Desert Gala Honorees

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

Mellisa Breunig - 2019

Mellisa Breunig - 2019

Christian Esteban - 2019

Christian Esteban - 2019

Free Wheelchair Mission - 2019

Free Wheelchair Mission - 2019

Katrina Foley - 2019

Katrina Foley - 2019

Sergeant John Martin - 2019

Sergeant John Martin - 2019

Marcia Milchiker - 2019

Marcia Milchiker - 2019

Dr. Ravindra Rao - 2019

Dr. Ravindra Rao - 2019

Janeen Reiser - 2019

Janeen Reiser - 2019

Opal Singleton - 2019

Opal Singleton - 2019

UCI Eye Mobile for Children - 2019

UCI Eye Mobile for Children - 2019

  • Mellisa Breunig - 2019
  • Christian Esteban - 2019
  • Free Wheelchair Mission - 2019
  • Katrina Foley - 2019
  • Sergeant John Martin - 2019
  • Marcia Milchiker - 2019
  • Dr. Ravindra Rao - 2019
  • Janeen Reiser - 2019
  • Opal Singleton - 2019
  • UCI Eye Mobile for Children - 2019
  • Mellisa Breunig - 2019

    Mellissa Breunig is dedicated to supporting others in need. What started out as way to save money by using manufacturer coupons quickly turned into a way to help people by supplying toiletries to Veterans, families, and the homeless. While on her couponing journey she founded The Richard Breunig Foundation in 2016. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to providing American Veterans, the poor, homeless, and disadvantaged individuals and families with necessities such as personal hygiene items, food items, clothing and assistance and support in the transition to employment, self-sufficiency and life off the streets. Mellissa has put on and supported fundraisers for many worthy foundations, projects, and causes including The Popeye Toy Run, 1st Annual Highway Rider MC Back to School Run, various events with American Veterans Assistance group, and has held speaking engagements empowering women to Unleash their Purpose. Mellissa also recently founded the Richard Breunig Scholarship Fund in 2019 to grant low-income college students assistance with educational expenses. She has been able to help low-income children, families, groups, centers, the elderly, and Veterans. Her devotion to helping families is also evident in her work with her YouTube channel, showing over 30 thousand subscribers how to save money using manufacturer coupons and shopping for clearance sales. She hopes to help those struggling financially to reach their goals. Mellissa’s dedication to improving quality of life for our homeless, US Veterans, families and children goes above and beyond!
  • Christian Esteban - 2019

    Christian Esteban is the Executive Director of JOYA Scholars. The mission of JOYA Scholars is to break the cycle of poverty one student at a time. By supporting students through one-on-one mentoring, academic tutoring, educational workshops, parent academy, campus visits, SAT prep, JOYA Scholars comes alongside junior high and high school students to fill a relational and knowledge gap for students and their families. JOYA Scholars ensures that students are nurtured by loving and supportive mentoring, and have access to the best in educational and life-skills training so that each student can reach their goals and be successful. Christian joined the JOYA Scholars team in 2015 as a volunteer mentor. After serving as an AmeriCorps member with OneOC and Orangeview Junior High School, he first took on the role of Program Coordinator with JOYA. Christian graduated from UC Irvine with a BA in Psychology & Social Behavior and Anthropology. In his time at UCI, he worked one-on-one with first-generation college students, global anti-poverty advocates, and children with high-functioning autism and their families. Christian is passionate about giving students and families the tools they need to succeed, and connecting volunteers and community organizations to the causes they care about. As Executive Director of JOYA Scholars, Christian is responsible for staff supervision, fund development, community outreach, and vision and planning. Christian is a proven leader and his work with students will impact generations to come.
  • Free Wheelchair Mission - 2019

    Free Wheelchair Mission is a humanitarian, faith-based nonprofit that designs and manufactures cost-efficient, durable wheelchairs for individuals living with a disability in under-resourced nations. They have distributed more than one million wheelchairs to individuals in need in 93 countries around the world, providing renewed dignity, independence, and hope through the gift of mobility, at no cost to the recipient. They distribute about 100,000 each year and hope to reach a total of two million by 2025. The wheelchairs provided not only give individuals the gift of mobility, but open doors to education, employment opportunities, and community. In developing nations, the World Health Organization estimates that 75 million people are in need of a wheelchair but lack the resources to obtain one. They live on the ground or wait to be carried, with no opportunity to pursue education or employment. The wheelchairs are designed with locally-available resources in mind and are cost-effective, resilient, and highly functional. They provide independence, with the ability to participate in society and earn a living, and they restore dignity as people are lifted off the ground. As an organization, Free Wheelchair Mission consistently pursues excellence and strives for efficiency and innovation to best utilize resources. They collaborate worldwide to bring hope and mobility to those who would otherwise have little to none.
  • Katrina Foley - 2019

