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2011 Champions for Justice Announced

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Janet Green, President of the Board of Directors of the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County announced that on Thursday, April 14, 2011, the nonprofit organization will host its 9th Annual Champions for Justice Awards Banquet. The event will be held at 6:00 p.m. at Riverside Convention Center.

Six Riverside County residents, the city of Riverside’s Youth Council and one Riverside County youth who is a “Champion on the Rise” will be honored for championing causes of the poor, disabled, seniors, youth and individuals from various ethnic groups throughout Riverside County. President Green noted: “These individuals have also made personal sacrifices so that justice prevails for many in our county who do not have a voice.”

The following individuals will be honored: Judge Virginia Phillips; Claudia Castorena and Gloria Gomez; John and Jane Russo; Omar Zaki; Vivian Stancil; and The Pick Group. The Fair Housing Council will recognize one Riverside County youth organization and one Riverside County youth as Champions on the Rise. These honorees are: City of Riverside Youth Council and Jamal Samuels.

Judge Phillips sits on the United States District Court for the Central District of California, where she has served since November 10, 1999. Prior to her appointment as District Judge, she served as a Magistrate Judge in the Central District and sat on the California Superior Court from 1995 until 1999, and sat on the Superior Court for four years before joining the federal bench. She regularly teaches courses in civil and criminal procedure, legal ethics and federal trial practice. She is a founding member of the local chapter of the Federal Bar Association, and was also the founding member of the local chapter of the American Inns of Court, where she serves as a Judicial Master as was a member of the Board of Directors. Several organizations have recognized her with awards, including the Athena award in 2001 for professional excellence, community service and a demonstrated body of work in assisting women to achieve their full potential. On September 9, 2010, she ruled the U.S. military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, a 17-year-old policy against openly gay service members, was unconstitutional. Her mentor Arthur Littleworth, of the Best, Best & Krieger law firm, told the New York Times, “She is balanced.” The Press-Enterprise described her as a “by-the-book jurist” who is friendly and funny in her personal life. In her 86- page opinion, she called the law, passed by Congress in 1993, an unconstitutional violation of First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and Fifth Amendment guarantees of substantive due process. Judge Phillips is receiving this award for her outstanding community service and legal justice.

Castorena and Gomez, co-founders of Martha’s Kitchen located in the Coachella Valley are receiving this award for their community service. The organization began in 1990 with five dollars, seven volunteers that served a hot nutritious meal to the homeless and poor in Indio. After twenty years of service, the organization received grants and donations to build a new facility that is the largest provider of services to the homeless in the Coachella area. With this accomplishment in 2010, the women moved on to form Galilee Center in Thermal. This organization provides food baskets, clothing and fresh produce to more than 160 families a week.

John and Jane Russo are owners of two restaurants in the Pass Area. These local business owners are receiving this award for their community service. For many years the Russo’s have reached out to those in need. The second Tuesday of each month they provide enough food to Carol’s Kitchen to feed between 200 and 300 people. They feed youth who participate in the programs of the Banning Police Activities League. Many of these youth come from low-income families. They see that seniors at Banning High School receive scholarships for college through their sponsorship of the Desert Edge Run. When there is a death in a family and funds are needed to cover the cost of funerals the Russo’s make their parking lot available to help these families at a time of need. When there is a community need invariably someone will say, “call Johnny for help”, because he does.

Omar Zaki is receiving this award in the areas of civil rights, community service, education and faith/religion. A member and former chair of the city of Riverside’s Human Relations Commission, Mr. Zaki was appointed by former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass to serve on the State of California Council on Criminal Justice and Council on American Islamic Relations. This national organization represents American Muslims on matters of Constitutional rights. After the horrific events of September 11, 2001, Mr. Zaki left an executive position of 15 years to join a national civil rights organization dedicated to educate and inform the general public and legislators about Islam and the American Muslim community. He continues to work on the growing issues of Islamaphobia in America. These days it is not popular to speak out on the side of Islam or Muslims. In spite of being attacked for being a sympathizer to terrorists and trying to implement Sharia law in America Omar Zaki continues to strive for Religious equality in America.

Vivian Stancil chose life over death in 1999 when she changed her life and began swimming to a better, healthier life. Facing premature death or overcoming her fear of water Vivian chose overcoming her fear of water. In 2002 the legally blind Stancil began improving her life by swimming competitively. She has lost 125 pounds, turned swimming into a passion and a life saver. She now competes as a swimmer in the local and state Senior Games. In June 2011, Vivian will compete in the 2011 Senior Games in Houston, Texas. It is believed by Senior Games officials that Vivian will be the only blind swimmer to enter the games. This retired school teacher is an example of how you can truly make lemonade from lemons.

The Pick Group, Established in 2008, this organization is being honored for taking the initiative to form a diverse organization that responds to the needs of young professionals. They have created a culture of engagement and opportunity for these young professionals who come from within Riverside. The Pick Group is contributing to Riverside’s development into one of the most innovative, enjoyable, and healthy places to live and work for citizens of all backgrounds and experiences.

City of Riverside Youth Council is receiving this award in the area of community service. The Youth Council was established in 2004 by Mayor Loveridge and the Riverside City Council. It is compose of a diverse student representation from high schools across the City of Riverside. The Youth Council allows students to actively engage in public service by organizing and participating special engagements, events and leadership opportunities. The City’s, efforts in collaboration with the young men and women of the Riverside Youth Council, have successfully promoted cross-campus partnerships that foster diversity and provided resources to emerging leaders, many of whom are first generation Latino students, through the annual Riverside Youth Leadership Summit. And, positive peer pressure is reinforced through our nationally recognized early intervention strategy, the Riverside Youth Court. The Season of Service campaign in not only creating a culture of volunteerism but has earned the Youth Service America endorsement. Annually, we recognize the best and the brightest, the resilient and the inspirational through Riverside’s 25 Most Remarkable Teens. And through the Inspiring Youth of the Month at City Council, we see the great work that youth organizations are doing in our community. More importantly, as a community our actions reflect our value for experiential learning by providing an opportunity for youth to test their leadership skills as Youth Liaisons to City Boards and Commissions.

Jamal Samuels, is a true Champion on the Move. As a student at John W. North High School in Riverside, Jamal was uprooted when he and his family moved to a homeless shelter. This all occurred as he was looking forward to graduation and attending college. After moving to Path of Life, Jamal’s day began on the city bus at four o’clock in the morning. He caught the bus to make it to school to begin class at 7:00 a.m. His day ended late because he had to take the bus home. In spite of the odds he stayed in school, received excellent grades and tremendous support from his mother. His dream was to go to the University of California at Berkeley because of their Architecture program. He never gave up hope and in March 2010 he received the news he had been accepted at UC Berkeley. Jamal attributes his faith in God to being accepted at UC Berkeley. He has received support and awards on his journey. The Group, a Riverside grassroots public policy organization contributes to Jamal’s education.

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