Gavilan College campus in Gilroy. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Gavilan College campus in Gilroy. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Information provided by Gavilan College

At the October Gavilan College Board of Trustees meeting, trustees announced the winners of the Community Spirit Awards for 2021. The awards are presented annually, in each of the communities served by Gavilan College, to honor the people and institutions that contribute to improving the quality of life in each community. Each of the three sets of awards includes an individual, a business, and an organization.

Gavilan said that as was done last year, due to COVID-19 concerns, the awards will be presented outdoors in a personal visit to each award-winner from Gavilan College Superintendent/President Kathleen A. Rose and one or more members of the Gavilan College Board of Trustees. The award presentations will be captured on video and then posted online for the community to celebrate and enjoy.

This year’s awards will be presented to:

San Benito County:

  • Individual – Abraham Gonzales
  • Organization – The Sovereign Order of Malta
  • Business – Salazar Painting

Morgan Hill / San Martin:

  •  Individual – Vaishnavi Muralidharan
  • Organization – IASC Circle of Giving
  •  Business – Bike Therapy


  • Individual – Suzanne Bulle
  • Organization – Gilroy Rodeo
  • Business – The Neon Exchange


San Benito County Business: Salazar Painting

“Julio Salazar of Hollister exemplifies the finest of the American spirit: A hard working, small businessman and community leader who challenges educators, parents, and youth to do the right thing. For more 25 years, his volunteer work has focused on positive outcomes for San Benito County teens. To this end, time and again Julio has guided educational leaders, diplomatically coaxing but relying on laws and best practice. For an elementary school, Julio righted a long-standing wrong on behalf of migrant children. Years later he painted the entire school with only a few hours of volunteer help. Applying one of his greatest strengths, he coaches parents to understand when and how to press for their children’s rights and how to develop that U.S. American sense of independence and self-sufficiency. He accomplishes this, in part, by honoring Mexican family values. Straight talk and a little tough love characterize his work with youth. A low-key motivational speaker, he energizes teenagers to succeed, making sure they get to fund raisers, events, and field trips to broaden their perspectives and develop their self-assurance. Impacting hundreds of parents and children over the years, Julio has worked with LULAC and Federal Migrant Education programs in three schools. For his achievements, the State of California identified him as a regional leader and placed him on a key statewide committee. Active with LULAC for many years, he has served as vice president. On his own last year, he painted an elementary school, pro bono. He did this while maintaining his painting business, helping two college-age children move ahead, and raising a little one with his wife of many years. Yes, it matters when people like Julio invest in our community. Scores of students—many college graduates—have benefited directly from his caring engagement in their lives. It is fitting our community recognizes such volunteers to remind us of our obligation to contribute, as Julio does, in our own special way. I don’t think Julio has been recognized by another local organization. Surely, it’s time for us to honor Julio, a new U.S. citizen in 2021.”


San Benito County Individual: Abraham Gonzales

“I want to nominate Abraham Gonzales, when the pandemic struck our community, Abraham thought of an idea to help mom and pop business try to keep them afloat. He started fundraising to raise money and with each fundraiser, a business was selected to receive the money fundraised. He continues to find ways of helping the community and with the support of San Benito Barbers. Events such as helping students get back to school providing free haircuts to migrant students, and a backpack event which provided backpacks, school supplies, personalized water bottles, facemasks and mcdonalds gift certificates. He is humble and giving to his community and I know he’ll say he can’t do it alone, however, his genuine and caring attitude have made a difference for so many during this time of need. Abraham is a young and blossoming asset to our community that will continue to support the community in which he lives in becoming a mentor to others so that we can follow his path of caring.”


San Benito Organization: Sovereign Order of Malta

“The Sovereign Order of Malta is a Catholic Lay Person religious Order that is a non-profit organization created over 900 years ago to serve the poor and the sick. Since April of 2020, our San Jose Location has created a program, even during the pandemic and beyond, that to date, has procured and created over 25,000 Hygiene Kits that have been distributed to homeless encampments an shut-in Senior Centers throughout Santa Clara, San Benito and Monterey Counties. These kits are 100% funded by member donations and grants and are sorted, created and distributed directly by our members, auxiliary and volunteers. We have been a recipient numerous times of Grants from the Morgan Hill Community Foundation, to help with the purchase of products within these incredible kits. “