2020 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.
Georgeth has really stepped up and helped WISEPlace keep women safe and supported during this pandemic. Georgeth is able to see needs and fill in those gaps. She never once has said “this isn’t my job.” She pushed through, evolved and adapted to every circumstance as an essential team member. She is accountable, person-centered and resilient. WISEPlace is so proud and thankful for Georgeth’s efforts as she has poured her heart into the organization’s mission.
Jasmin Cruz is a Social Worker- Case Manager on the OC HUD VASH Intake Team. Ms. Cruz works tirelessly to assist homeless Veterans and their families’ in accessing affordable and permanent housing through the OC HUD VASH Program. Ms. Cruz leads with compassion and her devotion to our Veterans is truly admirable. Despite the challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic she never wavered from providing Veterans with efficient and timely service. Ms. Cruz embodies the VA ICARE values through her positive attitude, openness to assist wherever needed, readiness to be a team player, and her caring and nurturing personality. She played an integral role in developing a streamlined process for Veterans to apply to the Placentia Veterans Village. She provided continuous collaboration on behalf of the VA and its partnering agencies to ensure Veterans transitioned successfully into project-based housing. Ms. Cruz’s “willingness to serve” and approachable attitude are an asset to our team and our homeless Veterans.
Kate is a pillar of hope and exemplifies why Family Assistance Ministries (FAM) exists. Kate began at FAM as a volunteer and joined the team four years ago and has helped to grow and shape programs that meet the needs of those who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness. Kate supports FAM programs at the front line, managing the front desk for the hundreds of calls that come in monthly or the numerous in-person requests that occur. She is patient, kind and supportive. She is also great at remembering people’s names, making clients feel extra special when they walk up to the front door and can receive a warm personal welcome. Kate has been especially instrumental as COVID-19 has required a modified approach to how clients are served. She has remained flexible while providing needed resources to the community.
Shanelle McGrew has been with Chrysalis for approximately 3 years, and in that time has developed a great ability to engage clients in such a way that helps to facilitate trust and mutual understanding. She is friendly and open with clients, which establishes a level a trust. She also demonstrates active listening and interviewing skills, allowing her to arrive at problem areas quickly, which increases Shanelle’s ability to foster a strong rapport with clients. In her time at Chrysalis, Shanelle has helped 140 clients find employment and start them on the pathway to self-sufficiency!
Maria Martinez is nominated as an Unsung Hero of the Year for going above and beyond to help her team and community. In the short amount of time Maria has been with American Family Housing, she has provided business support in two locations in Midway City and Norwalk, and has made a difference in so many lives. She demonstrates selflessness and follows through with all requests for help with a smile. It’s an honor to work with Maria everyday as we fight to end homelessness in Orange County.
Nikki Reitz has been an invaluable member of Illumination Foundation for over four years. As COVID-19 quickly came to the forefront of daily life, Illumination Foundation was selected to be the service provider for Project Roomkey (PRK) in Orange County.
Because of her experience, leadership and work ethic, Nikki was re-assigned to one of the Project Roomkey sites. Many clients came to Illumination Foundation through Project Roomkey without a prior connection to the organization. Nikki had to establish trust and rapport with every new client and she had to enforce all of the necessary rules of the site. She had to become familiar with clients’ individual health issues, concerns and challenges.
“Above and Beyond” is Nikki’s middle name. When a former client of Nikki’s became ill, Nikki went to visit them often. She would sit and read to them, and was even there when the client passed. Nikki truly supported and cared for this client, and their relationship was truly incredible.
Nikki is the kind of person that sees the good and possibilities in people and encourages them to seek the best for themselves. She supports and assists as people make choices in their lives. She is the embodiment of an “unsung hero.”
