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Honors for Those Who Ask for None

As Human Relations Commission Turns 25, It Praises 21 for Their Healing Ways


SANTA ANA — They are 21 people who have given their time, energy and resources to others--feeding the hungry, providing teens with recreation or uniting people of different ethnicities and faiths. Tonight, the Human Relations Commission honors them at its annual awards banquet.

"This is where we have the opportunity to recognize and honor some of the people who are giving back to the community," commission president Ken Inouye said. "The hardest part is making the choice because there are so many good people; it's unfortunate we cannot recognize them all."

In addition to honoring volunteers, the awards banquet serves to recognize the progress made in dealing with some of society's most intractable problems.

It also is a time for the commission, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, to mark the changes both it and the county have undergone over the years.

"If you look back to 25 years ago when we were created," said commission Executive Director Rusty Kennedy, "that was an era when the majority of the people in the county felt they should be able to discriminate against other people based on their race.

"Remember, Proposition 14 passed here by a 3 to 1 margin," remarked Kennedy, referring to a ballot initiative aimed at repealing the Rumford Housing Act, which said it was illegal to discriminate based on color or ethnicity. The state Supreme Court threw out the measure.

The commission itself has changed too. Realizing that it would not be able to "meet the growing need for this kind of work with county general funds alone," the commission created a nonprofit arm.

"Basically, we've adopted a much more businesslike operation," Kennedy said. "As an individual, I spend more time doing fund-raising."

Many companies and private donors have come forward, he said, to provide funds. Recently, the commission received a contribution of $250,000 from a donor who wanted to remain anonymous and who told Kennedy he thought the commission's work against hate crimes and programs with schools are essential.

"So have things changed? Has there been progress? I would definitely say, 'Yes,' " Kennedy said.

The people receiving awards tonight are among those who have decided to take the initiative in making their community better.

For example, 10 years ago Merle Hattleberg, 72, got tired of having hungry people ask to borrow a can opener and then eat their lunch outside the senior center where she was working. So she opened her own soup kitchen, the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen in Costa Mesa. Today, she feeds an average of 200 people a day.

"I have the working poor, the homeless and mentally ill come here," Hattleberg said. "I have so many families. I have children galore. The reason we serve the food from 2 to 4 p.m. is so I get the kids when they get out of school. They come to the kitchen for a nice hot meal instead of going home to an empty cupboard."

Although Hattleberg founded the soup kitchen, it continues to operate because of the largess of many, she said.

"Most of the food is donated. Kraft Foods is a big supplier; I get two big bags of salad a day from the Hard Rock [Cafe], vegetables from Irvine Ranch, and Lucky and Vons are very good as far as bread and desserts. It's just knocking on a lot of good doors and people helping people."

Another award recipient, Paty Madueno, said she has found as much fulfillment from the people involved in her causes as the work she does with the Orange County Congregation Community Organization. The group, interfaith and multiethnic, works to solve issues of drug dealing, gang violence and prostitution, particularly in the Shalimar Street area of Costa Mesa.

"What it all means is empowerment for everyone," Madueno said. "The wonderful thing about OCCCO is we're different people: We're black, white, Hispanic; we're lawyers, judges, teenagers, housewives, and the most fascinating thing is it's also all kinds of Christians, Catholics and Jews.

"For the first time in my life I don't see any discrimination or any boundaries," Madueno said. "That's triggered something different in my heart. This is something we have to begin in America."

Also receiving awards at the banquet at the Garden Grove Community Center are:

* Maria Alvarez, who organized her neighbors to form a community coalition to take back her neighborhood from gang members and drug dealers in Costa Mesa.

* Ron Coley, president of the Orange County Chapter of 100 Black Men of America, who works with the organization to improve the educational, social and economic status of African Americans and other minorities in the county.

* Richard Crandall and Gracie Oliver, who created the Short Statured Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to break down barriers and discrimination faced by people of short stature.

* The Rev. Julius Del Pino, the African American pastor of Shepherd of the Hills United Methodist Church in Mission Viejo, who uses his pulpit to combat social injustices and to foster an understanding of diversity.

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