Alyssa Gonzalez gilroy early college academy sonia flores deborah flores mark turner gilroy chamber
Gilroy Early College Academy student Alyssa Gonzalez (second from right) received the Susan Valenta Youth Leadership Award from the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce. She is shown with GECA Principal Sonia Flores (from left), Gilroy Unified School District Superintendent Deborah Flores and Gilroy Chamber President/CEO Mark Turner. Photo courtesy of Gilroy Unified School District

Editor’s note: Biographical information for the 2022 Spice of Life awardees was provided by the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce.

Woman of the Year: Kathleen A. Rose         

Kathleen Rose
Kathleen Rose

Kathleen A. Rose’s 40-year career in higher education includes 13 at Gavilan College, where she joined as Vice President of Instruction, and has served as superintendent for the past six years. Prior to arriving at Gavilan, she served as the Vice President for Instruction at Hartnell College.

During her time at Gavilan, Rose oversaw the passage of the $248 million Measure X bond in 2018, celebrated the college’s centennial in 2019-2020, and led it through the Covid-19 pandemic, which necessitated the rapid transition of all instruction and services from in-person to remote in a matter of days and the development of new safety protocols.

Rose said she is very optimistic about the future of Gavilan College. New facilities in Hollister and Gilroy will welcome students with innovative technology, internships and cutting-edge instructional programs. 

She will be retiring in June, but added that she looks forward to witnessing the changes as the district moves forward in the next 10-20 years.

Man of the Year: Tom Cline

Tom Cline
Tom Cline

Upon learning he was named Man of the Year, Tom Cline, the immediate past president of the Gilroy Garlic Festival, responded in his usual self-deprecating manner.

“I was surprised because I like doing things under the radar and I don’t need the recognition,” he said. “I don’t do it to be recognized, I do it because I want to help and to be part of the solution.”

Cline, who has volunteered for the festival for the past eight years, four of those on the Board of Directors, was named president in 2019 and was to serve his one-year term in 2020 until the pandemic hit.

Cline, owner of Cline Glass Contractors since 2011, said the award actually reflects not so much on him, but the work of the festival board and volunteers as a whole.

With a lost 2020 and a scaled-back 2021, Cline said the festival has a lot of work to do with challenging times ahead for 2022.

“We started something and we really want to see it through,” he said. “We’re seeking to be relevant again and to meet the needs of all of our volunteers and charities. It’s a process, a step forward to get where we once were.”

Young Professional of the Year: Andrew Briggs

Andrew Briggs
Andrew Briggs

Andrew Briggs’ passion in life is education. He feels that education allows people to open doors for themselves and helps create equity for all. 

He supports this view by helping to teach others job skills, culinary skills and life skills, continuing his education by pursuing a business degree at Gavilan College, and volunteering in his free time. Briggs has tutored and mentored high school students, and supported club activities at Gilroy High, Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy and Christopher High School. 

He also serves on the Leadership Gilroy Board of Directors, and oversees the Leadership Gilroy Youth program.

Briggs said he would like to tell emerging leaders, and especially young leaders, that it takes time to build a leadership style and to gain the community’s trust. Being a leader is about being able to adapt when needed, while also following through on your goals. A good leader, he added, gets results without compromising integrity or quality.

Young Professional of the Year: Leo Khooshabeh

Leo Khooshabeh
Leo Khooshabeh

When asked what inspires him, Leo Khooshabeh said, “For me it all starts with helping others. I have a passion for helping people.” 

Khooshabeh, who serves as a community and family program director at the Mt. Madonna YMCA, said he loves being a resource for people in their pursuit of their goals.

“While I enjoy finding and solving my own problems, it is even more gratifying to me to help others solve their problems,” he said.

Khooshabeh said he believes spending time enriching your community is a great way to broaden your perceptions of the area you live in.

“By immersing yourself in a community and surrounding yourself with people who are dedicated to bettering themselves and the community, you can learn so much about how the world works,” he said. “You gain a unique sense of purpose by serving those around you, one which often manifests in other areas of your life.”

Educator of the Year: Nicky Austin 

Nicky Austin
Nicky Austin

Nicky Austin began her teaching career as a student teacher at Watsonville High School in 1990 learning from a master teacher there, Kirby Reed, in a freshman biology class. From there, she student-taught with John Licursi at Brownell Middle School in Gilroy.

Her first job was a long-term subbing position at Martin Murphy Middle School in San Jose. She took over a seventh grade life science class where she had Jackie Horsch’s daughter in the class. Not long after, she was contacted by Horsch, the former DO Assistant Superintendent, and asked Austin to apply to teach science at Gilroy High School where she was hired in the fall of 1992.

She now teaches at Christopher High School. 

When asked what she enjoys most about her involvement in Gilroy, Austin said, “That’s easy. The students and their families. Over the years, I have been fortunate to have had so many awesome students, and their cousins, neighbors and siblings, and even now…their children.”