    In November of 2018, Costa Mesa voters chose Katrina Foley to be the city's first directly elected Mayor. Katrina also served as Mayor in 2016-2017, and has been on Council for 10 years. Katrina’s focus is on making Costa Mesa better for families.   She currently serves on the Travel Costa Mesa Board, and as liaison to the Newport Mesa Arts Commission, Cultural Arts Committee, Bike and Walkability Committee and Orange County Fair. As a City Council member Katrina served as the Chair to the Redevelopment Agency, and City Council liaison to the following: OC Fair, Newport-Mesa Unified School District, Youth in Government Program, Child Care Camp, Youth Services Committee, Cultural Arts Committee, and Santa Ana River Trail Blue Ribbon Committee.  She also previously served the public on the Newport Mesa Unified School District Board of Trustees. Katrina has helped her community by serving on countless committees, working with foundations, organizations, non-profits, and schools to improve education, provide mentoring, and reduce homelessness. She has been recognized as a Woman that Matters for families, as a Community Leader Advocate for Youth Sports, and 2010 Outstanding Citizen of the Year. Katrina is dedicated to collaborating within the community to improve neighborhoods, schools, and maintain a prosperous and vibrant business community. Public Safety and improving the quality of the community are her top priorities. Katrina’s longtime dedication and unending service has improved the quality of life for all residents in Costa Mesa, along with all those lives she touches.
  • Sergeant John Martin - 2019

    Sergeant John Martin has always lived a life of service and giving back to his community. When the opportunity to become a police officer at California State Los Angeles became available, he applied for the position and 18 years later he has attained the level of Sergeant. While working a holiday event for kids, he realized there was a group of disabled kids that were being left out of the festivities. Sergeant Martin decided to do a Christmas event for all of these children and Mar Mar’s Angels began. Instead of going through all of the red tape to get items donated for the kids, ages 1-3 years, Sergeant Martin donates all of the gifts for all 50-60 kids each year. All of the children receive the same gift, and the gifts have ranged from tricycles to building blocks to radio flyer wagons. Sergeant Martin has created a team, made up of colleagues, who help to make the Christmas event special for all of the children. Mar Mar’s Angels began from a simple idea of helping a group of disabled children to feel loved and special. It has grown into a big event that Sergeant Martin hopes to continue year after year. Sergeant Martin is a humble person who doesn’t do service for accolades, it is bringing joy to a child that keeps him going. His heart for service makes him an angel on earth.
  • Marcia Milchiker - 2019

    Marcia Milchiker is one of the founders of the Orange County Community Colleges Legislative Task Force and wrote the initial plan to organize the four community college districts for legislative advocacy. She serves on the Orange County School Boards Association Board of Directors where she has held various positions, including Vice President of Programs, Treasurer, Secretary and Community College Representative. She is a frequent speaker in the community and at state and national community college conferences and workshops. Marcia is well-known in Orange County for her involvement in service organizations. She founded the Orange County Chapter of the California Elected Women's Association for Education and Research, where she created and organized the chapter's first events and committees. She has lobbied successfully for funding for local educational programs and facilities, and was instrumental in obtaining local matching funds for the two student service centers in the District. In recognition of her contributions to community education and volunteer work, she was named Woman of the Year by the Association of Business and Professional Women and she received the 2004 Athena Award from the South Orange County Panhellenic Society. About her community involvement, Marcia comments, “Public service has given me great gratification. I'm proud to have accomplished so much for public education locally, statewide and nationally. I'm particularly proud of the education we provide to local constituents. I love to visit our campuses and experience first-hand how our programs benefit so many in the community.”
  • Dr. Ravindra Rao - 2019

    Dr. Rao has given a lifetime of service to children. He has been a pediatrician at Loma Linda University Medical Center and Children’s Hospital and for Totally Kids Rehabilitation Hospital for many decades. At Loma Linda, he currently serves as Professor of Pediatrics, Medical Director for the Spina Bifida Team Clinic, and Pediatrician in the Division of General Pediatrics. At Totally Kids, he serves as Medical Director and Chief Medical Officer. For 34 years he served as the Division Head of General Pediatrics and grew the department from 5 to almost 50 doctors. Dr. Rao’s commitment to the children he serves comes from his heart and brings him joy. He works with children with spina bifida and those who are medically fragile or technology dependent. Dr. Rao’s excellence has been noticed and he has been chosen as Physician of the Year at Loma Linda University Medical Center and Children’s Hospital three times. He treats his patients with respect and kindness, helping them to find the confidence and reassurance they need during difficult times. Not only does Dr. Rao give amazing care to all his patients, he volunteers his time and energy to those in need. He has been caring for needy children in the villages of India for many years and is also a volunteer at the Painted Turtle, working as the camp physician. This free camp gives children with severe medical conditions the chance to have camp experiences. Dr. Rao is an incredible example of someone who has found what they are meant to do! His joy and love for the children he serves, his family, and his faith combine to make him an excellent pediatrician!
  • Janeen Reiser - 2019

