Desert Gala Honorees

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

Robert Berens - 2019

Robert Berens - 2019

Margit Chiriaco-Rusche - 2019

Margit Chiriaco-Rusche - 2019

Annette Garcia & Dave DiMeno - 2019

Annette Garcia & Dave DiMeno - 2019

Victory Grund - 2019

Victory Grund - 2019

Risseth Lora - 2019

Risseth Lora - 2019

Dr. Farah Meadows - 2019

Dr. Farah Meadows - 2019

Jerry Moe - 2019

Jerry Moe - 2019

Shay Moraga - 2019

Shay Moraga - 2019

Rosa Lucas - 2019

Rosa Lucas - 2019

  • Robert Berens - 2019
  • Margit Chiriaco-Rusche - 2019
  • Annette Garcia & Dave DiMeno - 2019
  • Victory Grund - 2019
  • Risseth Lora - 2019
  • Dr. Farah Meadows - 2019
  • Jerry Moe - 2019
  • Shay Moraga - 2019
  • Rosa Lucas - 2019
  • Robert Berens - 2019

    Robert Berens is the President and Executive Director of Red Hot Ballroom. The organization is an all-volunteer group of dedicated adults. Through Ballroom and Latin dance, Red Hot Ballroom works to make "at risk" students in the 4th through 7th grades better dancers, and better citizens. They stress teamwork, respect for others and good social manners. They help to improve children's self-esteem so they can stand up to negative peer pressure, including drugs and gangs. Students are better focused and disciplined, and have a greater opportunity to transition successfully into adulthood. Red Hot Ballroom has received Certificates of Recognition from California State Senator Jeff Stone, California State Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, and Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel "Manny" Perez. Through Robert's leadership and persistent fundraising, Red Hot Ballroom has grown and now includes 37 public schools in all three Coachella Valley School Districts, with nearly 1,100 students participating. The program is presented at no cost to the families or the school districts. Robert is dedicated to helping young students become better citizens, and to rise out of poverty. Robert is unable to accept this award tonight. Accepting on his behalf is Ron Hagan, Red Hot Ballroom’s Vice President. Ron and his wife, Jackie, have been involved since the program’s beginning and they help to oversee the dance instructors, volunteers, contracts, and produce and operate the three school district ballroom finals each year. Ron, Jackie, and Robert work closely to make sure this program and its positive impact can continue.
  • Margit Chiriaco-Rusche - 2019

    Margit Chiriaco-Rusche has been a lifelong resident of the Coachella Valley and has worked diligently to improve the community. Her family company, Joseph L. Chiriaco, Inc. has long owned and operated the site known as Chiriaco Summit. Margit has been instrumental in making improvements to the site to better serve travelers and residents, putting her background in Political Science to use as she worked to secure a reliable water source and brought commercial power to the area. She ran for Congress and has used her contacts to help further important causes in the Coachella Valley. Margit has been involved in a variety of leadership roles including serving as a board member of DACE, President of the Chiriaco Summit County Water District, Vice President of California Women for Agriculture, a member of the new East Valley Coalition. She is also a COD Angel, supports Catholic charities in Mecca and Coachella, serves on the CV High Advisory Board and is working hard to begin a CV Agriculture Academy. One of her favorite projects is the General Patton Museum which honors those who served and trained at the Desert Training Center and promotes learning from past lessons to work for peace in the future. Margit’s incredible dedication to her community matches her energy and drive-she is working hard to get things done!
  • Annette Garcia & Dave DiMeno - 2019

