Desert Gala Honorees

To find out more on each honoree, click on their photo to read their bio.

American Veterans Assistance Group - 2021

American Veterans Assistance Group - 2021

Kathryn Carner - 2018

Kathryn Carner - 2018

Christina Huyett - 2018

Christina Huyett - 2018

Dr. Mitchell Katz - 2018

Dr. Mitchell Katz - 2018

Ken Lee - 2018

Ken Lee - 2018

Travis Nguyen - 2018

Travis Nguyen - 2018

Doug Padgett - 2018

Doug Padgett - 2018

Richard Pintang - 2018

Richard Pintang - 2018

Tony Rackauckas - 2018

Tony Rackauckas - 2018

Mark Sorenson - 2018

Mark Sorenson - 2018

Kathleen Terry - 2018

Kathleen Terry - 2018

Patty Turrell - 2018

Patty Turrell - 2018

Dr. Elizabeth Zarkos - 2018

Dr. Elizabeth Zarkos - 2018

  • American Veterans Assistance Group - 2021
  • Kathryn Carner - 2018
  • Christina Huyett - 2018
  • Dr. Mitchell Katz - 2018
  • Ken Lee - 2018
  • Travis Nguyen - 2018
  • Doug Padgett - 2018
  • Richard Pintang - 2018
  • Tony Rackauckas - 2018
  • Mark Sorenson - 2018
  • Kathleen Terry - 2018
  • Patty Turrell - 2018
  • Dr. Elizabeth Zarkos - 2018
  • American Veterans Assistance Group - 2021

    The American Veterans Assistance Group is a community of veterans within each manufactured housing community involved with the Veterans Affordable Housing Program. Their mission is to thank and reward veterans for their service.  AVAG helps to support veterans by creating a safe and supportive living environment and a way to connect with one another.  Partnerships with other veteran and community groups allow AVAG to reach more veterans in the community providing services and information on healthcare, training education, and other services and resources. During the pandemic, AVAG and its partners fed over 10,000 households and helped to provide them with necessities. Other activities and programs include special veteran holiday events, informational seminars, movie nights, parties, dinners, recreation such as exercise classes and sports teams, food distribution programs, outreach programs, and resource referrals for employment, career training, and benefits.  Mr. Richard Simonian, is a veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces Green Berets, created the non-profit organization American Veterans Assistance Group (AVAG) to assist veterans with affordable housing, holiday meals, informational workshops about veteran benefits and other outreach programs. Mr. Simonian had various life events that made him very aware of God’s blessings in his life. As a successful businessman, he feels very passionate about serving the veteran communities and understands the challenges veterans face in today’s society. Mr. Simonian and the AVAG team are angels on earth by serving veterans who have courageously served this country. 
  • Kathryn Carner - 2018

    Kathryn Carner is the Director of Operations for The Actors’ Gang Prison Project. She also serves as a Teaching Artist and Actor for the organization. With this project she is able to use her passion for acting to serve the community. In 2006, The Actors' Gang Prison Project was launched in response to California's huge recidivism rate and excessive overcrowding. TAGPP conducts seven-day intensive programs which transition to on-going weekly peer-led classes managed by TAGPP teaching artists on 14 yards inside 12 California State Prisons. The program provides students a safe space, room to grow, self-assurance, self-respect and acceptance from their classmates. The program promotes community while encouraging personal responsibility. TAGPP also has Reentry programs for men, women, and youth and often hire formerly incarcerated students to teach in their facilities. This allows students to reach back and help others while navigating the difficult reentry process. Also, in partnership with Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network (AIYN), TAGPP completed a pilot Youth Project at a juvenile prison, Camp Scott, specifically for incarcerated girls. Encouraged by the outcomes, which included healing trauma and giving youth tools to raise their silenced voices, they have expanded the program into other facilities. They are also beginning a pilot program to assist Correctional Officers to help address the high suicide rate, heal Officer trauma and change the narrative around Correctional Officers and the people they oversee. Kathryn herself has been the driving force behind the program expansion and new programs. She recognizes the importance of this work and is dedicated to growing TAGPP’s programs to reach this often ignored population.
  • Christina Huyett - 2018

