Her support keeps shelter operations smooth, even when its not “her job” she jumps in to offer support and does so with a smile.
She always goes above and beyond. When the team needed additional support, Lupita was the first to raise her hand and make sure clients were not negatively affected, she came in on the weekends, stayed late and basically took over without needing to be asked. She just steps up- every time. Lupita has been the organization’s main pillar when things like transitions happen and she ensures that the transitions occur smoothly. She has gone above and beyond to ensure that the staff has all they need.
Three words that describe Marshall: “Generosity, creativity and professional skill.“
Marshall has served Friendship Shelter for decades, at one point, accepting a board seat and even serving as board president. However, Friendship Shelter is nominating Marshall as an Unsung Hero because of the impact he has had on the organization’s housing development and ongoing facilities improvements. An architect and contractor, Marshall is always willing to find a creative solution, secure the best competitive price for work, and work effectively, with city planning and building staff. Marshall is never too busy for Friendship Shelter. He has a heartfelt, deep and abiding belief in housing as the solution to ending homelessness. He brings creativity and drive to any project. He was instrumental in the development of the three dedicated-site apartment communities that Friendship Shelter manages. Friendship Shelter would not be a housing provider without Marshall Ininns’ generosity and skill.
When an opportunity to develop Friendship Shelter’s first housing site came up suddenly and unexpectedly, Marshall attended numerous meetings with funders and government leaders to understand the parameters of the opportunity. He swiftly provided cost estimates and architectural plans that allowed the organization to say “yes” to a very tight timeline. He was with theteam every step of the way through the project and has done the same with two subsequent projects.
Three words that describe Onely: “Persistance, compassion, and resourceful.”
Onely Flores has been exceptional in her role as a case manager for Pathways of Hope. She advocates for her clients and supports them through lengthy application processes. Onely works with 9 families at a time while they reside in the organization’s shelter. For each client, she supporst the client by submitting housing applications, corresponding with each housing authority and responding to requests for additional documentation. Onely does this while also referring clients to services that meet the additional needs of each client, whether it is mental health referrals, referrals to Orange County Social Services, or transportation.
Onely worked with one client who had vision impairment and experienced some challenges in acquiring their housing voucher. Onely structured her assistance to the client so she could support the client’s unique needs, such as helping the client clean their unit and attending appointments with them to acquire necessary documentation. While doing this, Onely would meet with the other families she worked with to help them navigate the housing application process. In February 2022, the vision impaired client successfully transitioned into a permanent housing opportunity with an IHSS worker hired (which Onely helped arrange) and ready to assist the client in their new apartment unit.
Three words that describe Stephania: “Joyous, genuine, productive.”
Stephania started at Grandma’s House of Hope as a Junior Bookeeper and in 2022, she finished her Master’s and was promoted to Finance Manager. Over the course of two and a half years, she frequently carried out the work of an entire finance team by herself! When Stephania became the new Finance Manager, she jumped in and learned everything about the role with limited guidance all while having a smile and can-do attitude.
She is always pleasant and friendly, no matter how overwhelmed she is. She dilligently ensures that all our billing and compliance is completed and correct. She finally got some help 3 months ago and now, in addition to keeping the wheels on the bus, she is training new staff. Our clients an donors may not know her, but if it wasn’t for her, GHH could not function. She has done an amazing job and we are honored that she is part of our staff.
Stephania notices all the little things throughout ing process and her diligence saves the organization money!