More than 100 people gathered on a warm Sunday at the Malibu West Beach Club to honor the 2012 recipients of The Malibu Times 23rd Annual Dolphin Awards.
The awards are presented each year by The Malibu Times to recognize and thank the recipients for their contributions, volunteerism and tireless work and devotion to the community of Malibu.
The Malibu Times publisher Karen York began the awards presentations by noting, “The question I frequently get is how, in a small town such as ours, have we been able to find all these worthy people, even after all these years?
“The problem is actually in narrowing the list down from all the nominations we receive,” she said. “We are not a selfish community. We give and give.”
This year, 14 people were honored as Dolphins for acts ranging from heroism in moments of extreme danger to sustained charity and community spirit over many years.
As Rabbi Judith Halevy of Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue (MJCS) reminded the crowd, in a reading from Reconstructionist Judaism founder Ira Eisenstein, “We cannot picture actual goodness. Its force is like electricity … We haven’t yet found a way to get rid of misery. That’s why God made us. We are honoring God’s partners today.”
First up was Cantor Marcelo Gindlin, the Argentinean cantor who arrived in Malibu 13 years ago to work for MJCS, bringing along a soaring voice and firm belief in the healing powers of music. He began the festivities with a rousing chorus of “This Little Light of Mine,” accompanied (on guitar) by several members of his group Hand in Hand, a program he helped create for Malibu special-needs teens to enjoy and grow through crafts and music.
Gindlin nominator Lisa Szilagyi praised him as “a blessing in all of our lives,” and recounted how much she had wanted her nonverbal, special needs daughter to participate in her Bat Mitzvah.
“When Emily met him, she reached out to hug him and we knew an angel had been sent to us,” Szilagyi said. “He helped her to achieve a magical, musical Bat Mitzvah!”
In presenting the next awardee, Times publisher Arnold York said, “Bruce Karatz took Homeboy Industries (a nonprofit organization that provides training and support to recently incarcerated, usually former gang members) and turned it around. Many people in our community have skills that nonprofits can really use. Bruce did that.”
After reading about Homeboy a couple of years ago, Karatz, a former CEO of the hugely successful home building company KB Home, volunteered to help the nonprofit learn to turn a profit. Three years later, their kitchens are providing Homeboy brand chips and salsa to local supermarkets, their bakery takes fresh-baked goods to Farmers Markets all over the city and they are operating a Homeboy café in the American Airlines terminal at LAX.
Karatz’s wife, Lilly Tartikoff Karatz, said her husband’s actions exemplified the old adage, “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”
“His natural instinct is to go into any situation and make it a successful business,” she said. “But he fell in love with Homeboy.”
Karatz himself was not one to let a teachable moment pass.
“I want to take the opportunity to make a plug for Homeboy products,” he said after accepting his Dolphin Award. “If you want to support a worthy cause, check out the Homeboy salsa the next time you are in Ralph’s.”
The next awardee was Martha Templeton, the manager of Malibu’s unique thrift shop, the Artifac Tree. The thrift shop provides clothing and assistance for the local homeless and others in need. Introducer Cindy Linke called Templeton “a true ambassador of the city.”
“Martha is always the calm center of chaos at the Artifac Tree,” Linke said. “She is always ready to help where there is need.”
When asked if there was anything the community could donate to the thrift shop to help, Templeton said socks were always in demand from those in need and were welcome donations.
The presenter for Oscar Mondragon, the director of the Malibu Labor Exchange since 1993, was Mona Loo, who has worked with Mondragon for 20 years. During that time Loo watched Mondragon legitimize a severely marginalized population, and bring hope and dignity to hard-working families in Malibu.
“Oscar’s family came here from Mexico when he was a child and poverty was something you expected,” Loo said. “They picked fruits and vegetables for us. For him, ‘Si, se puede’ (Yes, we can) is not just a saying, it’s a way of life.”
