2021 Community Spirit Awardsby on Oct 26, 2021
At their October meeting, the Gavilan College Board of Trustees announced the winners of the Community Spirit Awards for 2021. The awards are presented annually, in each of the communities served by Gavilan College, to honor the people and institutions that contribute to improving the quality of life in each community. Each of the three sets of awards includes an individual, a business, and an organization.
As was done last year, due to COVID-19 concerns, the awards will be presented outdoors in a personal visit to each award-winner from Gavilan College Superintendent / President Dr. Kathleen A. Rose and one or more members of the Gavilan College Board of Trustees. The award presentations will be captured on video and then posted online for the community to celebrate and enjoy.
This year's awards will be presented to:
Morgan Hill / San Martin:
- Individual – Vaishnavi Muralidharan
- Organization – IASC Circle of Giving
- Business – Bike Therapy
- Individual – Suzanne Bulle
- Organization – Gilroy Rodeo
- Business – The Neon Exchange
San Benito County:
- Individual – Abraham Gonzales
- Organization – The Sovereign Order of Malta
- Business – Salazar Painting
About the honorees, with comments submitted by nominators
Morgan Hill Individual: Vaishnavi Muralidharan
"I would like to nominate Vaishnavi Muralidharan, who is currently a junior at the Gilroy Early College Academy (GECA) for the Gavilan College Community Spirit Awards. Through GECA, she is a student of Gavilan College and holds a total (weighted) GPA of around 4.6. Along with a high school diploma, She hopes to graduate from both schools with an AA degree in Natural Sciences, as well as an AS degree in Computer Programming. At GECA, Vaishnavi is a member of the Student Government/ASB committee, in which she holds the position of the Junior Associate Justice. Associate Justices are part of a larger group called Tribunal, and they strive to promote the school’s honor code among the student body. They help students who have difficulty adhering to this honor code reflect on their behavior and provide them with tools to be successful in their high school and college careers. This group also focuses on implementing the six pillars of Character Counts, for which she has received a Student-of-the-Month award. Along with school, Vaishnavi engages herself in several non-profit organizations that share similar goals to help the community. She is the Vice-President of the Youth Action Council of Morgan Hill and serves as the voice of teens in the community. Members of this organization are able to plan different events, attend meetings to see what the professional world looks like, and get familiar with the City Council, which includes attending and presenting in city meetings regarding youth development, helping other committee members with their presentation, communicating with City Council members, etc. Girl STEMpowerment is another group that she is a part of. It is a student-led nonprofit organization that hopes to empower young girls in the various STEM subjects. She holds the position of the Director of Mathematics. So far, Vaishnavi has been able to hold multiple STEM workshops for kids of all ages, and every school semester, they organize a successful, free math tutoring program for 3rd-8th grade students. Vaishnavi is also involved with Circle of Giving (CoG), which is another non-profit organization that aims to serve members of the community in times of need. She helps in providing home-cooked meals to the homeless and puts together tutoring programs for low-income students. In the summer of 2021, she organized a free, 8-week Python Programming series for underserved/needy kids. Not only was she able to tutor these kids, but she also designed the curriculum and guided other, fellow tutors in running successful classes. Recently, CoG also hosted a city-wide food drive, in which she was greatly involved in all the planning and executing activities. From a very young age, Vaishnavi has been involved in the California Tamil Academy (CTA), a non-profit organization that aims to preserve and teach Tamil culture to kids. She started as a student, at the age of three, and slowly learned the language and culture, and graduated from this academy at the age of thirteen. Tamil is one of the most ancient languages in the world, and she sees importance in upholding it. So, she started to volunteer as a Teacher’s assistant and aided them in teaching young kids. As a part of becoming familiar with this culture, she is also learning Bharatanatyam, a South-Indian classical dance. Vaishnavi loves being able to help the community. It gives her immense joy to make an impact in someone else’s life. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in the medical field. So, she looks forward to extending her knowledge in this field."
