2019 HEROES AMONG US
CHIEF HONOREE: ANITA DIAZ
Anita Diaz, is the Westside Youth Programs Coordinator for the City of Ventura, Parks, Recreation and Community Partnerships Department. Anita was born, raised and still lives in the house her parents raised her family in, on the Ventura Avenue. She has devoted her life to providing a better life for Westside youth and families. Her goal has been to provide a safe, healthy and fun environment for children and residents of the Westside. The Westpark motto is to “Build a strong community by developing great kids” and it’s her strength and belief in the children she serves that has truly made a difference for so many. She has worked hard to build a community center that provides educational and enrichment opportunities for community members of all ages. She has created partnerships with local businesses such as AERA Energy and her City team members to make a lasting impact on many lives. “I could not have received this tremendous honor without the help and support of my support staff, my kids and their parents,” said Anita.
In 1972, Anita served in the United States Marine Corps and was selected by her drill instructors as the most outstanding recruit at boot camp. In 1974, Anita helped create the Ventura Youth Basketball Association. She was elected to the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame in 2000. She was the City of Ventura employee of the year in 2010. In 2016, she was recognized by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors as the Health Champion for starting a snack, dinner and food distribution program for the Westside residents. She has also partnered with the Ventura County Health Services to provide free family Zumba classes and family health screenings. She has designed and implemented Westside special events and programs: Día de los Muertos, Children’s Holiday choir, Westpark sports leagues, summer camps and many other special efforts.
When Anita is not at Westpark, she spends her free time working around her house, playing musical instruments, gaming and walking her pups.
HERO AMONG US: KEN SHARP
Ken Sharp has devoted his life to serving our country and our community. Only weeks after graduating high school, he began training as a cadet for the U.S. Army Air Corps. He flew the B 17G Flying Fortress during World War II and conducted 18 bombing missions over Germany with the 388th Bombardment Group of the 8th Air Force. "While in the Air Force, I was the co-pilot for my team at just 19 years old, the pilot was an old man, about 23-24 years old! To be on a team that flew in a bomber formation was an incredible experience. It was so coordinated, so precise and uniform, I was just so proud to be there," said Sharp. His most cherished memory was of him and his crew picking up 30 French prisoners of war in Linz, Austria, and flying them home to Paris.
Sharp eventually became an aircraft commander, with the ranking of First Lieutenant. After serving in the Air Force, he joined the California National Guard for 10 years where he served in the Division Artillery 40th Infantry. He retired from the National Guard as an Executive Director.
To honor his contribution to history and that of other veterans, Sharp was invited to visit the National World War II Museum in New Orleans in 2015. Sharp, part of an ever-declining population of World War II veterans, traveled with 44 others as part of the Soaring Valor initiative put on by the Gary Sinise Foundation and the museum to preserve stories of the veterans and honor their service.
After his service to our Country, Sharp moved to Ventura in 1953 and began a new career of service as a Ventura City Firefighter. While in the fire service he implemented the War Surplus Program. This program helps in transferring excess military equipment to civilian law enforcement agencies, the first of its kind in Ventura. Years later, with much time served Sharp was eligible and first in line to take the Captain’s Exam, then the Chief Officer’s Exam, and soon was serving as the Assistant Fire Chief. After 28 years of service to Ventura Ken retired from the Ventura City Fire Department in 1982.
Ken Sharp exemplifies what it means to be a hero. He put his own life on the line to fight for our freedom. His service to our country and community has left a lasting impact.
HERO AMONG US: JIM DURAN
Jim Duran was born and raised in Ventura and has a passion for our community. Jim currently serves as the Lead Pastor of The River Community Church in Ventura, a ministry his team began in 2004. Jim has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Biblical Studies and a Master of Arts Degree in Theology from Channel Islands Bible College & Seminary.
Jim is the Executive Director of The City Center Transitional Living, a facility for homeless children and their parents. He is also the Executive Director of tender Life Maternity Home, servicing homeless pregnant women and their babies.
Over the past decade, Jim has been honored with: The Golden Triangle Award, one of The Ventura Family YMCA’s most prestige’s honors; The California Assisted Living Association selected Jim as “Executive Director of the Year”; He was honored with the “Hometown Hero” award and “Ventura’s Citizen of the Year” by the Ventura Chamber of Commerce; “Administrator of the Year” from the Southern California Association of Activity Professionals; “Ambassador of the Year” by the Ventura Chamber of Commerce; “Sportsmanship Award” from the City of Ventura Youth Basketball Association and others.