Michael Miller and Joseph Evans, Dolphin Hero Award winners, said that they were simply lucky enough “to be in the right place at the right time.”
Quick thinking by both men helped save a girl who had been kidnapped by a transient last June.
While stopping to fill up at the Arco gas station at Pacific Coast Highway, Miller became aware of the visibly distressed girl in the passenger seat of another vehicle also gassing up.
Suspecting the worst, he confronted the driver of the car, demanding the girl be released. The driver refused and sped off, prompting Miller to call 911.
Evans, also present at the gas station, noted the altercation and followed the vehicle, calling the police to update them with the driver’s location. The girl, a local Malibu teen who had been kidnapped, was eventually rescued unharmed following a tense police pursuit. She has since testified against the kidnapper in court.
“There’s no question in my mind my daughter is alive today thanks to these two men,” the victim’s mother (who did not wish to be identified) said, breaking into tears. “These people saved my daughter’s life!”
Miller and Evans both expressed relief that the situation turned out as well as it did, giving praise to the arresting officers who had approached the vehicle and arrested the suspect without further violence.
“We all have kids,” Evans said. “This could have been anyone’s daughter.”
This year’s Dolphin Youth Award went to Misael Espinoza. When he arrived in Malibu as a youngster, he was shy, scared and lost in a world of English-speakers. Flash forward to his senior year at Malibu High and Espinoza not only provides bilingual translation services for students and teachers, he tutors other youngsters in English so they too may avoid the confusion he experienced when he spoke only Spanish.
As described by presenter Violet Miehle, a student leader at the Malibu Boys & Girls Club, Espinoza showed up one day at the Boys & Girls Club an awkward, lonely youth.
“Today, Misael mentors other kids and helps with the Make-a- Wish and the Step Forward programs,” Miehle said. “Misael is an inspiration to other kids facing challenges.”
“It was a total surprise to me,” Espinoza said softly. “I help mentor the kids at the Boys & Girls Club to make sure they stay on the right path … I realized that the Boys & Girls Club was where I could develop my capacities to the fullest.” Today, Espinoza looks forward to attending college at Sonoma State University, hoping to study psychology and become a youth counselor.
Also recognized for longtime, outstanding contributions to Malibu’s community history were Daniel and Luciana Forge, recently retired owners of BeauRivage Restaurant and recipients of the Harvey Baskin Malibu Business Award for their generous contributions to many community organizations over the years.
John Johannessen also received a Malibu Dolphin Hero Award for his quick actions after coming upon a fiery car accident on PCH. Without considering his own safety, he pulled out a man trapped in one burning vehicle and pulled another man out of the other car engulfed in billowing smoke.
Johannessen also founded the gun safety nonprofit “Stop Our Shootings” after an accidental shooting injury to his own daughter. He demurred at being called a “hero.”
“I just acted,” he said. “I had to.”
Daniel Villefort is another Malibuite dedicated to city safety. Villefort (whose name means “Strong City” in French) is a one-man army for wildfire, arson watch and disaster services volunteering. He opens his home to Malibu’s emergency response teams to explore efficient cooperation, and patrols the city as part of Volunteers on Patrol.
“At some point there is a realization that ‘family’ extends from the immediate family to the ‘family of community,’” Villefort said.
Finally, Karen Farrer, Craig Foster and Seth Jacobson were honored for their passionate efforts to improve Malibu schools and to form an independent Malibu school district though their organization Advocates for Malibu Public Schools. They have spent tireless hours making sure that Malibu’s school funding dollars stay in Malibu.
“The more we explore, the more we find that our students will only benefit from being independent,” Foster said. “This really is a case of where we are stronger apart than we are together.”
Current and former members of the Malibu City Council, and several city officials also attended the awards ceremony. State Assemblyman Richard Bloom, and Susan Nissman, deputy for County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, were also on hand to congratulate the honorees and to award them certificates of recognition. Representatives for State Sen. Fran Pavley and Congressman Henry Waxman awarded certificates of honor.