Youth Law Center Honors Unsung Heroes

December 5, 2011

San Francisco, California — The Youth Law Center announced today that it will give its highest honor to four leading individuals from around the country for their extraordinary contributions to improve the lives of children and youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. The Youth Law Center will award a prestigious “Loren Warboys Unsung Hero” award to each of these individuals at a ceremony and reception on Monday, December 5th from 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm at the San Francisco offices of the law firm Bingham McCutchen LLP located at Three Embarcadero Center, 27th Floor, San Francisco, California. This year’s awardees are: Howard F. Fine, Of Counsel, Baker & McKenzie, LLP; Cassandra Gonzalez, Youth Advocate; Catherine A. Huerta, former director of the Fresno County Department of Social Services; and Jane V. Soltis, Vice President Programs of the Eckerd Family Foundation.

“All of this year’s honorees share the struggle to support and uplift our nation’s most vulnerable children and youth,” said Carole Shauffer, Executive Director of the Youth Law Center. “We applaud their strong commitment to ensuring that children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems are treated humanely and fairly and receive appropriate services and support.”

The Youth Law Center presents the Loren Warboys Unsung Hero award each year to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to improve the lives of at-risk youth in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Loren Warboys joined the staff of the Youth Law Center in 1979 and became Managing Director in 1994. He was a nationally recognized expert on education and mental health services for children in the juvenile justice system, and succumbed to leukemia in December, 1999. To honor his memory, the Youth Law Center has established the Loren Warboys Unsung Hero Awards.

The Youth Law Center (YLC) is a public interest law firm whose mission is to end abuse and maltreatment of children in the nation’s foster care and justice systems, and to ensure that these children are connected to families and communities. The Center engages in advocacy, including public education, policy advocacy, training, technical assistance, and litigation activities, seeking to ensure that children in state custody live free of abuse and dangerous conditions, are treated fairly and not subjected to discrimination, and receive the support and services they need to become healthy and productive adults.

The 2011 Loren Warboys Unsung Heroes are:

Howard F. Fine. Howard Fine is an attorney with the San Francisco office of the law firm Baker & McKenzie, LLP. He has nearly 30 years of litigation experience. His practice covers a wide range of disputes from mining disputes to intellectual property matters, as well as securities and corporate control issues to waste management issues and employment. He currently focuses his practice in the representation of indigent and non-profit clients. He provides legal counseling for adoption services, music and teaching providers, as well as entities engaged in serving under-represented constituencies. Prior to joining Baker & McKenzie, Mr. Fine clerked for Hon. Jean S. Breitentstein, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and worked in the General Counsel’s Office of the National Labor Relations Board. He currently serves as co-chair of Baker & Mckenzie’s Pro Bono Committee. Mr. Fine is the immediate past Chair of the Youth Law Center and its current Senior Vice-Chair. He is an active participant of Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Society and other non-profit Boards. Mr. Fine serves on the Bioethics Committee of St. Francis Memorial Hospital was recently appointed to the California State Bar’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services. Mr. Fine is a past president of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and was instrumental in bringing the JCC Maccabi Games to San Francisco in 2009. Mr. Fine is married to Carol Mondry Fine and they have four children. Howard is an avid baseball (Giants) fan.

Cassandra Gonzalez. Cassandra Gonzalez is the mother of two beautiful little girls and a community activist/youth advocate/youth organizer. She is also a former incarcerated youth. Born into a dysfunctional family, Ms. Gonzalez 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. She 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, Ms. Gonzalez was emancipated, went to college, graduated with honors, and earned an Associate’s degree. Ms. Gonzalez went on to travel the country organizing, advocating and fighting to amend the three strikes law; to stop the over reliance of lock up for youth of color; to end life without parole for juveniles, the war on youth, the war on drugs, the death penalty, inhumane conditions, and treatment of the incarcerated; to stop police brutality, and to better the foster care system. Ms. Gonzalez 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 that 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 eight 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, 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 at 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 4 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 also holds a B.A. in Psychology and Human Services.

For more information or to set up interviews with any awardees, contact Robin Bishop at (415) 543-3379 ext. 3913.

To learn more about the Youth Law Center, visit: http://www.ylc.org.