Each year, the Youth Law Center presents the Loren Warboys Unsung Hero award to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to improve the lives of at-risk youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. This year’s awardees are:
Cassandra Gonzalez is the mother of two beautiful little girls and a community activist/youth advocate/youth organizer. Cassandra is a former incarcerated youth. Born into a dysfunctional family, Cassandra spent her entire teenage years in and out of placements, foster homes, group homes, juvenile halls, lock down detention centers, and eventually, the California Youth Authority. Cassandra credits a Catholic volunteer in Central Juvenile Hall with helping her see her own potential and giving her the tools to help turn her life around. Upon being released, Cassandra was emancipated, went to college, graduated with honors, and earned an Associate’s degree. Cassandra has traveled the country organizing, advocating and fighting to amend the three strikes law, stop the overreliance of lock up for youth of color, ending life without parole for juveniles, the war on youth, the war on drugs, the death penalty, inhumane conditions and treatment of the incarcerated, stopping police brutality, and advocating for foster youth and policies to better the foster care system.
Cassandra has done commentary for NPR’s All Things Considered, The Tavis Smiley Show, and Youth Radio L.A., using her personal stories to inspire youth and bring awareness to issues youth face that are not addressed nationally on public radio to a population of listeners that are not usually affected or aware of these issues. She has made presentations before judges, lawyers, at-risk and high-needs youth, politicians, and policy makers. For the past 8 years, Cassandra has been an advocate to give voice to the voiceless and an activist to fight for the powerless in her community, in her very home and for her daughter. Ms. Gonzalez was featured in the documentary on Tookie Williams and in Big Snoop Dogg’s Youth Authority: California documentary, which both aired on Spike TV.
Catherine A. Huerta
Catherine A. Huerta is the recently retired Director of the Fresno Department of Social Services. Mrs. Huerta has contributed more than 37 years towards improving the lives of families in the community of Fresno County. She began her employment in 1974 as an eligibility worker and was appointed as Director of the Department of Social Services in 2009, with responsibility for more than 2,000 employees and the provision of services to thousands of Fresno County residents. Prior to this appointment, Mrs. Huerta served as Director and Assistant Director of the Department of Children and Family Services for eight years. During her entire career, she has been committed to services that support children and families, community partnerships, and neighborhood-based outreach.
Mrs. Huerta was a member of the California County Welfare Director’s Association, the Board of the Fresno County First Five Commission, and the Workforce Investment Board, and was appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to the California Child Welfare Council. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from California State University Fresno and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Management and Organizational Development from the University of San Francisco. In her retirement, she is serving on several boards, all centered on providing services to children at risk, and is consulting with different organizations, continuing her passion of working with children. Catherine has been married for 41 years to her husband Michael, is a mother of five children and has two granddaughters.
Jane V. Soltis
Jane V. Soltis has served as the Vice President Programs for the Florida-based Eckerd Family Foundation since 2001. Mrs. Soltis belongs to the Youth Transitions Funders Group (YTFG) formed by leaders from foundations dedicated to improving the lives of at-risk youth and served as chair of the Foster Care Work Group of the YTFG. In addition, Mrs. Soltis has served as chair of the Independent Living Services Advisory Council for Florida for the past four years. During Mrs. Soltis’s term, a number of recommendations from the ILSAC have been implemented within the child welfare system of care. Mrs. Soltis was instrumental in bringing the Connected by 25 Initiative to Florida and creating a partnership with the Eckerd Family Foundation, the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Lumina Foundation for Education to support this work. The Quality Parenting Initiative projects throughout the state of Florida were supported through Mrs. Soltis’s efforts to create a public private partnership with Florida Department of Children and Families, the Youth Law Center, and Eckerd Family Foundation. Mrs. Soltis received the Secretary’s Award from Secretary David Wilkins, Department of Children and Families, for championing the rights of youth and young adults on behalf of the Eckerd Family Foundation in September 2011. She has testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on behalf of youth in Washington, D.C. Mrs. Soltis co-chaired a Florida work group that recommended redesigned services for youth who are aging out of foster care to support Florida’s ability to implement federal Fostering Connections legislation to extend foster care to age 21. Prior to relocating to Florida from Connecticut, Mrs. Soltis served as Chief Operations Officer for a Connecticut non-profit that provided housing and support services for homeless families, women, people with AIDS, and psychiatric disabilities. Mrs. Soltis is a registered nurse with many years of experience in psychiatric and hospice nursing. She holds a B.A. in Psychology and Human Services.
Loren Warboys was the Managing Director and had been with the Youth Law Center since 1978 before he succumbed to leukemia in 1999. He was a nationally recognized expert on education and mental health services for children in the juvenile justice system. To honor his memory, the Youth Law Center established the Loren Warboys Memorial Fund and the Unsung Hero Awards.