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Knowing the NEXTies

GTW050113The fourth annual NEXTies celebrates inspiring movers and shakers in Santa Cruz County. Meet this year’s honorees ...

When it came to selecting the four honorees of the 2013 NEXTies, Santa Cruz NEXT—a non-partisan group committed to providing a fun, hip and diverse environment to discuss issues affecting the next generation of our community—had 29 nominations to choose from. Their hope was to recognize community members whose work has national impact, while being inspirational and unique. Most importantly, their work has the power to act as a catalyst for greater action by our community to tackle issues and inequalities on the Central Coast.

After much deliberation, it was decided that Megan Joseph of United Way of Santa Cruz County, Nina Simon of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History, Rogelio Ponce of Cal-Pacific Berries, and Darrin Caddes of Plantronics would receive the high honor. While each of the winners is unique for the work that he/she does in the community, the group as a whole is the perfect embodiment of the diversity of Santa Cruz County. Representing a wide variety of interests, from the arts to technology to agriculture to community organizing, this year’s honorees are each doing their part to make Santa Cruz County a better place. The community is invited to toast their hard work over appetizers and drinks prepared by the chefs and mixologists at Hotel Paradox on May 11.

The NEXTies takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 11 at Hotel Paradox, 611 Ocean St., Santa Cruz. To inquire about tickets, or learn how you could become involved in Santa Cruz NEXT, visit santacruznext.org.

The Advocate
For Megan Joseph of United Way of Santa Cruz County, dignity and equity are the name of the game

At age 10, Megan Joseph advocated for her father to stop smoking by organizing a campaign around him. “I think I was born with a pamphlet in my hand about some sort of issue,” she laughs.

That determination and courage to stand up for what she believes in, has stuck with Joseph throughout her life, and continues to be a driving force behind her work at United Way of Santa Cruz County.

Cover MegaWhile most people are familiar with the fundraising side of United Way, which gives out money to organizations that are meeting immediate needs, as Director of Community Organizing, Joseph oversees each of United Way’s initiatives in the community, including the obesity-targeting Go For Health collaborative, which are designed to address systems and policies that are creating issues or needs, and develop more long-term sustainable solutions. “They all sort of fit into our three goals at United Way, which are health of all families, financial stability for all families, and the success of youth in life and in school,” Joseph explains.

Since Joseph arrived at United Way in 2011, she has been a catalyst for numerous initiatives, including the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, which was created after Community Assessment Project data showed that while crime rates and juvenile arrest rates were down, weapon possession, homicide rates and intentional youth injury were up, and the youth weren’t feeling as safe in school. To address those issues, United Way is bringing together law enforcement, youth groups, and other community members to develop a strategic plan.

“Each initiative is a little different,” says Joseph. “Sometimes it’s about policy. For example, our Jóvenes Sanos youth are creating policy in Watsonville, like the Healthy Restaurant Ordinance and the Healthy Vendor Ordinance. And sometimes it’s about the systems that are in place—what’s creating a barrier to certain things happening? Why doesn’t everyone have access to healthy food? Why doesn’t every youth have access to a safe route to school or a safe place to play or a job when they need it?”

Similar questions arise when Joseph and her team at United Way are working to address local issues surrounding Assembly Bill 109, which mandates that individuals sentenced to non-serious, non-violent or non-sex offenses serve their sentences in county jails instead of state prison, in an effort to reduce overcrowding, costs and recidivism. The issue of criminal justice reform hits close to home for Joseph, whose father was sentenced to prison for six years when she was 16. “That really opened my eyes to how broken that system is,” she says. “I could never really look back, so I’ve always been committed to that.”

Prior to moving to Santa Cruz, that personal connection motivated Joseph to help Contra Costa County develop a reentry strategic plan for people coming out of prison. “The criminal justice system is driven, as far as public opinion, so much by fear,” says Joseph. “Some of that fear is actually well-founded, and some of it is driven by the way it’s portrayed in the media and crime shows. And so, it’s important to give the public accurate information, and for them to see the partnership in reducing recidivism and helping formerly incarcerated folks be successful, is, in turn, increasing public safety. And that’s a link that often breaks apart in public opinion.”

