The Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce clearly had education in mind when selecting this year’s Goleta’s Finest honorees.
Man of the Year, Merlyn Cummings, taught for 23 years at Goleta Valley Junior High, followed by two more years as a mentor. For 20 years, Merlyn has been a member of Goleta Valley Beautiful working on planting and clean-up efforts and is its current president. In addition, he and his wife, Helen, promote a “do-it-yourself” July 4th parade in their neighborhood. He is truly one who “acts locally” to make Goleta a better place.
Woman of the Year Colette Hadley is the dynamic director of the Santa Barbara Scholarship Foundation, a group that awarded $7.4 million in aid to over 16,000 students in 2007. Colette works with the schools and has helped a number of Goleta businesses to donate scholarships for their employees’ families. Colette also finds time to volunteer for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Big Brothers-Big Sisters, and Planned Parenthood.
Amir Abo-Shaeer, Secondary Educator of the Year, founded the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy that has posted some outstanding successes this year. He secured a $3 million grant from the State Department of Education, to be matched locally, for a new facility that would allow tripling of the number of students enrolled from 128 to 394. It is noteworthy that close to half of the students in the program are girls. The academy’s robotic team won FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in Los Angeles followed by second in its division at a national competition in Atlanta. Amir is a graduate of Dos Pueblos and, after five years in the private sector as a mechanical engineer, returned to DP as a teacher.
The Elementary Educator of the Year, Edward Armstrong, Principal of Foothill School, is retiring after 39 years with Goleta schools. As a teacher or principal at five schools in the district, he has worked with a wide diversity of students over the years, including children from Hmong families fleeing Vietnam and Spanish-speaking immigrants. Thousands of students have benefited from his caring efforts to help them learn.
Are there really enough hours in the day for all that Student of the Year Stacie Rayburn Raichelle has accomplished? A senior at Bishop Diego High School, she has been a leader in the Goleta 4-H club and the Community Connections Teen program of the Jewish Federation; she has been a teacher’s aide at Congregation B’Nai B’rith, a volunteer at the Hearts Adaptive Riding Center, and a math tutor for elementary and junior high students. She is active in sports and has a long list of hobbies. In her early years as a foster child, before being adopted by her new family, she missed a year of school and did not know how to read. She is proud that she was able to teach herself during the Goleta library summer reading program when she was in 4th grade. Her goal is to be a social worker, like the ones that helped her and her sister when they were in foster care.
Public Servant of the Year, Sergeant Greg Nordyke, has also been an educator, meeting with parents, teachers, and students to improve traffic safety around the schools. He has organized bicycle rodeos, safety fairs, and has trained all the crossing guards in the city. In addition, he worked with Assemblyman Pedro Nava on legislation to reduce speed limits around school zones, known as the “Sergeant Nordyke Law”. Recently retired from the police department, he is now the City of Goleta code enforcement officer.
Other honorees include Christine LeBon, as Volunteer of the Year, who can be seen wherever a volunteer is needed: the Unity Shoppe, the Lobero, and the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and as a warmly-welcoming Ambassador at Chamber of Commerce events.
Human Services Professional of the Year, Joyce McCullough, the executive director of the regional chapter of Habitat for Humanity, has taken on the challenge of building affordable housing. Besides new homes, Habitat has also rehabilitated homes for families in Goleta.
Finally, thanks to Entrepreneur of the Year, Bill Macfadyen, we have a daily source of news about Goleta through the online newspaper Noozhawk.
Congratulations to these honorees, with grateful thanks for their many contributions to Goleta.