    Christina Huyett has been an integral part of March of Dimes for more than 12 years. She began volunteering for this important organization after having a premature baby and, later, began working for them. Her experience in the hospital inspired her to become a part of the solution and to help create healthy futures for babies and their mothers. The mission of March of Dimes is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, infant mortality, and premature birth. They work collaboratively with other organizations, hospitals, and communities to research, educate, and provide resources that give every baby its best chance for a healthy birth. Christina’s time in the NICU gave her the experience and insight into what mothers and babies really need in the hospital. She has worked tirelessly to raise money to help fund medicine and technology that helps premature babies be successful. She began a NICU Baby Showers program to provide hope and baby gifts for more than 400 families. She began the program in the Inland Empire and has now expanded it to UCLA, and eight other hospitals in Orange County and Los Angeles. She also leads the efforts for the annual March for Babies event. Her commitment to this issue and her passion keep her in action as an angel on earth!
  • Dr. Mitchell Katz - 2018

    Dr. Mitchell Katz is an internationally-recognized expert in pediatric gastroenterology. He serves as director of CHOC Children’s Multidisciplinary Feeding Program, pediatric gastrointestinal lab services, and the division of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition. Dr. Katz and his team are on the forefront of pediatric gastroenterology research and innovative treatments. Dr. Katz has been named Physician of Excellence by the Orange County Medical Association Orange Coast Magazine and Super Doctor by Los Angeles Magazine multiple times. He is a sought-after expert whose knowledge, research, and caring make him the kind of doctor that makes a difference. While Dr. Katz has served as an excellent doctor for many years, he is being honored for the work he and his team do with the CHOC Children’s Multidisciplinary Feeding Program. This inpatient treatment program serves children with a range of medical and/or developmental problems including cerebral palsy, developmental disorders, seizure disorders, genetic disorders, oral motor dysfunction, short-bowel syndrome, food allergies or a history of prematurity. They work closely with each child, setting individual goals and using a variety of methods to meet those goals. Dr. Katz and his team are dedicated, knowledgable, and passionate about improving children’s lives and they become angels on earth to the children and families they serve.
  • Ken Lee - 2018

    Ken Lee is a Professor and Department Co-Chair for the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Design for Saddleback College. Ken is an outstanding professor and has been recognized several times at Saddleback College for his commitment and dedication to his students. In addition, he is an accomplished landscape designer, lecturer, and writer. Ken is always willing to give of his time and energy to assist his students. He takes time out of his schedule to counsel students, is always hopeful and enthusiastic in the classroom, and creates opportunities for his students so they can be successful. He has established corporate partnerships to help students get experience in the field, helps students to make professional and education connections, and started a student club whose purpose is to provide service in the community. Ken promotes and and encourages volunteerism and is an example of servant leadership. He prepares his students for the realities of working in a landscape profession, inspires students to be their best, and consistently shows it is possible to be successful while caring about people and the planet. Ken’s example reaches beyond the students he teaches each year as his service projects reach many in the community. He goes above and beyond what is expected of an educator to provide a truly meaningful education.
  • Travis Nguyen - 2018

    Travis Nguyen serves as the Project Director for the Give & Grow program at Zodiac Aerospace. Give & Grow was established in 2007 and focuses on improving education through its three branches: Create, Educate, and Donate. The mission of Create is to enhance local schools through improvements in their grounds and buildings that will facilitate students learning and growing. Travis has supported many physical improvements to local schools by empowering local communities to be involved, finding local sponsors, and encouraging parents and teachers to participate. The mission of Educate is to provide academic and extracurricular support in education, and, with this in mind, Travis has provided extracurricular activities at the Science Center to students of all ages, emphasizing the importance of Environmental Preservation and Science. The Donate program provides financial support for higher education. Under his guidance, this program has promoted education and improved access to educational opportunities in communities that need them most. This program has provided over 250 scholarships to students. These students will have the opportunity to reach their potential and return to serve in their communities. Travis shows dedication and values the importance of giving back to the community. He believes it is everyone’s responsibility to support those who need a helping hand and he has helped to create positive futures for children.
  • Doug Padgett - 2018