In order to educate Santa Cruz County on that topic, United Way held several community engagement workshops around AB 109. Joseph recalls a particularly poignant moment during one such workshop, when a Scotts Valley resident said, “I always thought criminal justice was somebody else’s problem and that law enforcement dealt with it, but now, coming here and understanding the issues, I feel like I can be a part of that system.” For Joseph, that’s what it’s all about.

Having the opportunity to share those touching moments and the good work that she sees happening in the community on a daily basis, is the reason she’s most excited about being honored at the NEXTies. “Equity and dignity are my sort of grounding, my stance for all the work that I do—that’s what gets me up in the morning,” she says.

“A community is like a mosaic, in that you just have to get the pieces to all fit the picture that you want to see in the future,” she goes on. “It’s about building the capacity, unleashing the tools and empowering the community to do what they already can do. It’s not about being helped; it’s about helping ourselves. And we have the capacity to do that. … You need courage, which is acting in the face of fear, it’s the willingness to take an active step and to do something proactive in the community, and I think it’s about deep listening—listening beyond the conversations of us versus them and black and white, and listening [instead] for the common ground and moving from there.”

For more information about United Way of Santa Cruz County, visit unitedwaysc.org.


The Visionary
Nina Simon and her team at the MAH are working to empower people through participation and bridging divides

When Nina Simon assumed the position of executive director of the Museum of Art & History in May 2011, she was faced with one daunting challenge: How to breathe new life into the cash-strapped and disengaged Downtown Santa Cruz institution.

Having just published her first book in 2010, “The Participatory Museum,” the then-29-year-old was (and still is) the talk of the town—nay, the global art community—for her seemingly limitless vision and unconventional methods. In her eyes, stuffy, elitist museums, in which highbrow artwork is hung on walls, only to be observed from a distance, are a thing of the past. Not everyone loved (or loves) the idea, and that’s perfectly all right with Simon.

cover NinaUnafraid to shake things up, Simon saw the Museum of Art & History as the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to the world the ways in which a museum could not only be a space where art is observed, but also be an engaging and thought-provoking place where the young and old can participate together in the artistic process, and, in a sense, become part of the fabric of the museum. And looking back on the last two years, Simon says she couldn’t be prouder of what the MAH has accomplished and become.

“I see the first year as really being about turn-around; we really shifted our model from a traditional model to a 21st century model. We more than doubled our attendance, and we went from years in the red, to years of surplus and stability,” she reflects. “What’s been really exciting about this year is that it’s been about distributing leadership. … Now I feel really confident that we have a whole community of people who are not just engaged and supportive of where we’re going, but are really becoming leaders and stewards of that new direction.”

In that short time, the MAH has built a sterling reputation—not just in the county, but around the globe—for its multi-faceted exhibitions, like Santa Cruz Collects, and All You Need is Love, in addition to its community-wide events, including the Glow Festival, Fashion and Digital Art night, and the Race Through Time historical scavenger hunt.

Though each of the aforementioned exhibitions and events was a tremendous success, it’s the behind-the-scenes work that has Simon beaming.

“It’s not easy to create a structure that really promotes flexibility, inclusivity and openness,” explains Simon. “We’re constantly thinking about how do we develop our programming and our systems in ways that really invite in new people and connect people in new ways? And how do we, in some cases, avoid the easy choice to really find a way to bridge communities? … In a lot of ways, having a good system ensures that that creativity can continue and be supported.”

Bringing people together from all walks of life is the cornerstone of the MAH’s philosophy. To accomplish that goal, Simon and her team spotlight the work of local and international artists of all mediums and ages. Whether they’re reaching out to community groups to get involved at the museum or finding ways to incorporate the work of those who reach out to them, the MAH team wants everyone to feel included—from UC Santa Cruz’s Balloon Art Brigade to the families in the Beach Flats neighborhood. “What we really care about is those unexpected connections that happen when you bring people together,” says Simon.

Those efforts have not gone unnoticed, either. Not only is Simon being honored at this year’s NEXTies, but also the MAH has brought worldwide attention to Santa Cruz with its community-first approach.

“While we are so focused on this community, I’m also really proud of the fact that there are people literally from all over the world who come visit or call every week to learn more about what we’re doing,” says Simon. “It feels really great that people in the greater museum and art world, and the history museum world as well, are really watching what we’re doing and are excited about it, and want to take some of our projects into their communities.”

