This year, Local Hero nominations by far surpassed any other year, receiving dozens of nominations, many of which included especially heartfelt stories of the work of their respective volunteers. Choosing this year’s Local Heroes was truly a struggle as so many worthy and certainly important people deserve the honors. But this year, we saw something unusual, young people who have gone above and beyond for social justice. We felt compelled to highlight the work of our diverse community of all ages, from all around the county, in all areas of charity work, from homelessness to environment, arts and equality and acceptance of all. And so, we are honored to present 2017 Local Heroes.
A Dreamer Without Borders in Oxnard
After witnessing and experiencing the life of a field worker for two months at age 14, Litzy H. had an epiphany. She not only wanted to pursue a higher education but she wanted to combat injustice in the fields and in the education system.
The recent Hueneme High School graduate is an aspiring civil rights and immigration attorney who gives her time to several organizations.
For example, she serves as an interpreter (English, Spanish and Mixtec) for Friends of Field Workers, a nonprofit that offers assistance to families of farm workers. At the Mixteco/Indígena Community Organizing Project, which works to help and encourage Ventura County’s indigenous community, Litzy’s efforts focused on supporting farm workers and Assembly Bill 1066, which deals with overtime for agricultural workers.
As a child, she and her family migrated to the United States from an indigenous community in Oaxaca, Mexico. Thus, she endeavors to attain the proverbial “American Dream” that she infers is unattainable for her parents and many others whose dreams are limited to crossing the desert. Litzy describes her life as blessed, albeit with hardships, a combination that made her who she is and who she is determined to be.
She was not always comfortable with her identity, however.
“It was far easier for me to embrace being undocumented, but it took me a while to feel proud of my indigenous heritage and, internally, I knew it was wrong. Indigenous youth face constant bullying and racism from other Mexican students, which led me to hide being Mixtec,” Litzy revealed.
This drove her to start Hueneme High School’s Dreamers Without Borders (DWB), a club that allowed students to gather weekly to discuss state laws that both benefited and limited education goals of immigrant youth as well as provided empowerment and advocacy for equal access.
“I helped facilitate conversations about other issues that not only pertained to undocumented students, but other marginalized youth,” Litzy said.
Initial lack of support from school administration motivated her to contact Congresswoman Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, who delivered a platform that allowed her club to flourish.
It was vital that these voices be heard. After all, she conveys that national issues directly affected them and their families.
And for all her work in Ventura County, Oxnard nonprofit El Concilio Family Services recently recognized her with a leadership award. Litzy is the first youth to ever receive the honor.
While attending the University of California, Berkeley, soon, she plans to volunteer at organizations and high schools and start a club on campus for indigenous students. Litzy believes that it is critical to guide youth and, more importantly, that one’s location does not negate the need for social change.
She is living a reality that those she strives to embolden through her efforts, including her parents, once felt was beyond reach.
“This dream [Berkeley] was far too fantasy-like for them [my parents]. This is the truth for many indigenous families. We come to this county to receive an education but it tends to turn into a cycle of us also working in the agricultural fields,” said Litzy. “This upsets me because we deserve to dream and accomplish. We deserve to be in office and have equity in the justice system. We deserve to walk without fear of being deported. We deserve to have dinner because we feed this country. We deserve to go to school and have healthcare because it is a human right. We deserve to live because we are human.”
For more information, visit www.mixteco.org.
Litzy has asked that her full last name be withheld as she is still a minor.
Captain Cleanup in Ventura
John Harrison spent nearly 19 years as a client benefits specialist for the Ventura County Human Services Agency’s General Relief program, which provides zero-interest loans and aid for rent. He not only determined client eligibility but he tracked client progress toward financial stability.
Following retirement, Harrison’s inclination to help others led him to work one day a week as a companion to an adult with disabilities.
“I thought it would be a good idea to do some kind of public service as part of our time together. It occurred to me that we could clean up trash along the bike trail that runs parallel to Highway 33,” he said.
After cleaning abandoned homeless camps, the search for another project led to a Saturday cleanup event sponsored by the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy. It was in July 2014 that Harrison volunteered to clean trash from the Ventura River, and the organization’s mission has since become his own. In fact, conservancy staff consider him a member of the team and he is known as “Captain Cleanup.”
It seems that he is justly named. “Captain Cleanup” Harrison has given a total of 190 hours to date toward conservancy efforts, collecting 4.125 tons of trash. He observes that the impact of the collective is immeasurable but that it starts with the role of the individual. In other words, you can make a difference.
