On July 29, 2023, Rep. Judy Chu (CA-28) held her annual Congressional Leadership of the Year Awards Ceremony to honor local leaders and groups in the San Gabriel Valley who have contributed to their communities through service and leadership.
By News Desk
The Congressional Leadership of the Year Awards is an annual event recognizing the diverse leadership and volunteerism in the cities making up California’s 28th Congressional District. Each of the awardees were selected from nominations submitted by members of their community.
“The selected groups and individuals received this honor because of the remarkable, commendable work they have accomplished in their fields,” said Rep. Chu. “The honorees are leaders who have stood out because of their drive and commitment to support our communities, help vulnerable populations, and carry us through difficult times. They are heroes that inspire us all.”
The 2023 honorees are:
1- Building Bridges Award:
The Claremont Forum
Since 1986, the Claremont Forum has been dedicated to promoting wellness, education, and the arts, making a positive impact both locally and nationally. At the heart of its mission is the transformative Prison Library Project (PLP), which brings together a diverse group of volunteers to send books to incarcerated individuals across the country. Some volunteers join as advocates for those behind bars, while others participate out of their love for reading and passion for education. The PLP has become a place of belonging and community for many. The thank-you notes from inmates who have received books and educational materials serve as a powerful reminder of the project’s profound impact, offering a chance to counter the dehumanizing aspects of incarceration and support individuals in rebuilding their lives upon release. Through providing access to knowledge and resources, the Claremont Forum continues to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those it serves.
2- Businessperson of the Year:
Abel Ramirez is a longtime restauranteur known to many throughout Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley. A native of Yucatán, Mexico, Abel began his restaurant career at The Huntington Hotel and later served as the general manager for The Athenaeum at Caltech before opening the doors of El Portal in April 1995. Since then, El Portal has become one of Pasadena’s most beloved restaurants, featuring traditional Mexican favorites and specializing in the flavors and dishes of Yucatán. El Portal has evolved over the years to become a part of Pasadena’s social fabric.
In addition to his decades of successful business, Ramirez has always prioritized making time to help serve those in need, especially children and older adults. He currently serves on the board of Pasadena Senior Center. He is a former member of the board of Families Forward, Hillsides Home for Children, and the Pasadena Playhouse. Ramirez was a founding member of the Playhouse District Association and a longtime member of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association. Ramirez and his wife, Rosalia, have three sons and six grandchildren.
3- Activist of the Year:
Dianne Lewis, Alkebu-Lan Cultural Center (ACC), CEO: She has held this position since 2011. Dianne is a retired Educational Specialist from Los Angeles Unified School District. She holds two Master’s degrees one in Administration & Educational Leadership and Special Education. Dianne is known for her expertise, knowledge and skills for working with difficult students. She is dedicated to improving the quality of public education and community service. She has provided training to new teachers in the areas of Autism Learning Handicapped and foster care youth. Dianne has a background developing partnerships and programs while completing her doctoral work at U.C.L.A and California State University.
She is currently showcasing African American artist that are educating children about the arts. Children attending the center have been exposed to the artist with accompanying dialogue about their art. Children are then able to produce their own artist designs. Alkebu-Lan has provided various music genres through partnerships with Classical Notes, storytelling through instruments, Brazilian dance, African drumming and African dance.
Alkebu-Lan under the direction of CEO, Dianne is also a community liaison that provides a voice and support system regarding issues throughout the community, i.e. the revitalization of the educational system, relationships with the police and people of color, and community safety. She is very passionate about her community and strives to ensure success among African American Youth
4- Educator of the Year:
Tin Tran was born on April 8, 1968, during the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive. As the youngest of six, Tin’s father was a South Vietnamese Marine Colonel, and his mother a civil service worker. After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, his family became part of the first wave of Vietnamese refugees, reaching California via Guam and Pennsylvania. Adjusting to life in the United States was challenging, but Tin’s family embraced the “American Dream” with hope and determination. Tin excelled as a student athlete at Huntington Park High School, captaining both the basketball and tennis teams, earning accolades in LAUSD competitions. After high school, Tin joined the Navy Reserves Officers Training Corps at UCLA to repay his gratitude to the country. In 1990, he fulfilled his dream o’ becoming a Naval Flig“t Officer and ”ircumnavigated the globe during his 13-year service. Transitioning into education, Tin became a Social Science teacher, where he met his wife Sharon. He coached the Academic Decathlon program at Mark Keppel High School, achieving remarkable success, emphasizing teamwork and character development.
Beyond his career, Tin takes pride in his family, with his daughters excelling academically at CSU San Diego. Tin’s life reflects gratitude, service, and a pursuit of excellence, making him a role model in both his personal and professional life.
5- Non-Profit of the Year:
Sierra Madre Playhouse
The Sierra Madre Playhouse, a historic theater building, is gearing up to commemorate its centennial in 2024. Since its inception as a cinema during the silent film era, the Playhouse has transformed into an intimate, versatile performance venue and cherished community asset. With a remarkable legacy of high-quality productions and a commitment to uplifting and inclusive entertainment, The Sierra Madre Playhouse stands out as a nonprofit civic organization with enduring significance in the arts community. Surviving a challenging two-year pandemic closure, the Playhouse has re-emerged with renewed vigor, presenting a diverse and ambitious performance calendar. Among its recent achievements, the Playhouse partnered with the Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) to provide an enriching experience for 800 sixth graders through performances of Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky,” all at the Playhouse’s expense. For many of these students, it marked their first exposure to live theater, an educational and memorable moment made possible by the Playhouse’s dedication to fostering arts appreciation among the younger generation. As a 501c(3) recognized charitable organization, the Playhouse remains steadfast in its mission to uplift, educate, and inspire through the performing arts. The Playhouse’s pursuit of excellence continues to exceed expectations, resonating with audiences from all walks of life.