"I met Vaishnavi Muralidharan in July of 2019 when she applied for and was granted a volunteer position for the City of Morgan Hill Youth Action Council (YAC). Vaishnavi’s leadership skills have improved tremendously. She has worked her way up and has been selected as YAC Vice President for this school year. Vaishnavi is a dedicated and responsible teen. She is a fun, well mannered, helpful, and loving person to work with. She has a strong family that supports and assists in her endeavors. Despite Vaishnavi’s brief history with the Youth Action Council, she demonstrates great potential as a leader. Vaishnavi is involved in YAC annual events and programs such as: the Youth Leadership Morgan Hill (4-day program for youth 13-18) as Co-Chair. She plans and organizes the logistics, layout, team meetings for this hybrid event. In 2020, she was responsible for the presentation to Council. She coordinated the planning meetings, mentor other YAC Members in public speaking and writing and presentation skills. In August 2021, Vaishnavi has been selected as the Philanthropy award champion of City of Morgan Hill. In addition, to all the programs listed above Vaishnavi ’s role in the planning and execution of the Community Outreach subcommittee have been outstanding. Her passion for helping other make her a great leader and mentor to her peers. Vaishnavi’s dedication is a great addition to the Youth Action Council and our greater community. Vaishnavi has exceeded 340 hours of volunteer work. Vaishnavi makes an impact in the community as a result of her asset building efforts to encourage "teen-community" involvement and she has taken the necessary steps to ensure the process and success of the project mentioned above. Within the variety of events planned, each one reaches out to all youth in our community. I am very proud to have the opportunity to work with such a generous and responsible young adult who contributes so much to our community."
Morgan Hill Organization: IASC Circle of Giving
"Circle of Giving is the humanitarian initiative started by members of Indian Association of South Santa Clara County with the stated mission of “Standing together and serving our extended community”. The organization was started in May 2020, a few weeks after the world started locking down to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and has been providing yeoman service to those in need in the South County area for the past 15 months. The idea of helping our fellow community members who were undergoing untold hardships due to the lockdown was first floated by Poonam Chabra, the enigmatic founding member and president of the organization. Within a few weeks, the initial group of volunteers created the “Hands Against Hunger” program to provide hot, fresh, home cooked Indian food to those who are undergoing hardships in partnership with other local nonprofits in Morgan Hill and Gilroy. With a growing number of volunteers signing up to help through IASC’s Circle of Giving in fall 2020 many new programs were added - a free tutoring program to help kids who were struggling academically, a “share the warmth” drive to gather and distribute warm clothing during the winter, and the “packed with care” initiative to distribute hygiene kits, grocery bags, and protective gear to farm workers. As of August 2021 the programs run by Circle of Giving have had the a positive impact on the community, 1400 meals have been distributed through “Hands Against Hunger”, 1080 care packages have been distributed, 403 grocery bags have been handed out, 30 children have received free tutoring (math, reading, and python programming), and volunteers have contributed more than 2000 hours of their time to keep these programs running. You can find more information about the ongoing programs that are run by IASC’s Circle of Giving at their website - https://www.iascinfo.com/circle-of-giving, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call/text at +1-408-3120-3515."
"Circle of Giving is a non-profit organization serving Morgan Hill, San Martin, Gilroy and Hollister areas. This organization serves the low income families, homeless and the most vulnerable community by all means. On a weekly basis, they are proving home cooked meals, fruits, water and juice to the homeless/needy people in Morgan Hill and Gilroy. They are also providing free tutoring services to the under served families. Many school kids were able keep up with their grades due to this free tutoring services. The organization also teaches free computer programming classes to the needy families. Recently in summer they conducted a 8-week free python programming classes. In addition to the above programs, Circle of Giving also distribute the packed with care, personal hygiene kits on a regular basis. In the month of July, they conducted a big food drive, through which they distributed a bag full of perishable items, another bag full of non-perishable food items and hygiene kits to more than 130 families in Morgan Hill. Helping the farmers in and around Morgan Hill is their another initiative. On a regular basis, they handover the snacks, non-perishable food items, hats, sunscreen, water, juice to the near by farms in an aim to help the farmers. During last winter season, they also collected the clothes and blankets and distributed it to the homeless people. Last but not least, during last Christmas season, Circle of Giving also did a toy drive and handed them over to Rebekah child services for distribution. Circle of Giving, is now a definitely a familiar organization among the homeless, farmers, and under served families of Morgan Hill and Gilroy, and definitely a true candidate to consider for giving this community spirit award."
