The Leadership Porterville Class of 2022 was introduced Thursday evening at Don Vinos Restaurant during a LP reception, with five of the eight class members – Yuriko Velarde, Derek Mathews, Tara Warren, Alida Verduzco Silva, and Refugio Rodriguez – in attendance.

Class members Michael Warden, Jasmin Quinones and Martin Medina weren't present.

“I'm excited that after a challenging year, Leadership Porterville is able to start again,” said Velarde, City of Porterville Administrative Services Department Human Resources Aide, later in the program after Debbie Estrada introduced the new class. “When I was first approached about Leadership Porterville, I said yes right away because I knew it was a great opportunity.”

She wanted to join, she said, because it would be a great way to engage with the community and be more involved.

“I'm looking forward to coming back together with this group and learning more about the needs of our community so that we can do our part to give back and stay informed.”

Mathews, who has been with the Porterville Fire Department for 13 years and is now a Fire Apparatus Engineer, said he's working towards being an officer.

“With that comes new responsibilities,” he said “I feel that being a part of Leadership Porterville will assist in strengthening my public speaking skills as well as allowing me to better educate our upcoming firefighters as they begin their fire service careers.”

He thanked Chief Dave Lapere and Leadership Porterville staff for the opportunity to grow in his career.

“I very much look forward to seeing what the future holds,” he said.

Warren, AmeriCorps Program Director with the Porterville Unified School District, said she was excited to be part of the community her entire life.

In her current role, she oversees 70 volunteers who tutor and mentor third, fourth and fifth grade students.

“My main goal is to uplift and empower those around me both at work and outside of work,” she said. “I hope to help each person unlock their full potential and sense of purpose.”

Warren said she was excited to see how she could help her community as it bounces back from the pandemic.

Silva, marketing manager at Sierra View Medical Center said it was an honor to form part of the Leadership Porterville Cohort.

As her role as the community relations manager at Sierra View Medical Center, she interacts with many hospital departments and a lot of community organizations.

She heard about Leadership Porterville after she began working at Sierra View in 2019, she said, and was instantly interested.

“I applied because I needed guidance in figuring out more about myself and my goals in serving my community,” she said.

“Throughout this pandemic, that has meant working closely with my immediate marketing team and with the hospital and other organizations to get important information to those who need it most,” she said. “Lately, it has also meant helping to get the COVID-19 vaccine to anyone interested in receiving it.”

Rodriguez, CTE/Dual Enrollment Director at Porterville College said he believes in the power of education to transform the lives of youth.

And after spending all his professional career in Southern California, he's excited to be back in the Valley to develop roots in the Porterville community, he said.

“I see Leadership Porterville as an opportunity not only to learn and grow as a leader but to establish and nourish relationships that will support a healthy and thriving Porterville.”

The program kicked off with a welcome by Irene Ortega, LP Board President.

“We are looking forward to a dynamic year of learning and growth for our participants as we help in preparing these emerging community leaders to make a difference in our community,” Ortega said.

And after Porterville City Manager John Lollis introduced a large number of community leaders in attendance, Ortega introduced the LP Board.

“We have an outstanding group of dedicated individuals who have committed themselves to ensuring a successful Leadership Porterville program for the Class of 2022,” Ortega said.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Claudia Habib, President of Porterville College, was introduced by Martha Stuemky, Porterville Unified School District Assistant Superintendent.

Habib, who was born in Colombia, didn't speak English, and immigrated to America at age 23 to escape violence, talked about the struggles she had navigating community college enrollment, and talked of her determination in pursuing her dream.

“As President of Porterville College, it is an honor to work with a fantastic team of leaders,” she said.

And after sharing her story, including of returning to school for her masters and her doctorate, she talked to the Leadership Porterville students.

“Today is about Leadership,” she said and offered advice on guidance by the strong belief “people come first.”

She offered a few thoughts in closing.

“Take time to reflect on your own story,” she said to them. “Find your passion and know you'll make a difference. Believe in you and have hope for the future.”

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.”

Virginia Gurrola, Leadership Porterville Facilitator talked on what is Leadership Porterville.

“What is Leadership Porterville? It assist in the further development of community leaders — both existing and emerging,” she said. “Leadership Porterville has inspired, developed and connected these leaders to be more involved in the Porterville area.”

Gurrola said some of the members began Leadership Porterville in 2019 and a reception for that class was set when the February 18, 2020 fire occurred that destroyed the Porterville Public Library and killed Porterville Fire Captain Ray Figueroa and Firefighter Patrick Jones. Then the pandemic hit and the board decided to suspend the program for the safety of the participants and all involved.

The evening ended with Donna Hefner, Leadership Porterville board member and CEO of Sierra View Medical Center, with a few closing remarks and she thanked everyone for attending.

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