Ian Ashby works with those experiencing homelessness and substance use disorders in the Share Our Selves’ Wellness and Recovery program. This program helps more than 100 persons attain sobriety through harm reduction, medically assisted treatment and regular therapy. Ian is a clinical case manager in this program with a very special insight: for twenty some years he used substances and lived on the streets. Because of this experience, Ian knows very well the suffering of those living on the streets and this compels him to search them out, reel them in and help them find healing and new life. He is always searching for those who need his help. He is patient, compassionate, and savvy. He helps provide structure to clients and helps them find the desire to change. In doing so, his patients find peace, sanity and hope. Share Our Selves is thankful to have Ian as a part of their team. His skills are needed in the community and so is the empathy which fuels his desire to help. He always looks for those in need to the point where his door is seemingly always open. Twelve years ago he attained sobriety and secured housing. He now leads others down that same path.
A true hero works without accolades, has solid virtues, dedication, and a passion for helping others. South County Outreach (SCO) has truly found their hero in Danny Boyas.
Danny works to ensure that Orange County’s most vulnerable families are able to keep a roof over their heads, the lights on, and hot water running. Danny is frequently the last to leave the office – never departing before doing as much as he possibly can. Danny has more than doubled SCO’s ability to help at-risk families avoid eviction and homelessness this year.
Dozens of families have all expressed their deepest gratitude for Danny’s compassion, integrity, and most of all, for treating them with dignity and respect during what can feel like their darkest moments. Danny always puts the needs of his clients first and goes out of his way to find other resources for families in an effort to help them regain self-sufficiency. He also takes the initiative to reach out directly to property managers and landlords to get the word out about the how SCO can help keep people in their homes.
Danny is the backbone of SCO’s efforts to prevent homelessness for hundreds of families in south Orange County.
Michelle truly has a servant’s heart. She cares deeply about Grandma’s House of Hope, the participants we serve and the staff that keep our shelter afloat. Michelle’s radiant personality, energy, and enthusiasm brings life everywhere she goes. She is an extremely capable, dependable, and highly organized individual and a pleasure to work with. She will go above and beyond to ensure clients receive the care and attention they need. One of the many examples that stands out is her crisis management skills as a Service Coordinator. She is in the front lines of the shelter and provides oversight to the day to day activities of the participants. She has been in situations where participants are experiencing mental health crises and she is able to help them stabilize through a compassionate, person-centered approach. She will remain with them as long as it takes to show them care. She is very genuine about the care she provides, and the participants can recognize it immediately. Michelle also “practices what she preaches” through caring for herself physically and emotionally. Aside from Grandma’s House of Hope, she also has a full-time job working with Veterans.
Machelle Silva has been a member of City Net’s team since 2016. She served as a volunteer at the Courtyard Transitional Center, a County of Orange program, and shortly thereafter was hired to join City Net’s team in 2017 as a Community Coordinator. Machelle showcases a dedication towards serving neighbors experiencing homelessness in Orange County. She has continued to grow within City Net’s agency and now serves as a Collaborative Case Manager at a local emergency shelter, which City Net operates. Her heart, motivated by her faith and those she works with, is an inspiration to many colleagues and partners within the field.
Gabriel Aguilar Jr.
Gabriel Jr. has been accompanying his father, who is Friendship Shelter’s maintenance manager, for the past 7 years — since he was 15 years old. He has become a valuable part of the team for his strong work ethic and unconditional acceptance of all clients and staff. He helps with fixing, improving and cleaning all of the facilities, making them safe and welcoming. He is truly an Unsung Hero!
Christine Stellino is hard working and very passionate about what she does. She has a heart of gold and is so knowledgeable. Her dedication to children and families experiencing homelessness shows in her work. She supports and pushes her clients and her staff to achieve their goals. She is very detailed, respectful and helps everyone succeed. She is selfless and is always putting everyone first. She provides great service to everyone. She is very passionate and dedicated to each and every one of her clients and provides therapy to the ones that are really struggling. Not only does she support the staff and residents, but she continues to reach out to graduates to ensure they stay housed.