Jim currently serves on the Board and is an active member for the Ventura Chamber of Commerce. Jim and his wife Pam, serve on the board of Marriage Well, a non-profit organization that provides support for couples to achieve excellence in their marriages. He is past chairman of the board for the Ventura Chamber of Commerce and The Ventura Family YMCA. He is past Vice President of the Ventura Buccaneer youth football organization where he served for 9 years. He served as the co-ministerial Chair for the NAMI Walk and co-chair for the Measure “O” campaign. Jim also chaired the Ventura Chamber’s Political Action Committee for two election terms. He is actively involved with solving the Homeless crisis in Ventura County through the Homeless to Home collaboration, by partnering with the Downtown Ventura Partners and being involved with the Ventura Social Service Task Force and many other committees.
Jim and Pam have been married for over 30 years and have six children, a daughter-in-law, two grandchildren and one more grandchild arriving in December. Jim’s passion is to serve his community and to be a blessing to his neighbors through partnerships and collaboration.
HERO AMONG US: JACKIE PEARCE
Jackie Pearce grew up on the Westside of Ventura. Her family moved to Ventura in 1977, where she attended all Westside schools, participated in a variety of Westside activities, and was immersed in the diverse and eclectic culture of the community. She earned a degree in Spanish Literature from UCLA, which enabled her to study abroad in Spain and Mexico and later receive her single-subject teaching credential- a credential she has used to work with Westside youth and their families.
Jackie is the Executive Director of the Westside Development Corporation. The mission of the organization is to activate investments and partnerships that create vitality and opportunity for residents and businesses of Ventura’s Westside. The vision is to create a community that honors its diverse residents and businesses with welcoming streets and a vibrant commercial corridor, while providing adequate housing and sustainable economic security for all.
Jackie serves on the board for Habitat For Humanity in order to address innovative housing solutions for the Westside. She also serves on the leadership team for her church as the community outreach "elder"; and recently joined the Latino Disparities Reduction Committee as a means to bring mental health services to the Westside's Latino community.
Jackie is the co-creator of the global non-profit Laundry Love, an initiative that, by partnering with local laundromats, assists in the cleaning of clothes and linens of low income or no-income families and individuals. The very first Laundry Love is located on the Westside where it was first started in 2003, now going strong with hundreds of locations all over the U.S.
In 2010, Jackie presented the initial idea for Kellogg Park at a Westside Community Council Meeting, the Westside’s first ever community-driven park. Once the idea was introduced, the community rallied behind it. Now it serves as a symbolic reminder to Westside residents, that more can always be done. In a recent interview with the Foothill Dragon Press, Jackie notes that her biggest accomplishment is getting Kellogg Park created, from inception to implementation.
Jackie truly is an ambassador for Ventura, an activist for Westside improvements, and a supporter of the City of Ventura. Pearce is a pollinator; she’s able to connect people and businesses as they work toward creating a happier, healthier, and more visually appealing community. Jackie’s entrepreneurial soul is always looking for ways to creatively interest and include her neighbors in making the west end a better place to live. Jackie lives on the Westside with her husband and two teenagers. She has a passion for making Ventura a better place.
HERO AMONG US: ALEX WULFF
Alex is a teacher, maker and entrepreneur. He masters and shares media and fabrication technologies so that students can pursue their dreams. He empowers students to “MAKE” their world. He moved from Los Angeles to Ventura in 2000 and began his teaching career at Saticoy Elementary. He ignited the spark of what is now ATLAS Elementary, The Academy of Technology, Leadership and At Saticoy, the first elementary technology magnet school in Ventura.
After sparking the love of learning in elementary students, he then became a teacher at DATA middle school and has served as the president of the STEMbassadors program. The STEMbassadors program is the first of its kind; a non-profit organization run by a team of 12 highly skilled VUSD middle and high school students who want to make learning fun. Their efforts integrate STEM technologies in math and science for kids who aren’t connecting through traditional methods like textbooks. Alex and these multi-talented students have brought STEM to teachers, classrooms across all subjects; empowering students to maximize their learning abilities.