Never resting on its laurels, Simon says the MAH team has plenty of new projects in the works, including a teen program, a revamp of the history gallery, new work with visual artists, and transforming Abbott Square into a center of creativity. In summary, the future looks bright for the museum.

“The purpose of the MAH in this community is as a connector, as a catalyst, as a place that invites people to see art and history as really meaningful parts of everybody’s life,” says Simon. “If we’re going to do that, we have to engage on so many levels, because for one person art could be the sticker on their skateboard, for another person, it could be a multi-million dollar piece on the wall. For one person, history is their grandma coming to this country, for another person, it’s a political movement that’s happening right now. And so, we really want to be a place that ignites those conversations and opportunities for shared exploration and we’re just gonna keep pushing in that direction as long as this community will support it.”

For more information about the MAH, visit santacruzmah.org.


The Giver
Rogelio Ponce brings snow, smiles and sustainable change to Watsonville

For Rogelio Ponce, family is everything. Whether he’s speaking about his blood relatives or those within his tight-knit community of Watsonville, the third generation farmer describes everyone in his life with loving compassion. Asked why, Ponce puts it simply: “We treat people the way we want to be treated.”

Cover RogelioIn business, that means treating the 300-350 employees who work for his family’s 20-year-old business, Sun Valley Berries, and the business he co-owns with his brother Steven, Cal-Pacific Berries, with the utmost care and respect. In the home, that means raising his children to be thoughtful and hard-working leaders. And in the community, that means helping local organizations like CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates)—which matches adult mentors with vulnerable youth—to accomplish its goals to make Santa Cruz County a better place.

Ponce wears many hats in Santa Cruz County and the Pajaro Valley, but with a mild-mannered and humble disposition, he tends to stay behind the scenes. As a result, not everyone may realize what his community involvement entails. Santa Cruz NEXT hopes to change that.

In addition to running two well-respected local businesses that collectively grow about 200 acres of strawberries, 25 acres of raspberries, and 25 acres of blackberries, Ponce serves as the vice president of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, sits on several boards, volunteers, and is the creator of Watsonville Snow Day. He wouldn’t be able to do it all, if his family hadn’t instilled such a solid work ethic in him at a young age, he says.

Born and raised in Watsonville, Ponce spent a great deal of his childhood on his grandmother’s ranch, where she’s lived since 1955. After watching his father work for berry companies throughout his youth and eventually create Sun Valley Berries, Ponce and his brother decided that the best way to help the family business was to go to college. So, Ponce headed to San Jose State University to study business, and Steven went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo for soil science. Upon returning, the brothers helped their father to expand the business, which, according to Ponce, has nearly doubled in size in the last five to six years.

His decision to return to his hometown was an easy one. “Growing up, my dad and my mother worked really hard, and they were always able to provide for us,” he says. “When [my dad] began our family business, my mom told him, ‘Do it while the kids are young, because when they get older, they’re going to need to go to school.’ So he took a risk, and he sold our house to get the money to finance the first year. … Luckily, everything went well, and he was able to build upon that. I think seeing him provide for us, I felt very fortunate, and that feeling I still carry with me.”

Ponce’s desire to give back to the community, particularly his work with groups like CASA, stems from that gratitude. But he admits he had no clue what impact, if any, Watsonville Snow Day would have on local residents when he came up with the idea five years ago.

The inspiration came to him when he read that the annual lighting of the Watsonville City Plaza had been canceled, due to budget cuts. Ponce remembered enjoying the tradition when he was young, and was disappointed to see it go. And so, he proposed his idea for a new tradition, in which snow would come to Watsonville for one day only. With the help of the City Manager and the local agriculture community, Snow Day became a reality, and is still going strong. At last year’s event, Ponce estimates that thousands of children with nonperishable food items to donate, waited in line to enjoy the snow.

Ponce remembers the event’s humble beginnings fondly. “The first year, people asked me if I wanted to come out and say something, and I just said, ‘No, let the kids play.’ And they kept asking, ‘Do you realize what you’ve done?’ And I’m like, ‘No, it’s snow! No big deal!’ But then, my wife and I were looking at the line, and a child with a little can, maybe tomato paste, had it to donate to go into the snow. I don’t want to make assumptions or label people, but I think that for him, it was a struggle to bring that little tomato sauce. Seeing that, brought tears to my eyes. That’s compassion.”