"Humanitarian work: Preparing meals for the homeless, Providing them with necessary items, partnering with other organizations like Gilroy Compassion Center, Homeless not Hopeless, etc, providing online tutor services for underprivileged students, getting youngsters involved and more."
Morgan Hill Business: Bike Therapy
- "Bike Therapy aims to support the local community and national cycling advocacy as much as possible, including:
- Creating and managing the South County Composite Mountain Bike Team, which has introduced local youths to mountain biking with weekly training sessions, team-building activities and opportunities to help the community for 70-plus middle and high school students in its short existence
- Hosting weekly rides
- Helping local schools keep their bicycle fleets in good working order
- Planning activities for Bike Month
- Running Morgan Hill Bike Party rides (in non-Covid times)
- Advocating for Morgan Hill initiatives
- Participating in the Bicycle Pedestrian Advocacy Group (BPAG)
- Working with “Visit Morgan Hill” to promote local tourism
- Volunteering on the Morgan Hill Downtown Association
- Donating to local charity events"
Gilroy Individual: Suzanne Bulle
"Please consider Suzanne Bulle for Gavilan College’s Community Spirit Award – Gilroy Community / Individual Category. Although retiring from Gavilan College as the Executive Assistant to the Superintendent/President, Suzanne Bulle has continued to give back. She has filled in where the need arises – as an admin assistant to a Dean, working in reprographics, and serving on the 2014 Gala committee. In addition, she served 2 consecutive 2-year terms (2014-16 and 2016-18) as a Director on Gavilan College’s Educational Foundation, which included being on the Measure E Facilities Bond Citizens' Oversight Committee representing the Foundation. Suzanne helps out each year at Science Alive and the Health Faire events. She volunteers at the college’s home football games, doing whatever needs to be done: taking tickets at the gate or selling Gavilan athletic merchandise. These are just the activities that I am aware of, I’m sure there are many more examples of Suzanne Bulle’s activities in the community and for the college. Thank you for considering her for Gavilan College’s Community Spirit Award – Gilroy Community / Individual Category."
Gilroy Business – Neon Exchange
" (Owner) Toni Bowles is an asset to the Gilroy community in every capacity. Her stylish renovation of a historic building in downtown has breathed life in an important section of downtown. She hosts cooking shows, organizes yoga in the park next to the Neon and hosts art shows. She spearheaded gathering people to decorate the windows of downtown businesses for a Halloween window stroll during lockdown. Many families happy for a chance to get out in a socially-safe way enjoyed all of the spooky windows thanks to Toni. She hosted the YMCA and affiliated non-profits to gather, wrap and distribute Christmas gifts to those in need. She volunteers locally with different charitable foundations. Toni is welcoming and friendly to everyone. I am in awe of her energy and can-do attitude, she really personifies what the Spirit award is all about."
"When Toni was contacted early in the pandemic with a request for donated space to package food for the homeless, Toni said yes. Neon Exchange became the birthplace of PitStop Outreach which now provides 120-140 meals to unhoused individuals every evening."