Wulff has been developing and implementing technology enhanced, project-based learning experiences for the past 20 years. During that period, he has written several grants ranging from a $1,000,000 Enhancing Education Through Technology Grant to smaller $1,000 project grants to support these innovative teaching practices. In addition, he has developed partnerships with local businesses and entrepreneurial organizations to weave successful business practices like elevator pitches, and business plans with both math/science, and "maker" curriculum. For the past 5 years he has discovered a passion for "maker technologies" like 3D printing, laser engraving, programming, UAS, CNC, and Arduino. These technologies are now woven into both his math/science curriculum and taught independently in his school's makerspace. He was selected as the Ventura County Teacher of the Year and has received the Golden Gear Award for innovative integration of STEM Technologies.
He is a proud husband to his wife, Rebecca, and father to four children.
HERO AMONG US: SAL FLORES
Sal Flores grew up in Ventura. As a child, he moved from street to street along Ventura Avenue with his family. When he wasn’t packing up, he was running with gangs. It was with his peers that he had his first run-in with the law, and when he was 23, he went to prison. Cuffed at the wrist to his seat on his way to prison in Lancaster, Flores says he made a decision that would shape the years that followed.
“I was looking out of the window, looking at a car that looked just like mine,” said Flores. “It was a husband, wife and a little girl, and it was like a picture God painted for me. Do you want that life? That year I ended up sitting in Lancaster for over a year and I had made a choice to make some changes.”
Flores, is a Board Member of the Police Foundation and leads the Police Activities League Youth Committee, which aims to support programs for local youth. Flores’ time with PAL began in 2007. After returning to civilian life, Flores opened an upholstery business in Ventura in 1999. In 2006, he recognized a man walking by his shop as Ken Corney, who at the time was Assistant Chief of Police.
“I come out and I say, ‘hey, do you remember me?’ And he says, ‘Mr. Flores!’ ” said Flores. “Then he asked, ‘How would you like to come out and work with kids?’ Growing up on the Avenue, you think, am I worthy to work with kids? No one ever believed in me, so I said, ‘Sure.’ ”
Flores went to a meeting and learned about the Police Activities League.“I was already involved with kids’ life at church,” said Flores. “I love doing that. I wanted my story not to just stop. I said, if I get involved in this, I can make an impact on somebody’s life.”
Flores devotes much of his time the youth fitness program at West Park on Ventura Avenue, and many other programs. Hundreds of kids are involved with after school programs supported by PAL. Flores has provided mentorship through the “boxing and fitness” program, which emphasize fitness rather than one-on-one competition. Flores says the students see in him someone who can relate.
“On the Avenue it’s tough to build relationships, but a lot of time has passed and a lot of people know me now, and there’s an opportunity that we can sponsor some of these kids,” said Flores, pointing to one example of a young girl who wanted help getting sponsored to attend Lu Ross Academy. “I hope that people will partner up with us so we can help more kids like her to achieve their goals.”
*Excerpt from article by Chris O’Neal from the VC Reporter
HERO AMONG US: ART PILLADO
Art Pillado dedicates his free time to investing in the lives of local youth. Pillado recently took over a youth football program to help show local kids that if you believe in something, you can make it a reality through handwork and perseverance.
Many parents have shared their stories of how their children have learned to not only be strong athletes but how to be confident in life. He shows them that through adversity, you can strive to be a positive influence when there are hardships all around.
“With action comes hope,” one parent said of Art’s positive attitude. He’s been known to pay for team equipment, registration fees, and even cheerleader uniforms for kids that couldn’t afford to participate, all out of pocket. He’s taught kids to be fair and more accepting of others, by bringing everyone together under one common goal of equal opportunity, when the team acquired their first female player.
Art is patient, supportive, and dedicated. When all is said and done, his passion is to teach the things that these kids need to build their lives on and Football is just the catalyst.
In his professional life, Art has nearly 20 years’ experience in the insurance industry both in the insurance carrier and the broker sides of the business. He has extensive experience with the national large group benefit plans, as well as with small group benefit plans throughout California. His experience helps him easily resolve and overcome various day-to-day issues that can otherwise complicate the lives of his clients. He is a Client Service Manager for PCH Benefits.