    Dave DiMeno and Annette Garcia are an integral part of the Coachella Valley Horse Rescue, serving as President and Vice President/Rescue Director respectively. CVHR rescues and rehabilitates horses that have been neglected, abandoned, or abused. Their volunteers dedicate time and energy to work with horses and people, creating bonds and healing hurts. They also partner with other organizations to enrich their programs and give children and adults experience in horse care and riding. Annette has volunteered with CVHR for 13 years and also serves as Volunteer Trainer and Program Leader. She trains and rehabilitates horses, and works hard to connect children, adults, and veterans with horses to build confidence and trust. Dave is a U.S. Marine Veteran and recently began a veteran’s program. Veterans gain strength and confidence as they learn to take horses through challenges. The trusting relationships they build with the horses help them to transition from military to civilian life. Veterans feel calmer, more peaceful, and more like themselves after spending such quality time with the horses. Dave and Annette each have a passion for animals and their hearts are devoted to rescuing and rehabilitating horses while also helping people heal and grow. They have become angels for animals and people alike!
  • Victory Grund - 2019

    Victory Grund discovered a passion for art in 2009 and had the dream to provide art for all ages and for the disadvantaged. Victory found solace and healing in art when she went through difficult times and she dreamed of providing a healing and safe place for others. She wanted to pass along the healing nature of art to others, no matter the art medium or the person. Her vision became a reality when she and her husband, family, donors, staff, volunteers, and other nonprofit leaders helped to start Old Town Artisan Studios Art Campus. The Campus provides a peaceful place for all who participate, the nature and calming atmosphere add to the restorative effect. OTASAC provides affordable art classes to all. They offer instructor-led art classes in clay, glass or bisque to all the communities of the Coachella Valley. Students range from those with special needs, disadvantaged children to young adults and seniors. Students come alive, finding immense joy in new outlets for self-expression and personal creativity. With increased Studio classes and their unique Mobile Art Van, allowing them to partner with local schools, senior centers and a wide variety of local non-profits, they expect to reach their goal of serving over 9,000 art experience this year! Old Town Artisan Studio is committed to providing positive art experiences for all people despite age, disability or financial disadvantage. Victory’s vision is not finished just yet-she hopes to add culinary arts and theater arts to her programs, reaching more people with more outlets for creativity.
  • Risseth Lora - 2019

    Risseth Lora has been an integral part of the Family YMCA of the Desert. The Family YMCA of the Desert is the largest provider of licensed childcare in the Coachella Valley, with facilities from Palm Springs to Mecca. They serve over 3,500 local kids and families each day at their forty-one sites. They also provide a variety of programs, camps, and other events and activities for members of our community. The primary focus of the Y is to reinforce caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility while also helping kids to develop social skills, confidence, leadership, and fitness. Risseth currently sits on the Executive Board for YMCA of the Desert as Captain of the Marketing and PR Team. Risseth was involved with the YMCA as a child and understands the importance and value of their programs. The YMCA programs helped her to gain confidence and self-esteem and she is devoted to making sure the next generation has access to the same life-changing assistance. She has been able to use her expertise in marketing to help the YMCA to grow and serve more of the community. A veteran of the advertising industry for nearly 20 years, Risseth is a true hybrid of the industry. Her career began in the public relations field and quickly morphed into marketing for several high-end developments and real estate developers, most notably the Irvine Company. Since then, her areas of focus have expanded along with her role as Vice President of Operations for JNS Next, Creative and Media Hub. Risseth is grateful to be able to use her experience to help the YMCA with their marketing campaigns and serves as a leader and an angel on Earth to their organization.
  • Dr. Farah Meadows - 2019

    Dr. Farah Meadows has been a dedicated teacher for 18 years. She is currently the Activities Director at Indio High School where she works on improving the school’s culture and climate, develops student leaders, and creates lasting memories for the students. As a teacher, she has worked with numerous groups, such as: ASB (Student government), Renaissance, Gay Straight Alliance, Black Student Union, Bettering Ourselves with Sisterhood, Link Crew and WEB Student Mentor Programs, AVID, Friday Night Live (Drug and Alcohol prevention), dance, cheer, Stay Strong female empowerment, and much more. Her devotion to making a difference makes her the kind of teacher that inspires students and other teachers to be great. Dr. Meadows is also the proud mom of two sons. After she lost her oldest son in a tragic car accident, she decided to honor her son by being in service. She works with other Angel Moms who have experienced child loss, serves the homeless with Street Life Project, and works with several youth leadership programs like Future Leaders to help empower youth. She hopes that she can inspire youth to find and pursue their purpose in life, become the best versions of themselves, and become change agents who will better this world. Farah has truly turned her pain into purpose, and when she could have given up, she decided to give back.
  • Jerry Moe - 2019