But it can be an uphill battle.
Attempts to keep the Willoughby Nature Preserve and its surrounding areas clean is seemingly a never-ending cycle.
“Even if you keep an area clean, such as the area east of the river where the VHC has been concentrating their efforts, the [homeless] campers will then move, as they have, to the west side of the river, or move back to the cleaned areas if you don’t keep at it. It’s a complicated issue that needs the combined efforts of Social Services, homeless programs, Behavioral Health, Alcohol and Drug Programs and affordable housing. Not an easy problem to solve,” he explained.
There are learning opportunities. Harrison has acquired knowledge about plants while helping clear out the invasive nonnative plants and reestablishing the native ones by planting them. And while he enjoys the hands-on work more, he spends several hours a week participating in the conservancy’s Willoughby Nature Preserve patrol program.
“I could see that the VHC needed patrol partners. I could also see that regular patrolling is necessary to stay on top of the illegal campsites and the inevitable trash that gets left behind.”
Ultimately, Harrison is grateful to the conservancy for its continued efforts and the opportunities it offers to others. Although he can offer certainty about his intentions to continue dedicating time to the local environment, he can only share his hope about others.
“I know that may be unrealistic, but it would be great to see even more coordination between the local social service agencies that work with the homeless population and environmental groups such as VHC, Surfrider, etc., to address the underlying problem of the degradation of our local environment. Without addressing homelessness in a more adequate way, this will be a forever problem.”
For more information, visit www.venturahillsides.org
A teen advocate for social justice and equality in Fillmore
Lorenzo Anthony Palomera, 16, believes in helping others to the best of his ability. Social and economic problems while growing up inspired him to take steps to do so.
“I feel it is my duty to give back to the community that I was raised in so we can continue to improve for generations to come,” he explained.
While maintaining a 4.6 grade point average at Fillmore High School, Palomera concentrates on positive change, both in and outside of school.
He is a member and former president of the Social Equality Club and was an active participant in the UC Ambassador’s Club where the goal was to influence college-bound students through leadership roles.
With a few other students, Palomera was involved in the successful implementation of equal access to the advanced placement (AP) test through the state board. AP classes offer a GPA boost, and prior to his efforts the qualifying test was not free. Students who were unable to afford it were denied the possibility of AP classes and, therefore, a higher GPA. This action was a breach of the Equal Education Opportunity Act.
On the other hand, Palomera also organized a memorial for the victims of the June 2016 Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting during Fillmore’s Dia de los Muertos event (around 700 attendees). While other altars also possessed significance, Palomera’s was notable because it was reportedly the first time the city and its people had publicly supported the LGBTQ community. He engaged with passersby about the violence against LGBTQ people, and his overall efforts and objectives were recognized as a beneficial coupling between the Latino and LGBTQ communities.
“I believe the LGBTQ community is becoming more recognized; however, at the same time I believe that we have certain areas that need more attention brought to them such as the LGBTQ youth in schools,” he said.
For the last year, Palomera has been serving with One Step a la Vez (One Step at a Time), a teen advocacy group in Fillmore.
“The One Step provides a space where teenagers can go to work on their studies, play music, socialize, or just be themselves without judgment,” he explained. “Despite me being a fairly new teen advocate, the One Step has become a sort of second home for me due to its encouraging environment and mission to help average teens like me.”
According to the Executive Director Kate English, Palomera is so engrossed in effecting change through its many projects that she frequently has to remind him that he forgot his stipend. The teen has been at the forefront of One Step’s involvement in many events, including the L.A. Women’s March, the One Billion Rising event to end gender-based violence, the Ventura Pride Parade and especially its Food Shares program to deliver groceries to low-income families.
While still active at One Step, Palomera (with the help of others) currently aims to provide cultural competency training to faculty and staff at his school in order to assist in their management of social injustices and ability to support students in all aspects of their identities. Also, he is pursuing the establishment of gender-neutral bathrooms for students who may not identify with male or female.
“The driving force that motivates me is just the idea of helping others before yourself. The feeling that I get after I successfully helped another person in some way is more than enough motivation to strive for the best,” he concluded.
For more information, www.myonestep.org
One couple’s limitless compassion for the homeless in Ventura
Harold Cartlidge, 76, is a retired carpenter and counselor while Dorothy Fast Horse, 64, is a retired nurse. They have been together since 1975 and do almost everything together, including volunteering.
