Calwa Elementary School teacher Felipe Lemus is heavily involved with The Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity and the Roosevelt Youth Soccer League.
In a way, it is his way of honoring his parents, José Lemus and María Carmen Gutiérrez, who, despite meager earnings, always managed to find a way to not only provide for their family but to help their community.
“I saw them work hard. I saw them when they had to make ends meet and keep a smile on their heads,” said Lemus, who has taught at Calwa Elementary for 14 of the 20 years he has taught in the Fresno school district.
Lemus was among five individuals honored with the Community Trailblazer for Prosperity Award at a Nov. 8 luncheon organized by the Southeast Fresno Community Economic Development Association (SEFCEDA),
“I never saw my father sad, even when times were difficult,” said Lemus.
He also credited his teachers from elementary school to Fresno Pacific University for their support.
“Those teachers saw something in me; they taught me how to love learning,” said Lemus.
H. Spees, director of strategic initiatives with Fresno Mayor Lee Brand’s office, said Lemus “is more than a teacher.”
“I asked him what his hope was and he said, ‘That we’ll have enough fields to serve the children,’” said Spees, the luncheon’s keynote speaker. “The best antidote is getting children out on the field.”
Lemus, who introduced his parents to the audience during the luncheon at the Fresno fairgrounds, teaches kindergarten through sixth grade at Calwa Elementary.
Fresno Police Capt. Anthony T. Martínez, the Southeast District Commander, was also honored. The Parlier High School graduate joined the Fresno police in 1996. He is a U.S. Marine veteran.
Spees, who interviewed the award recipients, recalled that Martínez’s hope “is for the people of southeast Fresno to see his men and women through the same lens he sees them. To see past the uniforms.”
Martínez, whose late father John C. Martínez served as Parlier police chief, said he is not a trailblazer.
“I’m blessed to have a lot of people around me. The sailors are the ones rowing the boat; the captain just sits at the wheel,” said Martínez.
He said his parents influenced him greatly with a tough but gentle approach. He remembers getting home with a college catalog and already married to his wife of 33 years, Sandy.
Mother: “You have to take all that?”
Martínez: “Yes, mom.”
Mother: “You’re never going to get through all that.”
Martínez said he felt “kind of upset” at his mother’s words.
“Then she told me, ‘Well, prove me wrong!’”
Martínez went on to earn a bachelor’s and masters from Fresno State.
Another honoree, Raúl Moreno, explained how a car accident that left him blind changed his life. He figured he was going to be a farmworker his entire life until then.
“When I lost my eyesight, I lost my hope until one day I discovered faith,” said Moreno, coordinator of Fresno State’s Dream Outreach Center.
Moreno, who said he was a 2.0 GPA student in high school, said God put him on the path he is now. He helped form the College Assistant Migrant Program at Fresno State, and later coordinated University Migrant Services.
Moreno also founded the Education and Leadership Foundation in 2007 to provide education, leadership development and immigration services to the community.
Moreno said had he not lost his vision, “I would not have left the fields, and I would not be able to help broken people like me.”
Also honored as Community Trailblazers were Dr. Venise C. Curry and Fresno Unified Parent University project manager Maiyer Vang.
Alex Contreras, who will retire at the end of the year as public relations manager for Donaghy Sales, was honored with the Community Legacy & Lifetime Achievement Award.
Contreras helped establish the Fresno Hispanic Scholarship Fund, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for scholarships.
“The Donaghy Sales community is a major piece of my life,” said Contreras. “The community we serve allows me to live my life to the fullest and to grow and experience all that I have been gifted to do.”
The Leadership and Cultural Excellence Award was posthumously awarded to Judge Armando O. Rodríguez and his wife, Betty.