    Doug Padgett, BS, NHA, is the Chief Executive Officer and partner-owner of Totally Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, a corporation in Southern California serving children recovering from injury or surgery, and children who depend on technology for their very survival. Using his background in sub-acute care for seniors, he instituted changes in licensure in existing facilities to provide for increasing medical needs of children. He worked with State of California Department of Health officials and State legislators to help initiate pediatric sub-acute clinical and rate-setting regulations. As the first to contract with Medi-Cal for pediatric sub-acute services on the West Coast, he tenaciously supported education, safety climate and research that enabled the company’s growth to a level of service beyond that which is common in skilled nursing facilities. Under his leadership Totally Kids enlarged its service program to include acute inpatient and outpatient physical rehabilitation. Doug is at the center of this heart-driven hospital and, as a result, it has accomplished outcomes never seen or expected in sub-acute pediatric care. He has gone above and beyond to provide the best care to a vulnerable population. Doug also has a passion for music and gift of musical talent. Doug and Cindy, his wife of 45 years, have instilled their love of music, joy of sharing Jesus, and service to the disabled community to their 5 children and 13 grandchildren. Even with Doug’s busy schedule, he finds time to go to his grandchildren’s classroom and perform songs with the children. Doug has had a life of helping others regardless of the situation and circumstance.
  • Richard Pintang - 2018

    Richard Pintang is the Sales and Marketing Director for PRM Homestay Services. PRM Homestay Services provides short term and long term housing for international students. Foreign students have a chance to visit the United States and get to live in an American home and experience the American lifestyle through the Homestay program. Host families open up their homes and welcome visiting students into their families. They converse with students in English to help build their confidence in speech and help students understand the western culture. Students get a chance to try new foods, interact with domestic kids and have a unique experience in having an American brother/sister. American students benefit by these exchange programs by learning about another culture while teaching about their own. Participating schools often use these culture exchange opportunities to fundraise for scholarships and local clubs. Richard oversees relationships with host families, schools and foreign agencies. He strongly believes they are changing the world by building relationships, creating empathy, and encouraging understanding between young people from different cultures. As these students grow, they will have a deeper understanding of what it means to be a citizen of the world and they will be better able to serve as examples of tolerance, open-mindedness, and mutual respect.
  • Tony Rackauckas - 2018

    Tony Rackauckas serves as the Orange County District Attorney. He has also served in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and as a social worker in the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services. His distinguished law career has included conducting over 40 homicide cases and well over 100 felony trials including rape, robbery, arson, assault, burglary, fraud, narcotics, and child molestation. Tony’s work as a DA led him to recognize the need to take preventative action and make resources available to children before they are introduced to gang life. He and members of his office initiated the Orange County Gang Reduction Intervention Partnership (OC GRIP). OC GRIP works in 13 communities, bringing resources, education, and proved anti-gang strategies to children, parents and faculty members in at-risk neighborhoods. Key components of the GRIP program include Truancy Sweeps and Interventions, Curfew Sweeps, Student Education, Parent Education and Resources, Faculty Education, Strike Team Intervention Meetings, Mentor Programs, Student Incentives, and a Parent Greeter Program. Parent volunteers greet students on the way to and from school and even walk groups of students through gang-dominated neighborhoods to deter gang influence. The communities reached by the GRIP program see decreases in school absenteeism and in the number suspensions and expulsions. Families are given resources and assistance. GRIP unites the community in a preventative fight against gang violence and drug activity and gives many children hope for their future. Tony’s steadfast commitment has improved lives for many families and made Orange County communities safer.
  • Mark Sorenson - 2018

    Mark Sorenson serves on the board of Vocational Visions. After a career in accounting and finance, he became an entrepreneur. He owned and operated several successful businesses, including his current venture Pacifica Foods. He is a resource for other business owners and believes it is important to provide the best quality food to his consumers. Mark has also used his business expertise to help Vocational Visions reach their goals. Vocational Visions is a non-profit agency located in Mission Viejo, which provides vocational and life skills training and support services to adults with Intellectual/Developmental and other disabilities. Vocational Visions provides seven programs: Adult Development, Day Training Activity, Emeritus, Health Related Services, House of Champions Clubhouse, Supported Employment, and Work Activity. They create pathways to employment, life-long learning, and social inclusion. The programs provide job training, assistance with job placement, education, and a sense of community and belonging. Mark has been able to provide financial and business support for Vocational Visions so that they can reach more people. He feels grateful to have a happy and healthy family and wants to find ways to support and give back to those who aren’t as fortunate in their situation. He hopes to be able to do even more in the future.
  • Kathleen Terry - 2018

