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Community Heroes Honored at 5th Annual Kindness Awards

Community Heroes Honored at 5th Annual Kindness Awards

Rosa Dominguez receives a Kindness Award from Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

Lynn Hackman

Lynn Hackman

11/17/2023

Updated: 12/21/2023

BUENA PARK, Calif.—Seven Orange County residents were recently honored by a county supervisor for their acts of kindness toward the community during the fifth annual Kindness Awards held at Ehlers Event Center.
The event was held in conjunction with the internationally observed World Kindness Day, Nov. 13.
In his introduction, Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee gave a nod to former Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, who initiated the annual event to encourage acts of kindness throughout the city.
“Mayor Tait started a tradition of recognizing what we all know—that kindness provides a foundational bridge—and that people, no matter what the situation, experience, or need, that kindness is something we can practice daily,” Mr. Chaffee said.
“So many people have risen around the challenges of our communities. Every honoree named this evening has done incredible work to that end,” he said. “Our Kindness Award honors those who have gone above and beyond to ensure that the needs of our communities are met.”
Five independent judges selected the award recipients from 49 nominations within the supervisor’s district four cities: Anaheim, Brea, Buena Park, Fullerton, La Habra, Placentia, and Stanton.
Jose Moreno, former Anaheim City councilmember from district three, took the stage for his second year as emcee. He told the audience he once asked Mr. Tait about the difference between kindness and being nice.
“Mayor Tait told me, ‘The difference between kindness and being nice is that kindness is an action where you don’t expect anything in return,’” Mr. Moreno said.
As each honoree was called to the stage, a short video highlighting his or her service to the community was played for family members, friends, city staff, and officials gathered in the hall.

Anaheim

Honoree Rosa Dominguez of Anaheim started her journey of giving to her community when she joined the parent teacher association (PTA) at her children’s elementary school, where she learned the importance of being involved in their education and the community surrounding them.
“When my son was at kindergarten, the PTA moms invited me to participate. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I said yes,” Ms. Dominguez said.
As a result of her involvement in the school, Ms. Dominguez was introduced to a range of community organizations and learned about the many resources that were often going unnoticed or underused in the community.
That’s when she decided to help those in need to better access available resources by sharing information through social media and connecting those in her community with the organizations that could help them the most.
“Now I have been volunteering for 10 years,” Ms. Dominguez said. “Whatever they [the people of the community] need, and I have time to volunteer, I’ll be there.”
Gianna Mulkay, executive director of Foster Love, receives a Kindness Award in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

Gianna Mulkay, executive director of Foster Love, receives a Kindness Award in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

Brea

Gianna Mulkay, executive director of Foster Love, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming the way American youth navigate the foster care system on a nationwide basis, was the City of Brea’s honoree.
A distinguished alumna of Azusa Pacific University, Ms. Mulkay joined Together We Rise, now Foster Love, as a volunteer when she was a student and eventually enjoyed the work so much she joined the organization full time. For the past 11 1/2 years, Ms. Mulkey has grown the organization, and today, she leads a team of 50 who support youth as they navigate their foster care experiences.
“When I first started, we were helping about 5,000 children a year. Today, we’re helping over 140,000 a year,” Ms. Mulkay said.
“I’m very passionate about the work we do in the foster care community, because I myself was adopted, and I know firsthand how a family’s loving embrace can really affect your trajectory long term.”
During her tenure as executive director, Ms. Mulkay has established initiatives including sibling reunification events and the Family Fellowship, the nation’s largest scholarship program for transition-age foster youth, which earned her recognition in Forbes magazine and the Los Angles Times.
“Only 50 percent of foster youth graduate from high school, and of that only three percent move on to college,” Ms. Mulkay said.
“Our Family Fellowship program is dedicated to giving our nation’s foster youth an opportunity for a better education while also providing them with the emotional and professional guidance they need to succeed in today’s world.”
Ellie Westenhaver receives a Kindness Award in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

Ellie Westenhaver receives a Kindness Award in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

Buena Park

Ellie Westenhaver took honors from the City of Buena Park for her dedication to advocating for the disadvantaged, volunteering with the St. Vincent de Paul Church and the Assistance League of Fullerton, and chairing the league’s signature event, Operation School Bell, which provides new school clothes for needy children in the region, including homeless high school students in Fullerton.
A resident of Buena Park for more than 50 years, Ms. Westenhaver grew up in Downey and graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in business, but years later she earned her teaching credentials. She taught first grade at a Bellflower Title 1 school for more than 15 years.
After retiring, she began volunteering as a way to spend her free time in a meaningful way and took great pleasure in working with children and families.
“I feel really blessed. It’s quite a surprise to be honored—I just do what I do because it’s so rewarding,” Mrs. Westenhaver said. “Sometimes all it is, it’s just giving someone a smile.”
Sandra White receives a Kindness Award in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

Sandra White receives a Kindness Award in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