While he says he loves seeing smiles on Snow Day, through his work with the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, Ponce feels like he is really doing his part to create sustainable change by preserving agricultural land as well as recreational land where children can play outdoors.

“Preserving not only the Pajaro Valley, but preserving the hills of Santa Cruz—that’s how we can foster a healthy community,” he explains. “Whether it be from West Cliff Drive to Nisene Marks to the Pajaro Hills to the Rail Trail, those are things that will last, that will provide.

“It’s kind of like farming,” he goes on. “You’re planting the seed, with faith that it’s going to grow.”


The Creator
Plantronics product designer Darrin Caddes took his lemons and made lemonade

Just two weeks after accepting a design job at Indian Motorcycle in Gilroy, Darrin Caddes was involved in an accident and broke his back. He spent the next three years designing motorcycles from a wheelchair, but quickly realized one of the biggest challenges of his new disability would be designing products which he could no longer experience first-hand. “I needed to have a direct relationship with the product,” Caddes explains. “I needed to be able to get on it, and understand it on a deeper level.”

Cover DarrinOver the course of the next few years, Caddes did his best to continue designing for the company and learned the ins and outs of living in a wheelchair. One of his first discoveries was that “the little things make a big difference when you’re permanently seated,” he says. That included a heavy reliance on headsets. “For a guy like me to be on the phone and go from here to there is impossible,” he explains. “Hands-free, for me, means something completely different [than the average user].”

So, when a headhunter approached Caddes about a job opening for vice president of corporate design at Plantronics—a Santa Cruz-based company that’s most known for its high quality headsets—he decided it would be a fitting transition.

“It was pretty different from what I’d been doing in the past, but then I thought about the fact that headsets, for me, are truly enabling products,” he says. “I am better, faster, stronger, smarter, and more capable with a headset than I am without.”

Caddes officially took the position in 2004 and says he hasn’t looked back. He and his team are responsible for designing all of Plantronics’ products—everything from concept generation, to defining new product opportunities, to realizing those in some physical manifestation. Ever wondered about a product’s shape, comfort, color, stability or even packaging? That’s their job.

“I’ve had some pretty glamorous jobs … but this is the best job I’ve had in my life, and the best company I’ve ever worked for—and I can say that without reservation,” he says. Considering that prior to Indian Motorcycle, he worked on the design team for Fiat for three years and BMW for seven years, that’s quite a compliment.

He says his affinity for his job comes from the sense of community at Plantronics, the world-class design team he gets to work with, the company’s deep commitment to philanthropy and the environment—from the campus itself to the eco-friendly products they design—and, of course, its location in Santa Cruz. In fact, that design team, which he helped grow from four to 23 people, is one of the reasons that Caddes is being honored at this year’s NEXTies.

“Santa Cruz is not known for being necessarily a design hub, and quite frankly, it’s difficult to form a world-class design team here, because typically designers of the caliber that we have here are going to be driven to work in New York, Paris, places like that, that have a lot of diverse cultural stimulation,” says Caddes. “But we’ve brought people in from all over the world. In our team of 23, we probably represent nine different nationalities, and people have professional experience collectively in like 12 different countries—we’ve worked in Italy, Germany, the U.K., India, China, Korea, you name it—and we represent past experience working for companies like BMW, Kohler, Herman Miller, Nike, Burton Snowboards, and KitchenAid. The caliber of talent that we have brought to this community is kind of shocking, and I’m a little surprised myself that we were able to do it.”

By virtue of bringing in such experienced design professionals, Caddes and the Plantronics team have helped elevate the talent pool in the Santa Cruz community, in addition to bringing design awareness and sensitivity to the area.

Looking back on his life so far, Caddes admits it’s hard to believe that he’s ended up where he is today, but he says he couldn’t be happier. “I think there are two kinds of people: those who choose to see [a disability] as a limitation, and those who see it as something that’s just a part of their life,” he says. “When I broke my back, I was single. Now I’m happily married, I have two kids, and a very happy life. I’m just a lot shorter than I used to be.”

For more information about Plantronics, visit plantronics.com.

PHOTOS: KEANA PARKER

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