Two San Benito County residents were honored at the Martin Luther King Award breakfast sponsored by Bethany Community Church on Jan. 16 at Old City Hall in Gilroy. Author Laynee Reyna of San Juan Bautista and retired judge Tom Breen of Hollister were given lifetime achievement awards, as was Meriwest Credit Union Community Relations Manager Helen Grays-Jones of San Jose. Gilroy artist Nacho Moya was given this year’s Freedom Award.
In its 14th year, according to Bethany’s pastor Gerald Harris, the breakfast is a way of giving back to the community while honoring local leaders and celebrating the work of the late civil rights leader.
“I know of no other group that does anything to recognize Martin Luther King,” he said. “We wanted to find a way to go on record as saying that we support the life and legacy of Dr. King, so we started out with this breakfast, which helps us to do some things for our kids, like buying computers and developing a media center and a computer lab and things like that.”
30th District Assemblymember Robert Rivas delivered the keynote address, mentioning King’s support of farmworkers, quoting from a letter King sent to labor leader Dolores Huerta saying, “I extend the hand to fellowship and goodwill and wish continuing success to you and your members. Our separate struggles are really one struggle for freedom, for dignity, and for humanity.”
Rivas went on to say that “we all must remember the work that we all must do to honor the values of Dr. King. What he did for us as a country means nothing unless we follow through on his commitment to do all we can for the communities we represent.”
Laynee Reyna was introduced by former Gavilan College Trustee Kent Child, who described Reyna as a charming person and one of the main figures of the culture of San Juan Bautista, praised her work organizing the annual Indian Market and recognized her humanitarian service as a medic in the Air Force, a pilot in Doctors Without Borders and a medical technician assistant at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital.
“Laynee has given her whole life to a dream that she has had of One Earth, One People,” Child said. “That is a theme we have seen from Martin Luther King’s work, and we can only hope that it is something that will ultimately be manifested.”
Presiding Judge Omar Rodriguez and Superior Court Judge Patrick Palacios, both of San Benito County, along with Diane Ortiz, the chief executive officer of Youth Alliance, introduced retired judge Tom Breen.
“He loves San Benito County, and I’ve been able to observe that firsthand,” Rodriguez said. “Before I actually started judging, he was the first person I called to speak with about the process, and he actually came to court and reviewed files with me and talked about his thought process. That is something not just anyone would do.”
Ortiz said Breen’s commitment to the community goes far beyond his work as a judge.
“I’ve driven down the street and done a double take, seeing Tom mowing the lawn at the domestic violence shelter,” she said. “He is one of those folks that are constantly on boards and volunteering for things. He says he does it because it’s time that he has and that everyone has time they can give. He has such humility and kindness and generosity of spirit that I am surprised he’s accepting this award today.”
Each honoree received a medal and a commemorative plaque from Bethany Church as well as certificates from Rivas and Vanessa Gonzalez, representing State Senator Anna Caballero.
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