Susan Valenta Youth Leadership Award: Alyssa Gonzalez

Gilroy Early College Academy student Alyssa Gonzalez believes student voices and youth representation matters in every facet of life.

She has served as the Area 9 Director for Rotary’s Interact District 5170, which has given her the opportunity to serve her community across the Bay Area. She is also an active member of GECA’s Honors Tribunal, which has allowed her to strengthen her empathetic skills and connect with students on campus.

Her advice to others is to find their passion and use that to elevate their own voices within their community. She also advises students to take every opportunity as a learning experience and go out of their comfort zone.

After graduating from GECA in May, Gonzalez plans to attend a university with an interest in pursuing a double major in ethnic studies/sociology and biology. Staying true to her roots in activism, she also hopes to continue participating in culturally enriching programs that advocate for human rights, focus on decreasing mental health stigmatization, and partake in Folkloric dance.

Volunteer of the Year: Andrea Nicolette

Andrea Nicolette
Andrea Nicolette

Andrea Nicolette has been working at the YMCA for nearly 20 years. She first started as a volunteer and eventually became the executive director serving South County, an area that she grew up in. 

She was involved in the beginning stages of PowerSchool, an after school program that supports children in the Gilroy Unified School District. In 2006, she was also a part of the leadership team that opened the Centennial Recreation Center with the City of Morgan Hill. 

In the last six years, Nicolette has increased the annual giving campaign for financial assistance for families in South County and secured the meal delivery program to homebound seniors. She has also been an active ally to the LGBTQ+ community in both Morgan Hill and Gilroy. 

Her philosophy is that anyone can be on the receiving end at any time, so it is imperative to give back while on the serving side. 

“A family member, a friend, or even oneself may need help at one or many points in their lives,” Nicolette said. “Serving the community and giving back ensures that good things will come one’s way when they put their efforts into helping people in the community.”

Nonprofit of the Year: One Giving Tree

In the winter of 2014, One Giving Tree started with 10 trees, ornaments and tree stands. In 2016, it delivered more than 100.

This past year, One Giving Tree delivered 377 tree kits and gift cards and surpassed 1,500 tree kits delivered-to-date.

Gilroy natives and One Giving Tree founders Mike and Debbi Sanchez have been volunteering side-by-side since their teenage years on numerous local fundraisers, events and causes.

To them, One Giving Tree’s mission, “Making the holidays brighter,” is about more than just a tree. It’s providing hope and positive lasting memories for families in a tangible way. The organization currently serves families in San Benito County, Gilroy, Morgan Hill and South San Jose, and hopes to expand its reach by sharing their success with other communities and the agencies that serve them.

One Giving Tree’s future plans also include the possibility of establishing its own local tree farm to provide a dependable, renewable source for trees.

Small Business of the Year: The Neon Exchange 

neon exchange toni bowles downtown gilroy
Toni Bowles is the founder of the Small Business of the Year, The Neon Exchange. Photo: Tarmo Hannula

Toni Bowles said her inspiration to create The Neon Exchange came from a personal need to achieve a more balanced work life.

Once known as the Louis Hotel, Bowles purchased the old, abandoned building at 7365 Monterey St. at the end of 2018 to create one of the brightest active spots in downtown Gilroy. 

Her goals for The Neon Exchange include delivering a list of annual community events setting the stage for Downtown Gilroy as a destination spot for creative activities and community/cultural events. She also sees The Neon Exchange acting as a catalyst for larger citywide events bringing together other nonprofits, business and government entities.

“Community is at the core of local commerce,” Bowles said. “If our community is healthy, happy and engaged, it will be reflected in the individual prosperity of our neighbors. By taking care of our community at all levels, we are in effect sending the message that they are important. They become a pro-social, contributing member of society that feels included and accepted.”

Large Business of the Year: CordeValle

cordevalle golf
CordeValle, the Large Business of the Year, frequently hosts fundraising golf tournaments. Photo courtesy of CordeValle

Sprawling over almost 1,700 acres in the San Martin countryside, the CordeValle resort, employing more than 200 employees, features gently undulating meadows, tree-dotted hills, seasonal creeks and waterfalls. 

CordeValle has been consistently recognized as one of the top resorts in California by various publications, travel magazines and consumer organizations.

CordeValle supports local organizations and community members, such as Rebekah Children’s Services, Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, Gilroy Garlic Festival, veterans, police and fire, as well as others, oftentimes hosting golf tournaments for fundraising purposes. They also have the CordeValle Youth Golf Foundation which supports all local high school golf teams.

“We are only as strong as the community is and we can only be successful if the community succeeds,” General Manager Luca Rutigliano said.

The Spice of Life awards dinner, which will include Man of the Year, Woman of the Year, and Business of the Year, as well as other awards, has been set for March 26. More information will be announced at a later date.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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