Christine really pours her heart into her work and does all she can to help those in need. She genuinely cares and you can feel her compassion. She is approachable and real. She’s someone that anyone would definitely want on their team if they were struggling and in need of help! She’s always available, no matter what time it is. #TeamChristine
Christy Tran has provided immeasurable hope along with tangible resources to vulnerable families in Orange County. As a Family Navigator through the Families Forward Prevention & Diversion Program, Christy’s interaction with families experiencing homelessness, is always done with considerable empathy and personalized care. Utilizing patience and understanding, Christy listens to each family’s situation, hearing their concerns and carefully documenting each interaction. Even considering the exponential increase in request for services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Christy sees each case through until a resolution is reached. Christy is always kind, compassionate and flexible, hearing client concerns and providing support – whether it be regarding health issues, economic stressors or a domestic emergency.
When social distancing measures were implemented, Christy was a vital part of Families Forward’s transition to remote work. She was the driving force behind the training of Families Forward prevention volunteers, enabling them to work remotely and continue the Prevention & Diversion program without interruption. Christy also listened to clients’ concerns over privacy and implemented a secure, paperless system to upload required documentation. Her innovation and drive ensured no family fell through the cracks during these challenging times, providing families at risk of homelessness with an advocate and direly needed support.
Chrissie Lee has been a valuable part of Project Hope Alliance’s (PHA) work of ending the cycle of homelessness and has had a significant hand in developing its programs. Her success as a Case Manager is truly unmatched. She is PHA’s only case manager to serve youth ages 18-24, who are at a crucial point in their life.
Chrissie is hardworking, consistent and compassionate in providing excellent services to youth in the community. She develops meaningful relationships with those she serves and seeks to best help them develop their full potential. She serves youth with true dignity and respect, and works tirelessly to help them achieve access to a future without homelessness.
Her fellow Case Managers lean on her when they have questions and she is full of resources whenever anyone is in need. Though she handles the highest caseload in PHA, she is always willing to help others and assist in other’s projects. She is a true team player.
Chrissie handles difficult situations with grace and efficiency, and exudes a quiet confidence in her daily work that is truly exceptional. Chrissie has made a difference in so many lives and she is the epitome of a hero.
Maria Hodson manages the Santa Ana Housing Authority’s vouchers for people experiencing homelessness including homeless veterans and foster youth. Through her tireless efforts, the Housing Authority has provided a home to over 135 homeless veterans, including 75 homeless veterans in the Heroes’ Landing development. They have also provided a home to 25 foster youth through the Foster Youth to Independence Program and 70 homeless individuals through the Mainstream Voucher Program. Overall, Maria has ended homelessness for a total of 230 households through her work and she continues pushing forward to assist many more. Maria goes above and beyond every day to end homelessness in Santa Ana and Orange County by providing housing opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and she is the epitome of an Unsung Hero.
Katherine Rodriguez has worked tirelessly to ensure the homeless family system works together collaboratively and ensures that the Family Solutions Collaborative is working effectively to end family homelessness. She’s an incredible leader and supporter of all the work being done by the Family Solutions Collaborative.
Benjamin Hurst is the project lead for the Center of Hope facility, based in Anaheim. Ben plays a key role in representing The Salvation Army during city council, planning commission, and community meetings and introduced the concept of a Homeless Throughput system to help move people experiencing homelessness from shelter to permanent housing. He tirelessly works with business leaders to talk to them about the Salvation Army’s Homeless Throughput system, which provides innovative programming and budget strategies that courageously result in the re-integration of homeless residents back into the community in self-sufficient ways. Benjamin Hurst is an Unsung Hero for continually moving The Salvation Army closer to its overarching goal: to end Chronic Homelessness in OC in 10 Years.