Even as Cartlidge was acknowledged (record-breaking number of nominations) for his work for the Local Heroes issue, Fast Horse was inevitably included despite her own determination to highlight just him. And as the couple currently focuses less on volunteer work and more on Cartlidge’s recovery from illness, it is apparent according to friends and associates that the void left by their absence is substantial.
When Fast Horse encountered a homeless man a few years ago at Ventura’s River Haven (now a transitional encampment community) with only one can of corn to sustain him for the day, she went home and prepared a turkey for him. Subsequently, she began delivering a weekly meal and with the help of her church members, River Haven’s Weekly Dinner blossomed.
“I am rewarded and inspired by both the people I work with and those that we help. The smile on someone’s face when we can help them with getting them signed up for housing or food needs. The gratitude when I can be someone who really listens and cares. It is all rewarding and keeps me going,” said Fast Horse.
Meanwhile, Cartlidge helped erect the dome structures that house River Haven, built a raised-bed garden and installed a water line and meter as well as petitioned the public in a news article for barbecues to cook and heat food on.
“We received about $2,000 worth of barbecues, camping equipment and commodities. My husband organized the volunteers, driving and the food. Soon other organizations were also helping and we were able to go from weekly to monthly dinners,” she added, noting that the weekly meals were done by others instead of just them.
Thereafter, the then-Rev. Jan Christian asked the couple for their help in implementing a program to tackle homelessness at their church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura.
After all, they were longtime participants with organizations such as Ventura County Public Health’s One Stop program, which offers social services to families and the homeless, and the Ventura Social Services Task Force, which employs a 10-year plan to end homelessness in Ventura.
“Doing it makes one less afraid and more experienced,” said Cartlidge about assisting the homeless and to those who may be hesitant about offering help.
So, Lift Up Your Voice to End Homelessness (LUYV) was created and serves as an advocacy program, providing support to other organizations and programs as well as offering direct services to the homeless.
Safe Sleep Ventura was also adopted in 2010.
The program offers eligible homeless people the security to sleep overnight (7 p.m.-7 a.m.) in a vehicle in particular lots without being cited, as well as guidance toward a job and/or a home. Safe Sleep Ventura participants are screened by the Salvation Army, and a case worker is also provided. The organization also oversees other aspects of the program and Cartlidge does as well.
While it is believed that Safe Sleep Ventura has helped hundreds of people to date, its enactment and maintenance have reportedly not been without responses based in fear or ignorance.
To address them, the traveling Photo Projects were launched and displayed in numerous locations, including Ventura City Hall, Temple Beth Torah, Ojai Public Library and the E. P. Foster Library.
In “Faces of Homelessness,” portraits of homeless people included a brief account of each individual’s story below the photograph. In “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream,” the photographs and accompanying stories showcased homeless children by revealing where they sleep.
“We feel people need to interact with people who are homeless and look for the similarities rather than the differences we all have,” explained Cartlidge.
And there is more from husband and wife.
Fast Horse became a drummer under the guidance of Pam Nishikawa, who conducted the drumming service at their church. When Fast Horse later underwent chemotherapy, Cartlidge took lessons and joined in because, as recounted, he appreciated how much drumming energized and cheered up his wife. He then helped start a drum circle that performed on Sundays at Arroyo Verde Park in Ventura.
“Harold is often described by people as ‘the nicest person I have ever known.’ I agree,” Fast Horse said.
Whether it is drumming or building or teaching, Cartlidge has been noted by many, including his wife, to “add life” to all he does.
The couple volunteers their musical talents in several ways, including by performing for the community such as at the Ventura CROP Walk for Hunger, the Boy Scouts and in a drumming troupe for schools. Plus, they are active in the UUCV choir and have committed their time to teaching music and religion to children.
In addition to her other efforts, Fast Horse also oversees a book club and volunteers on the UUCV Social Action Coordinating Committee, which provides members support for the social justice effort of their choosing.
“I enjoy interacting with people and learning about them and their stories. When I am able to help in some way it is a joyful experience,” she said.
Meanwhile, her husband is involved with Family Promise, a program to house families and get them back on their feet. He is also attempting to implement a mobile shower facility for the homeless, a program that has been successful in Santa Barbara (“Showers of Blessing”).
“When you help people in one way or another it spreads out and others are helped in turn,” Cartlidge stated.
For more information, visit www.uuventura.org/social-justice/lift-up-your-voice/