By Cookie Lommel
On November 8th of last year, the Woolsey fire literally burst into flames, burning thousands of acres of land, destroying more than 1643 structures, killing 3 people and causing the evacuation of thousands. By the following day the fire was burning out of control as it headed for The Los Angeles County Probation facility, Campus Kilpatrick. However, due to the Heroic efforts of the probation Officers on duty, who remained at their post protecting the youth in their charge, and the firefighters that arrived and assisted in the evacuation of the campus, tragedy was averted.
This fire would have a huge impact on the annual Local 685 Awards and Scholarship Banquet, which took place last weekend. Loads of praise and thanks were heaped upon probation officers stationed at a probation camp in the hills of Malibu, who managed to assist their charges and other staff members at Campus Kilpatrick in the evacuation from the fire. The Woolsey Fire indeed presented a haunting source of danger for the Los Angeles County Probation Department’s newly built Campus Kilpatrick. As the fire came closer to the probation Campus, there was a decision made to evacuate to Challenger Youth Center in Lancaster, which is the only probation camp not in a fire area.
Los Angeles County Fire Captain Mullen was present to help guide our dedicated probation officers out of this deadly and rapidly burning fire. “We are indeed proud of our probation officers at Campus Kilpatrick, given the challenges they faced during the tragic effects of the Woolsey Fire. Their resourcefulness and collaborative approach with the help of Fire Captain Mullen and the fire fighters working with him resulted in the safe evacuation of the juveniles in their care and staff working at the facility,” stated Hans Liang, president of Local 685 and Mayor of Monterey Park.
Additional Probation officer honored at this event were Deputy Probation Officer Martha Aquirre, whose work stood out to those at the local high school where she works, to the point that they protested when the community discovered that the probation department wanted to end the School-based officers unit.
“Probation Officer Martha Aguirre has been a tremendous addition to our school staff. She provides resources to our students and parents that the rest of our staff can’t. She monitors and looks out for many of our most at-risk students. The connection that she is able to make with students is one that no one else on our campus can make. Our community is seeking additional ways to support our most needy students, losing school-based Probation Officers and the support they provide would be detrimental to our students, parents and our school as a whole.”
Neal Nakano, School Counselor at West Covina High School. For her dedication to youth she was presented with the Arnold Garcia Award. DPO Thomas Bell began to attend probation meetings where the community attended to discuss how they felt about the probation department DPO Bell realized that the community was not informed of the duties of a his profession so he spoke up and began to explain the responsibilities of a probation officer tasked with supervising youth detained in probation facilities. From that moment, DPO Bell became the probation advocate who educated the community about what is involved in the daily lives of probation officers and he also informed his fellow officers of the importance of attending these meetings to let the community know who we are and what we do.
Sr. DSO Eric Walton was a self -appointed activist on behalf of his co-workers, and his enthusiasm and dedication did not go unnoticed to the point that his co-workers nominated him for an award. DPO Tim Vallez is a 31-year veteran of the probation department an advocate in the best interest of youth through the judicial process and an ardent advocate for LGBT youth in detention. Antonio Espinoza is a twenty-year veteran of the probation department and has worked in so many different units in this department that he can be considered the go-to-man for almost any question about the department, for this we congratulate him on receiving the AFSCME Local 685 award.
Probation is an extension of the court, so a court commissioner such as Commissioner Robert Leventer does indeed stand out. He has been a trailblazer in certain areas and more than anything, he dedicates his life’s work to serve and uplift youth. So, Local 685 awards his outstanding leadership beyond the call of duty. We honored Chaplain Rosalinda Vint for her success with Probation and Foster Care Youth. Her dedication and passion for these young people is commendable.
Local 685 also thanks sponsors Kaiser Permanente; Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs; Association of Orange County Sheriffs: Bender Benefits; SEIU Local 721; UDW Local 3930 Homecare Workers; Professional Social Workers AFSCME Local 2712.
Cookie Lommelis an American author, biographer, film producer, and activist. She has written a number of young adult books and also biographies about Russell Simmons, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Johnnie Cochran.