Amanda’s role has changed dynamically over the past 12 months as Mercy House’s Housing Solutions Programs have seen a period of rapid growth; she has overseen the growth of Mercy House’s Rapid Re-Housing and Homeless Prevention teams, and has also equipped managers and supervisors on those teams to succeed. Her knowledge of different funding regulations, needs of different homeless populations, and creative solutions to unexpected client needs has been fundamental to the client’s success as well as Mercy House’s ongoing success as an agency.
Bretannia’s commitment to ensuring young people are housed is evidenced by her dedication to develop strong partnerships with landlords and other housing programs in Orange County. Over the past year, Bretannia worked closely with Social Services Agency and United to End Homelessness to ensure young people with HUD vouchers had everything they needed to set up their own apartment and start their new life.
With each young person who reaches out, Bretannia compassionately problem solves to find a creative way to support them and get them housed. When the pandemic hit, Bretannia bravely continued to safely support the young people by meeting them in the community to ensure they had the resources they needed in a timely manner. To all of the people Bretannia has helped into housing, she is clearly an Unsung Hero!
In the three years that Ann has been a staff member at Pathways of Hope, she has been an extremely dedicated and passionate member of the team. But since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has gone above and beyond in her role as Volunteer Coordinator.
Faced with countless new and ongoing challenges, Ann works hard to ensure that her agency is able to sustain their food and housing programs and meet the drastically increased need the community is facing due to COVID-19. Ann’s creativity, intelligence, and exceptional relationship-building skills have empowered the agency to secure and maintain the volunteer “person power” necessary to operate all of its programs.
Ann’s work as Volunteer Coordinator impacts every single department at Pathways of Hope, and her adaptability and perseverance have played a critical role in Pathway of Hope’s ability to continue to serve the hundreds of struggling people who seek help and hope each month.
Danielle Latteri is the Director of Supportive Services for Jamboree’s growing permanent supportive housing and has helped design of the supportive services for all the people in Jamboree’s supportive housing.
Danielle is a gifted and compassionate leader who has embraced the role of integrating a best-practice services model that’s designed to serve the formerly homeless households that choose to call Jamboree housing their home. In a few short years she has established herself as a leader in the supportive service community in Orange County and is also working throughout the State of California to bring other new housing units online. She has rapidly established herself amongst her Jamboree team and other colleagues as a creative and talented clinical services provider, as well as a leader and trusted colleague.
She has quickly become a leader by helping fulfill the community’s need for excellence in these services that make permanent supportive housing truly effective at ending homelessness. In the next 30 months Jamboree expects to add over 1,000 units of supportive housing and Danielle will lead the entire supportive services team that ensures that this housing is, indeed, a permanent home.
Each day, at-risk youth through StandUp for Kids are receiving the necessary guidance needed for a successful transition into adulthood. The work that StandUp for Kids accomplishes daily would not be possible if not for the efforts of Dr. Stephanie Schneider as a volunteer, supporter, donor and advocate for youth in need. Stephanie spends countless hours serving as an advisory board member of the Orange County Chapter, donor, advocate, grant writer and she directs the OC Colleges Project. After a long-distinguished career in education, she became involved with StandUp for Kids. The issue of youth homelessness was something that Stephanie was passionate about and wanted to help end. “The idea of homeless children was something that touched my heart. It was something that I realized shouldn’t be. It needed to be addressed.” At StandUp for Kids, Stephanie works one on one with students experiencing homelessness by exploring all avenues to help ensure that they have all the resources needed to continue their academic path unimpeded. Some of Stephanie’s fondest memories include seeing a youth she’s worked with acquire the funds they needed to attend college. Stephanie hopes to continue her work with StandUp for Kids and continue impacting the lives of youth in a positive way.
Monica is a dedicated employee and case manager. She has been working in Human Options’ emergency domestic violence shelter for over 10 years. Monica is an amazing case manager who helps rebuild and remove barriers for domestic violence survivors. She seeks to understand the clients and support them in their journey to healing. Monica is an amazing team player and is admired by her peers. It is a pleasure to work alongside her.