    Janeen Reiser founded Children Giving Gifts in 2008 as a Christian 501(c)(3) for disadvantaged children. Each year Children Giving Gifts provides between 1,000 to 3,000 gifts to give underprivileged children the opportunity to ‘shop’ free-of-charge for two beautiful new gifts for their parents. Their goal is to support the development of children’s self-esteem, compassion and dignity by providing them the opportunity to give to others, so they may experience the tremendous JOY of giving. Their goal is to plant the seed for future acts of kindness during their important developmental years. The children are escorted with their own ‘personal shoppers’ while choosing gifts for their loved ones. The high quality gifts are abundantly displayed on banquet tables with linen tablecloths. Many children have been known to say, “This is the BEST DAY of my life!” A few of their giving events have included: CHOC Children’s Hospital, Ronald McDonald House, Angels Baseball Foundation, numerous YMCAs, KidWorks, Camp Pendleton (Christmas and Homecomings), Family Shelters, Toys for Tots, OC Rescue Mission, numerous Elementary Schools, Melinda Hoag/Smith Center and more. Janeen’s devotion to helping children experience joy and compassion has helped thousands. She and her organization are truly angels on Earth!
  • Opal Singleton - 2019

    Opal Singleton is the President and CEO of Million Kids and serves as the Training and Outreach Coordinator for the Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. She has trained more than 250,000 government and individual leaders about labor trafficking, child sex trafficking, sextortion, child pornography and social media exploitation. She often appears on television and radio talk shows across the United States. Opal is an Instructor at USC Price Safe Communities Institute and a Co-Instructor at the USC School of Social Work for the Los Angeles Police Department LEAD program. She is an Instructor at Los Angeles Fire Leadership Training Academy and has served on the Peace Officers Standardized Training panel to develop the training curriculum on human trafficking for law enforcement for the State of California. She also sits on the Board of Directors for Rapha House International in Cambodia, Thailand and Haiti. Opal is the author of “Seduced: The Grooming of America’s Teenagers,” and “Societal Shift: A world without borders… a home without walls”. She hosts two weekly radio shows. KTIE 590 AM broadcasts “Exploited: Crimes and Technology” throughout Southern California. “Exploited: Crimes against Humanity” is a weekly global internet human exploitation training program that broadcasts through Voice America to more than 170 countries. Opal goes above and beyond with her incredible and inspired work, which helps to save children throughout the world from the horrors of trafficking!
  • UCI Eye Mobile for Children - 2019

    In 2012, the Children and Family Commission of Orange County (CFCOC) made vision a priority in its efforts to expand access to healthcare for the county’s underserved youth. To best address the identification of children at risk for vision problems, they created a program that begins with screening in the preschool population of 3-5 year-old children.   As part of their commitment to early vision screening, the CFCOC has encouraged the participation of the School Readiness Nurses (SRN) in the early screening project throughout the 25 school districts of Orange Country.  A tiered approach ensures that large numbers of children can receive services: SRNs rapidly identify any child at-risk, the UCI Eye Mobile pediatric eye clinic returns to the schools where the at-risk children can get comprehensive exams and glasses, tertiary care is established for those children already suffering from medical or surgical vision limiting conditions. The program also conducts follow-up with families. Thanks to the recent development of photographic technology that allows rapid vision photo-screening of younger children, SRNs equipped with that technology from UCI, can now expand the vision screening activity to more children than ever before. Over the years, they have successfully identified and treated thousands of children. This important screening and treatment gives children the opportunity to see clearly, a critical need for those who may otherwise fall behind at school. UCI Eye Mobile for Children is an angel on earth for many children and their families!
  • Mellisa Breunig - 2019
  • Christian Esteban - 2019
  • Free Wheelchair Mission - 2019
  • Katrina Foley - 2019
  • Sergeant John Martin - 2019
  • Marcia Milchiker - 2019
  • Dr. Ravindra Rao - 2019
  • Janeen Reiser - 2019
  • Opal Singleton - 2019
  • UCI Eye Mobile for Children - 2019