Nonprofit, students and educator among those who will be celebrated March 7 at Guglielmo

Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce Chairman of the Board Rich Firato, far left, and COO Brittney Sherman, far right present One Step Closer Therapeutic Riding founders Mark and Landa Keirstead.
Photo by Marty Cheek

By Marty Cheek

Several of the people and organizations that make Morgan Hill a wonderful community will be honored at the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Celebrate gala March 7 at Guglielmo Winery.

One Step Closer is this year’s Nonprofit of the Year for the work they do with helping people through horse therapy. Two seniors a Live Oak and Sobrato high schools will be recognized as co-Students of the Year for their academic performance and involvement in the community. And Juan Carlos Villasenor, the principal of charter school Voices Academy, is this year’s Educator of the Year.

“One Step Closer is the Nonprofit of the Year because it builds confidence, empowerment and serenity in those who have experienced trauma. The founders, Mark and Landa Keirstead have truly built something magical,” said Brittney Sherman, the Chamber’s chief operating officer.

The couple canceled their therapeutic riding lessons Dec. 9 but a few volunteers came out to help with chores.  One person asked if they would be home around 1 p.m., mentioning some other people were coming over, Mark recalled. At that hour, they looked down toward the barn to see a number of people coming into the ranch. They walked down to the barn where Chamber ambassadors and staff had gathered to present them with flowers and a certificate

“One Step Closer’s mission is to serve children and adults with special needs and military veterans with PTSD and other challenges, using equine assisted therapy to help participants become more independent and successful in their lives outside the ranch,” Mark said. “It’s truly an honor to receive the 2020 Non-Profit of the Year award, made more special because Morgan Hill is such as wonderful community of people who genuinely care about each other.”

Chamber members, staff and administrators from the Morgan Hill Unified School District surprised Sobrato High School senior Myan Lam and Live Oak High School senior Tracy Lam each with the duel Student of the Year honor. (The two students are not related.)

“Myan Lam is a wealth of positivity, a model student, a beautiful public speaker and a leader in every sense of the word,” Sherman said.  “She will tackle any task with professionalism and charisma.”

Myan believes education is an important aspect in ensuring success in the future. She’s also a firm believer that with enough effort, anything is possible.

“As Student of the Year, I hope to use the platform I have to inspire others to set their own goals and pursue their own academic successes through hard work and perseverance,” she said. “ In the words of Norman Vincent Peale, ‘Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.’ Though not a scientifically accurate quote, this is a mantra I live by: that continuous hard work will lead to boundless opportunities in life.”

She considers her parents an inspiration.  They were both forced to immigrate to America from Vietnam at a young age and faced many hardships and adversities in the process, she said.

“They both came from nothing, but through hard work and continuous dedication, they were able to make a living for themselves and are now very successful,” she said.

The selection committee decided to award a second Student of the Year honor to Tracy Lam because she was also proved herself in going above and beyond in her class and extracurricular endeavors, Sherman said.

“Tracy is a role model and active spokesperson for women’s advocacy,” she said. “I look forward to seeing Tracy shatter the glass ceiling and continue supporting accomplishments of Asian American Pacific Islanders.”

Live Oak English department chair and Tracy’s AP language teacher Quoc Anh Huy Nguyen nominated her for the honor for all her activities including ASB. She’s a member of the Future Business Leaders of America, Interact Club, National Honors Society, Surfrider, Women’s Advocacy and played badminton and volleyball.

“Tracy is an exceptional young woman who persevered and tried her best to break down any barriers that was in her way to success,” Nguyen wrote in her letter of nomination. “She was someone who has immense determination in not only my class, but what I assume her other classes as well.”

The selection committee chose Villasenor as the 2020 Educator of the Year for his dedication to helping Voices Academy’s 300 students grow into good people, Sherman said.

“Mr. V is not only an incredible educator and leader, he is also a steadfast supporter and advocate of all the students and families that makeup the Voices College Bound Language Academy family,” she said.

Morgan Hill resident Laura Gonzalez-Escoto described Villasenor in her letter of nomination as a “compassionate leader who sets the academic bar high for his students and teachers.”

In 2019, Voices was one of the top ranked schools in the Bay Area for gaining math proficiency for low-income Latino students, she wrote.

“This is a true accomplishment considering their facility challenges,” she said. “Mr. Villasenor is to be commended and recognized.”

Morgan Hill Life has published stories about the other recipients of the 2020 Celebrate event. They are Man of the Year Ron Locicero, Woman of the Year Caitlin Jachimowicz, Large Business Guild Mortgage, Small Business Thinker Toys, and Volunteer of the Year Morgan Hill Kiwanis Club.

Marty Cheek