Fullerton

The City of Fullerton honoree, volunteer Sandra White, began her service to the community after moving with her husband from Iowa to Fullerton in 1972.
Over the years, Mrs. White devoted time with the Laguna Road Elementary PTA, Orange County Philharmonic youth music programs, and with the National Charity League’s Fullerton chapter, delivering meals to the elderly through Meals on Wheels.
After serving as the president of the National Charity League for the Fullerton chapter, Ms. White was asked to join the board of directors for Meals on Wheels of Fullerton in 1995.
Through the National Charity League’s Meals on Wheels, food-insecure or homebound seniors in Fullerton receive a delivery of two meals each day. In total, the organization delivers about 35,000 meals a year.
“It’s a passion I have because I grew up in Iowa, and my grandmother, who had a hard life, lived in Massachusetts,” Ms. White told the audience. “As she grew older and frailer, my dad tried to get her to move out with us, but she wanted to stay at home. Dad had a terrible time trying to find services to help her, and then he found a Meals on Wheels in her community. It made all the difference in the quality of her life after that, and it’s always stayed with me.”
Sara Ursenbach receives a Kindness Award in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

Sara Ursenbach receives a Kindness Award in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

La Habra

The City of La Habra Kindness Award was given to Sara Ursenbach, an Orange County Wraparound Parent Partner, chosen for her work as an advocate for children’s mental health and as a foster-adoptive parent.
Ms. Ursenbach served as president of her children’s elementary school PTA, has been the school board liaison for the La Habra City School District PTA council, and served three terms on the School Site Council. She also organizes community events including the La Habra Children’s Business Fair and Read Across La Habra.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, she helped organize a community pantry, closet, and library that allowed community members to share what they had and take what they needed.
“A lot of our community is undocumented, and as a part of that they feel like they don’t have any say in what goes on in their area,” Ms. Ursenbach said. “So we are trying to show them a way that they can make change in their area, and to help them to understand the resources available.”
Currently, she volunteers as a family ambassador for First 5 Orange County, advocating school readiness, equitable access to health care, and engaging residents in civic empowerment, such as contacting elected officials and registering to vote.
“I got to a point in my life where I needed empowerment myself,” Ms. Ursenbach said. “And once I got that, I felt like I could accomplish anything.”
Joe Rasic, a third-generation restaurateur, receives a Kindness Award in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

Joe Rasic, a third-generation restaurateur, receives a Kindness Award in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

Placentia

Joe Rasic, a third-generation restaurateur whose family business in Los Angeles dates back to 1933, was chosen as the city of Placentia’s Kindness Award honoree.
As a young man, Mr. Rasic developed a passion for food, cooking, and entertaining and worked at numerous restaurants early on. After 30 years in the industry, he opened his own restaurant in his hometown of Placentia, where he also expanded his involvement in the community he loved.
Over the years, his business frequently supported Rotary clubs and innumerable charity events and even helped reinvigorate the Taste of Placentia. He’s also worked as a small business administration counselor out of Cal State Fullerton, helping small business owners achieve their dreams.
Mr. Rasic volunteered on the board of directors of the Placentia Chamber of Commerce, serving as president for two years. He continues to serve the city through his participation on several Placentia business and community development committees.
Maria Lorena Flores receives a Kindness Award in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

Maria Lorena Flores receives a Kindness Award in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

Stanton

Born in Puebla, Mexico, Maria Lorena Flores, the honoree from the city of Stanton, immigrated to the United States in 1991.
With one daughter and two sons, Ms. Flores described her family as her daily source of energy.
For many years, Ms. Flores has dedicated her life to civic engagement, helping those in her community connect with local elected officials and representatives, empowering them through education and advocacy.
Jo-Anne Matsuba receives an honorary Kindness Award in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

Jo-Anne Matsuba receives an honorary Kindness Award in Buena Park, Calif., on Nov. 13, 2023. (Courtesy of Donna Edman Photography)

Honorary Kindness Award

Jo-Anne Matsuba was chosen by Supervisor Chaffee to receive an honorary Kindness Award for her more than 30 years of volunteering with numerous organizations in Orange County.
The daughter of Haitian parents, Ms. Matsuba has been an active leader with the YMCA of North Orange County, Pathways of Hope, St. Juliana Church, National Charity League, Meals on Wheels, Florence Crittenton, and Get on the Bus.
Mrs. Matsuba is currently the chair of Groundswell, formerly known as the Orange County Human Relations Commission, an organization that stands against hate and creates initiatives to promote peace in the community.
In a surprise video shown during the awards, Ms. Matsuba’s husband and children sent congratulations from Hawaii.
“My mom is kind by definition,” her daughter Stephanie Matsuba said.
“Congratulations, Mom, thank you for always teaching us to be kind and compassionate and to spread love to others,” her daughter Michelle Matsuba Webb said. “We are so, so proud of you!”
All the honorees from the fourth district cities were nominated by members of the community. The applications were independently scored by judges including community leaders Tom Tait, former mayor of Anaheim; Charles Barfield, general manager of the Orange County Employees Association; Rosalina Davis, owner of Tlaquepaque restaurant; Christian Esteban, project manager at Store One; and Lorena Moreno, principal of Western High School. The applicant with the highest score in each city in the fourth district was selected as an honoree.
The sixth annual Kindness Awards will be held on Nov. 13, 2024.
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Lynn Hackman

Lynn Hackman

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Lynn is a reporter for the Southern California edition of The Epoch Times, based in Orange County. She has enjoyed a 25-year career as a senior-level strategic public relations and contingency planning executive. An editor, blogger, and columnist, Lynn also has experience as a television and radio show producer and host. For six years, she was co-host of Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn on KOCI 101.5 FM. She is also active in the Newport Beach community, serving as chair emeritus of the Newport Beach City Arts Commission, among various positions with other local organizations.

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