Gilroy Organization: Gilroy Rodeo
"The annual GILROY RODEO is a wonderful event for our community. The mission of Gilroy Rodeo is simple: Bring rodeo and the spirit of western heritage back to Gilroy while enriching our community both culturally and financially. Gilroy Rodeo is proud to be a Non-Profit 501(c)(3) entity, with no paid employees. The supporters work year-round devoting their time, goods, services and money to the event. The volunteer group continues to grow each year, and they know can't put on this event without the help of our community. With deep roots dating as far back as 1930, the Gilroy Rodeo was once a town affair drawing an entire stadium of spectators each June. Unfortunately, the rodeo ceased in 1956. Fast forward to 2017, when Erik Martin and his wife Kendra decided to reignite the flame of western heritage in the area by bringing the Gilroy Rodeo back after a 56 year hiatus. The rodeo returned to the scene in 2018 where the ways of the old rodeo cowboy met the modern south bay area culture we live in today. To honor this unique medley, the rodeo Board of Directors decided that the GR motto would be: "where the past meets the present". It is their hope that in the future Gilroy will be known for its annual community rodeo. We strive to return all profits from the rodeo to youth organizations in our area, with special attention to those organizations involving agriculture. We have also founded our "Gilroy Kicking Cancer" initiative, which allowed us to donate to fight against pediatric cancer. Gilroy Rodeo gives back to: Gilroy FFA Boosters, Aromas Soccer, South Valley Community Church, Angel Warriors for Kids, Gilroy High Cheer, Adams 4-H, PacPoint Athlete Club, Monte Vista Cheer, Live Oak Cheer, Gilroy High Quarterback Club, Gilroy Foundation: Garlic Festival Relief"
San Benito County Business: Salazar Painting
"Julio Salazar of Hollister exemplifies the finest of the American spirit: A hard working, small businessman and community leader who challenges educators, parents, and youth to do the right thing. For more 25 years, his volunteer work has focused on positive outcomes for San Benito County teens. To this end, time and again Julio has guided educational leaders, diplomatically coaxing but relying on laws and best practice. For an elementary school, Julio righted a long-standing wrong on behalf of migrant children. Years later he painted the entire school with only a few hours of volunteer help. Applying one of his greatest strengths, he coaches parents to understand when and how to press for their children’s rights and how to develop that U.S. American sense of independence and self-sufficiency. He accomplishes this, in part, by honoring Mexican family values. Straight talk and a little tough love characterize his work with youth. A low-key motivational speaker, he energizes teenagers to succeed, making sure they get to fund raisers, events, and field trips to broaden their perspectives and develop their self-assurance. Impacting hundreds of parents and children over the years, Julio has worked with LULAC and Federal Migrant Education programs in three schools. For his achievements, the State of California identified him as a regional leader and placed him on a key statewide committee. Active with LULAC for many years, he has served as vice president. On his own last year, he painted an elementary school, pro bono. He did this while maintaining his painting business, helping two college-age children move ahead, and raising a little one with his wife of many years. Yes, it matters when people like Julio invest in our community. Scores of students—many college graduates—have benefited directly from his caring engagement in their lives. It is fitting our community recognizes such volunteers to remind us of our obligation to contribute, as Julio does, in our own special way. I don’t think Julio has been recognized by another local organization. Surely, it’s time for us to honor Julio, a new U.S. citizen in 2021."
San Benito County Individual: Abraham Gonzales
"I want to nominate Abraham Gonzales, when the pandemic struck our community, Abraham thought of an idea to help mom and pop business try to keep them afloat. He started fundraising to raise money and with each fundraiser, a business was selected to receive the money fundraised. He continues to find ways of helping the community and with the support of San Benito Barbers. Events such as helping students get back to school providing free haircuts to migrant students, and a backpack event which provided backpacks, school supplies, personalized water bottles, facemasks and mcdonalds gift certificates. He is humble and giving to his community and I know he'll say he can't do it alone, however, his genuine and caring attitude have made a difference for so many during this time of need. Abraham is a young and blossoming asset to our community that will continue to support the community in which he lives in becoming a mentor to others so that we can follow his path of caring."
San Benito Organization: Sovereign Order of Malta
"The Sovereign Order of Malta is a Catholic Lay Person religious Order that is a non-profit organization created over 900 years ago to serve the poor and the sick. Since April of 2020, our San Jose Location has created a program, even during the pandemic and beyond, that to date, has procured and created over 25,000 Hygiene Kits that have been distributed to homeless encampments an shut-in Senior Centers throughout Santa Clara, San Benito and Monterey Counties. These kits are 100% funded by member donations and grants and are sorted, created and distributed directly by our members, auxiliary and volunteers. We have been a recipient numerous times of Grants from the Morgan Hill Community Foundation, to help with the purchase of products within these incredible kits. "