    Over thirty years ago, Jerry Moe began developing a program to support children who are affected by addiction in loved ones. The program was launched at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City with the goal of preventing kids from going down the same road as their parents and grandparents. It worked, not just helping the kids, but helping the addicts in their lives to get clean and lead more fulfilling and healthy lives. In 1996, former first lady Betty Ford approached Jerry about bringing his program to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s recovery center in Rancho Mirage. He is now the director of their program, which serves children in-house, at the center on the Eisenhower Medical Center Campus. Additionally, Jerry runs programs in local elementary schools. Jerry is also an Advisory Board Member of the National Association for Children of Addiction (NACoA). He is an author, lecturer, and trainer on issues for children and families hurt by addiction. He was featured in the Emmy award winning Nick News special “Under the Influence: Children of Addiction”. Jerry also recently appeared on NBC Nightly News to discuss the opioid/heroin epidemic and its impact on children. Jerry has spent a lifetime helping children impacted by addiction to go beyond their circumstances and lead healthy lives.
  • Shay Moraga - 2019

    Shay Moraga’s journey with cancer changed her life forever. Once focused on her property management company, she stepped down from day-to-day operations to focus on her health. That shift in focus led her to where she is today. Shay’s projects focus on wellness, spiritual growth and cancer support. She owns a local business called Namaste With Shay – a mobile yoga company that comes to you or your place of business that teaches yoga and mindful meditation. Additionally, you can find her teaching on the spin bike in one of her high-energy classes or coaching teen and tweens yoga workshops based on mindfulness and self-love. Closer to her heart are the yoga classes she leads for cancer patients, survivors and those effected by cancer at both Cancer Partners, and at Eisenhower’s Lucy Curci Center, known as Yoga for Cancer. Shay is an advocate for the Women’s Breast Center Lunch Group, sits newly on the board of both Desert Cancer Foundation and The Girl Friend Factor. She is a previous member of the GFF Advisory Board and Past Board member of the Junior League Palm Springs. She is a volunteer with the American Cancer Society, still an active member of Junior League of Palm Springs and local Lululemon Ambassador. Shay’s dedication to assisting others to improve their health and wellness has made her an angel on earth those she touches.
  • Rosa Lucas - 2019

    Rosa Lucas is a founding board member of Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine, a non-profit providing a local solution to a national problem. CVVIM provides access to healthcare at no cost to adults in the Coachella Valley who are uninsured or under-insured. They provide primary medical and dental care, address chronic conditions, and treat acute conditions such as colds and flus. They also provide health education, wellness programs, case management, and community referrals for patients. Patients are encouraged to schedule appointments rather than to visit the emergency room, providing quality care without the high costs for patients and reducing the strain on overcrowded emergency rooms. Rosa is the driving force of the Homeless Medical Outreach project, which she initiated in the spring of 2016, and remains active with as a team leader. Rosa is also a member of the Clinical Care committee. Rosa’s heart is with the farm workers and other medically underserved community members, especially in the East Valley. She is a Spanish-speaking nurse practitioner who has dedicated herself to providing compassionate health care. Her goal is to see that everyone has access to healthcare and she works with like-minded professionals and community members to accomplish this goal. Rosa’s selfless and tireless service improves the quality of life for many in the Coachella Valley.
  • Robert Berens - 2019
  • Margit Chiriaco-Rusche - 2019
  • Annette Garcia & Dave DiMeno - 2019
  • Victory Grund - 2019
  • Risseth Lora - 2019
  • Dr. Farah Meadows - 2019
  • Jerry Moe - 2019
  • Shay Moraga - 2019
  • Rosa Lucas - 2019