The Gilroy Chamber of Commerce will celebrate the recipients of its annual Spice of Life Awards during a sold-out dinner Feb. 1 at the Granada Theater in Morgan Hill.
The winners include longtime Gilroyans and local businesses and non-profits that have supported the community over the years.
This year, the Chamber’s board added a new category, “Young Professional of the Year.” After receiving numerous nominations, the board decided to award two young professionals with the honor.
The Chamber will also recognize the Gilroy Police Department, Gilroy Fire Department and Gilroy Foundation for their role during and after the July 28 fatal mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
Man of the Year: Pedro Jaime Rosso
Jaime Rosso and his wife Evelia are the owners of Rosso’s Furniture in Gilroy and Morgan Hill.
Upon arriving in Gilroy in 1975, Rosso volunteered with the Fiestas Patrias organizing committee for the annual Cinco de Mayo Celebration at Christmas Hill Park. He helped organize folkloric dance groups and supported activities at Las Rositas Senior Center in downtown Gilroy and youth at the Santa Clara County Luchessa (Ochoa) Migrant Housing Center.
He has also volunteered with numerous other organizations, including the Gavilan College Puente Mentor Program, Gilroy Rotary Club, South County Youth Task Force and more.
“Communities are only as good as the people that care enough to step up to volunteer to help,” he said. “That is what makes Gilroy so special and Gilroy strong.”
Woman of the Year: Elaine Bonino
Elaine Bonino is a longtime volunteer with the Gilroy Garlic Festival, where she is chair of garlic braiding activities. Bonino also donates the queen and princess crowns to the pageant.
She serves on the board of directors for the Gilroy Sister Cities Association. The association, established in 2005, is a group of volunteers who work to promote goodwill between Gilroy and its six sister cities.
Bonino is also an active member of the Gilroy Sunrise Rotary Club.
Large Business of the Year: Cresco Equipment Rentals
Cresco supports various organizations each year both with equipment and monetary donations. Those organizations include the Taylor Family Foundation, Red Cross and Eagle Scouts.
Cresco was founded in 1984 and has 19 locations throughout Northern California. It features a sizable catalog of rentable equipment for contractors, homeowners and others.
“Cresco has always felt accepted and valued by the community of Gilroy,” said Chris Smith, president of Cresco Equipment Rentals. “The Gilroy Chamber, the business community, events and people of Gilroy have always made us feel important. In Gilroy we feel supported and safe doing our business. We feel as if our opinion matters and that we have a say in things that matter.”
Cresco’s Gilroy facility is located at 6390 Automall Parkway.
Small Business of the Year: Straw Hat Pizza
Raj Nayyar opened Straw Hat Pizza at 1053 First St. in Gilroy in 2015.
He has sponsored numerous community organizations, such as South County Tail Waggers, Indian Association of South Santa Clara County, Christopher High School wrestling, Gilroy High School football and wrestling teams and various Little League teams.
“It’s a very family-oriented, friendly and supportive place to be,” Nayyar said. “It makes it easy for me as a business owner in Gilroy. Seeing such a tight-knit community like Gilroy inspires me to be equally giving and generous.”
Nayyar and his team at Straw Hat Pizza, along with community volunteers, stayed up all night after the July 28 shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival making and delivering pizzas to law enforcement personnel at Christmas Hill Park. He has also organized numerous fundraisers for various local groups in order to help the victims of the shooting.
Non-Profit of the Year: South County Tail Waggers
Since its founding in 2015, South County Tail Waggers has saved more than 400 dogs from euthanasia by finding them “forever homes.”
The organization’s Community Influence Program takes the dogs into the community to visit incarcerated minors, senior citizens and foster children. It has also created South County’s first free spay and neuter clinic for residents in need.
South County Tail Waggers plans to expand its Community Influence Program in 2020 to include the homeless and people with disabilities. It is also working on curriculum with retired teachers to bring animal welfare awareness, and the importance of spaying and neutering, into the classroom for K-12.
Volunteer of the Year: Lisa Blagof
Lisa Blagof, who hails from a small town in Oregon, said she appreciates the small-town feel of Gilroy.
Blagof is a Realtor with Coldwell Banker and is involved with numerous organizations, including the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, Rotary International, Community Solutions and South County Tail Waggers.
“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy,” she said. “You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.”
Educator of the Year: Donna Kline
Donna Kline, who comes from a family of educators, has spent her career at Gilroy Unified School District.
One of her goals is to help her students develop a dedication to lifelong learning and pursue careers that will help them be successful in their own lives. She prides herself in teaching students to learn how to read and the enjoyment it brings into their lives.
Kline encourages those wanting to pursue a career in education to find mentors and learn from their experiences.
“I have been fortunate to have a family that has supported me with the time and expense it takes away from them,” she said. “They’ve provided me the opportunity to spread my wings.”
Susan Valenta Youth Leadership Award: Jane Tovar
Jane Tovar, a senior at Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy, hopes to pursue environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz with a minor in community studies.
Eventually, her dream is to mitigate the effects of climate change through organizations such as the United Nations or the World Wildlife Fund.
At a young age, Tovar became an entrepreneur by selling her clothes and cupcakes at the flea market to help her mother financially.
“Just do your best and do what you love, and if you do not know what you love then try a bunch of things out until you figure it out,” she said. “You aren’t supposed to know what to do with the rest of your life right away, so be patient with yourself and explore. Always be kind to others; you never know when they can be having a bad day. Lastly, do not sacrifice your mental health or any relationships to get good grades. You and your mental health always come first.”
Young Professional of the Year: Majesta Patterson
Majesta Patterson began her photography business at the age of 21.
After eight years and photographing more than 500 clients, Patterson decided to offer her first online business mentorship program in 2019, Busy to Breakthrough, helping and mentoring working mothers on how to systemize and organize their businesses, with the support of like-minded women.
She also hosts a podcast, “Real Talk w/Biz Moms,” where she facilitates conversations in round table discussions about how mothers raise children and build businesses.
Young Professional of the Year: Gianfranco Filice
Gianfranco Filice’s professional career began at age 14, when he created a company called Ripple Design. The company produced products that were tied to charitable donations.
This past summer, Filice worked as a business analyst at Goldman Sachs at its New York City office.
After his graduation from Stanford in the spring, Filice plans to work in growth equity, investment banking or venture capital.
“My success stems from my environment,” Filice said. “I was fortunate to be raised by wonderful parents who gave me the tools and confidence to work outside the bounds of my comfort zone. I am blessed to be guided by an amazing group of mentors who provided me with the guidance to redirect my approaches when needed and who uplifted me when I needed it most.”