    Kathleen Terry has been an active community volunteer within the City of Manhattan Beach and the South Bay for more than 40 years. She has worked with many organizations and passionate leaders to help them set great goals and reach them. A few of the of the organizations she has been actively involved with have been The Crown Jewel Club, P.S. I Love You Foundation, the Volunteer Center of the South Bay, South Bay Literacy Council, the Beach Cities Blue Zone Project, and Manhattan Beach Rotary. She is a strong advocate of community-based programs and a believer in civic engagement, and even serves as her Neighborhood Watch Captain. She has also spent 15 years as the Facilitator of the Leadership Manhattan Beach Program. This program has developed leaders and fostered in them an interest in becoming involved within the city. Many of the participants have gone on to volunteer or to be on City Council. She was President of the Manhattan Beach Rotary and, under her leadership, the club was awarded Club of Excellence in District 5280. Over the last 6 years, Kathleen has been actively involved with The Beach Cities Health District Blue Zones Project where she has been facilitating Purpose Workshops for the community, helping young people live lives with purpose. Professionally, Kathleen is founder of Participative Management Systems and is well known for her high-impact seminars and workshops based on the most critical issues facing managers and supervisors. Kathleen is a doer who leads by example and her passion and excitement inspire others!
  • Patty Turrell - 2018

    Patty Turrell is the Founder and President of the Women’s Journey Foundation. Their mission is to strengthen self-reliance in women of all ages so they realize their potential, power, and purpose. They provide opportunities for women to enrich their lives through education, multi-generational events, peer connection and mentoring. They also create platforms for women to connect, share their experiences, get inspired and mentor others. Patty recruits, trains, and directs hundreds of volunteers as they participate in outreach services, programs, and events. This all-volunteer organization hosts free self-esteem workshops for at-risk kids, women and children in transitional housing and recovery homes. They partner with various organizations, non-profits, and foster care agencies, and, as a result, thousands of at-risk girls and boys have participated in their programs. WJF also provides education, performances, and events to share and honor stories of women throughout history. WJF Girls and Women’s Conferences help to address many of the issues young girls and women encounter and enable them to discover their talents and strengths while recognizing the talents and strengths in each other. Patty and her team of volunteers are providing hope, self-esteem, and purpose to women and girls of all ages.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Zarkos - 2018

    Dr. Elizabeth Zarkos has combined her passion for education with her love for horses and created Hanaeleh, a horse rescue operating in Southern California. Hanaeleh rescues all breeds and ages of horses, rehabilitates them, and works to find them homes. Horses that are not adoptable stay at Hanaeleh to live out their days under the caring supervision of volunteers. Elizabeth uses her knowledge of education and training to help her with each horse. Horses, like children, have unique needs and those needs must be understood and addressed in order for them to be successful and healthy. Her background, experience, and enthusiasm make her an expert in the world of animal advocacy, rescue, training, and education. Elizabeth advocates tirelessly to end horse slaughter and abuse. Hanaeleh also offers training in Equine Assisted Coaching. Equine Assisted Coaching can help people establish healthy relationships and boundaries in addition to improving leadership skills and self-esteem. It also allows individuals to build healthy, authentic relationships at home, work and school through meaningful engagement with horses. Veterans are offered this training free of charge and the training often assists with the transition into civilian life. Elizabeth has created an organization that improves the lives of the people and horses lucky enough to be a part of it. She has become an angel on earth to animals and human alike.
  • American Veterans Assistance Group - 2021
  • Kathryn Carner - 2018
  • Christina Huyett - 2018
  • Dr. Mitchell Katz - 2018
  • Ken Lee - 2018
  • Travis Nguyen - 2018
  • Doug Padgett - 2018
  • Richard Pintang - 2018
  • Tony Rackauckas - 2018
  • Mark Sorenson - 2018
  • Kathleen Terry - 2018
  • Patty Turrell - 2018
  • Dr. Elizabeth Zarkos - 2018