6- Volunteers of the Year:
Foothills Community Scholarship Foundation of La Cañada Flintridge
Since 1964, the Community Scholarship Foundation has been inspiring and encouraging higher education to junior colleges, trade techs, vocational colleges, or other universities and learning institutions by awarding scholarships to local graduating high school students, including students that are homeschooled within the Foothills Community.
Believing there is an abundance of scholarships awarded to the top GPA students, CSF seeks to identify, support and encourage higher education for students who have a high level of integrity, are committed, are self-motivated, are confident yet humble, and persevere even in adversity. We honor these students as participants in the annual Fiesta Days Parade and a celebratory Awards luncheon.
Each year, we honor an individual or couple with a Distinguished Person Award to thank them for their personal service dedicated to improving the lives of children. We have volunteers that are committed to outreach to the school counselors to get the word out about our application period and to connect with students who may fit our unique criteria. We award scholarships to students who have a family income of $250,000 or less per year and a cumulative GPA of 3.0. Our goal is to make the educational dream a reality. We are entering our 60th year as a Foundation and will change our name to the “Foothills Community Scholarship Foundation.”
7- Youth of the Year:
Nicolas Kiet Quach is an education advocate, Alhambra Library Trustee, and a prominent young political leader. As a student at public schools in Alhambra, Nicolas has been actively engaged in empowering youth across the San Gabriel Valley, becoming a voice for effective community advocacy. In December 2020, Nicolas was elected as the Freshman Class President, gaining endorsements from teachers, student leaders, and elected officials, including Alhambra Mayor Sasha Renee Perez and Councilman Ross Maza. His dedication and leadership led to three additional terms as class president, and he also served on the Alhambra High School Site Council. His commitment to public service and policy led to his appointment to the City of Alhambra Library Board of Trustees in January 2023, becoming the youngest Library Trustee in the United States. Prior to that, he served three terms on the City of Alhambra Youth Commission, where he was elected as the youngest President of any city commission in Alhambra history. Under his leadership, the Youth Commission passed resolutions supporting student-led initiatives for a city skate park and the removal of age requirements for all city commissions. Nicolas’s passion for educational equity led him to join Student Voice, a 501c(3) nonprofit focused on advancing educational equality nationwide.
As one of the youngest political leaders statewide, Nicolas has held significant roles within the California Young Democrats (CYD). He served as LA Deputy Regional Director and Political Director, and later became Vice Chair of CA High School Democrats and the youngest LA Regional Director in CYD’s history. Currently, Nicolas is the State Chair of the California High School Democrats and the President of the Alhambra Young Democrats.
In addition to his political involvement, Nicolas serves on the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) Student Advisory Council, the National Youth Advisory Council of Save the Children U.S., and RACE Forward H.E.A.L Together Advisory Board. Nicolas’s remarkable achievements have not gone unnoticed, as he has received commendations from the California State Senate & Assembly, City of Los Angeles & Alhambra, and the Alhambra Unified School District for his community work. He was also honored as the 2022 Democrat of the Year by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. Through his dedication to education justice, advocacy, and leadership, Nicolas Kiet Quach is making a significant impact in his community and beyond, inspiring young people to be catalysts for positive change.
8- Non-profit of the Year:
Friends in Deed
Friends In Deed (FID) is an interfaith organization that provides supportive services to meet basic human needs, so homeless and at-risk individuals and families can rebuild their lives. Celebrating more than 125 years of service, FID meets the needs of clients by leveraging a team of dedicated staff members, along with hundreds of volunteers. Friends In Deed meets people where they are, without judgment or restrictions that deny people the help they need. FID brings compassion, connection, and dignity to homelessness and poverty. Friends In Deed has five ongoing programs: The Women’s Room, a day shelter for homeless and at-risk women; Food Pantry, providing groceries to over 500 households each week; Street Outreach and Housing, helping those experiencing unsheltered homelessness receive supportive services and pathways toward housing; Bad Weather Supplies, providing cold weather items and emergency motel stays during inclement winter weather; and Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance, providing funds to maintain housing stability in the local Pasadena community. “Doing together what we cannot do alone” is Friends In Deed’s slogan, summarizing its role in Pasadena with a focus on partnership and collaboration to meet the needs in the area. Since 1894, tens of thousands of lives have been transformed because of the work Friends In Deed accomplishes on a daily basis.
9- Lifetime Achievement Award:
Shirley Virginia Kelley Bellemeur
Shirley Virginia Kelley Bellemeur was born in Massachusetts on December 5, 1923. She grew up in Montpelier, Vermont during the height of the depression and at the age of 18 went to work in a local factory. It was from there that, in 1944, she was recruited by and joined the WAVES, the Women’s Branch of the United States Naval Reserve during World War II. She was stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola, where she worked as a “Rosie The Riveter” repairing war-torn battle planes, ultimately achieving the rank of Aviation Metalsmith Third Class. Mrs. Bellemeur proudly describes being “the only one tiny enough to climb into the inside of the broken wings to rivet from the inside.” What she remembers the most about that time is that “we had a lot of fun.”
Following the war, Mrs. Bellemeur returned home to Vermont where she met and married her husband. They promptly moved west to Pasadena, California where they had 3 children. They divorced, and Mrs. Bellemeur attended Pacific Oaks College, where she obtained a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. She worked for many years as a Preschool Director, first at Hastings Ranch Nursery School and then Caltech Children’s Center, from where she retired in the early 1990s.
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