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Published 9/14/2004

15th Diamante Community Award Recipients Announced

Four Latino leaders and an organization focused on improving the quality of life for its neighborhood have been selected as recipients of the 15th annual Diamante Awards presented by DaimlerChrysler.

The community award recognizes individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to Latinos in the Toledo community.

The recipients are Waite High School teacher Maria Morales; Owens Community College administrator Cesar Hernandez; The University of Toledo student Elisea O'Donnell; Bowling Green State University student Juan Martinez; and the Perrysburg Heights Community Association.

They received their awards Friday night in a ceremony at Owens Community College's Center for Fine and Performing Arts.

Morales received the Diamante in the Latina Adult Leadership category. She has taught math for 13 years at Waite and also serves as advisor to the school's Hispanic Cultural Club. A teacher for nearly three decades, Morales was the first member of her family to graduate from high school (Waite) and college (The University of Toledo). She is currently pursuing a master's degree at The University of Toledo.

A mother of three, Morales has been involved with many community and cultural organizations, including the Mexican American Cultural Association and Spanish American Organization.

Tammy S. Wagner, one of her former students, describes Morales as "one of those people who has the gift to help with no personal gain. A lot of her volunteering in the organizations has been to help under achievers. Miss Morales has taken an extra step to help students pass standard testing."

Hernandez received the Diamante in the Latino Adult Leadership category. An Owens Community College employee for 24 years, Hernandez oversees enrollment and advising for international students. He previously directed the college's advising and transfer services, among other duties.

The Toledo native has a bachelor's degree from The University of Toledo and a master's degree from Eastern Michigan University. He is a founding member of ECHHO - Educators in College Helping Hispanics Onward.

One of his coworkers, Elisa Rodriguez, describes Hernandez as "a deserving and caring human-being who knows no end to giving for the good of others. I am reminded of a comment a colleague once made regarding Cesar. They said to me, 'You know, when I grow up, I want to be like Cesar.' I think this speaks volumes."

Hernandez has two children, a boy and girl.

O'Donnell received the Diamante in the Latina Youth Leadership category. The University of Toledo junior is President of the university's Latino Student Union. She guided the student group formerly known as MECHA/LSU through reorganization to include a diverse student membership.

She directed the production of a successful scholarship dance and fundraising campaign on campus and volunteered as co-chair of the Toledo Hispanic Youth Alliance's Baile Latino Ball at the Stranahan Great Hall. O'Donnell also works with the YMCA's Youth Opportunities Program at the Aurora Gonzalez Community and Family Resource Center.

"Somehow amid all her community service, Elisea finds time to work for 'La Prensa' part-time and likewise shows amazing initiative and intelligence," writes Richard Neller, publisher of "La Prensa", in O'Donnell's nomination.

Martinez received the Diamante in the Latino Youth Leadership category. A junior at BGSU, he was instrumental in developing the first PowerPoint presentation for the 2003 Diamante Awards.

He currently serves as President of the Sigma Lambda Beta Fraternity and the Latino Cultural Arts Organization. The native Texan is a participant, scholar and mentor of the Texas Connection Organization coordinated with the university's Center for Multicultural Affairs and Admissions Office. Martinez also was instrumental in helping create a Latino mural in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union in the Multicultural Conference Room.

"Juan takes great pride in all community service projects he upholds and his dedication to the Latino community," writes Yolanda Flores, Faculty Advisor for the BGSU Latino Cultural Arts Organization and Sigma Lambda Beta Fraternity, in Martinez's nomination. "I am extremely impressed by Juan's determination. He exemplifies an admirable sense of character and integrity."

The Perrysburg Heights Community Association received the Diamante in the Corporation/Agency category. Since 1991, Perrysburg Heights has been transformed from a neighborhood once nicknamed "machete heights" and home to drug kingpins into a respectable area with an ever-improving quality of life.

This neighborhood of working class whites and Hispanics existed for many years without paved streets and streetlights. Stories of contaminated water wells, deadly fires and arrests were regular stories in the paper.

But today, thanks to three courageous women, the Heights have seen a dramatic turnaround. While law enforcement rid the neighborhood of crime, Anita Serda, Janie Costilla and Magadalena Cardenas were busy raising funds to start a community center. First $100,000 came from block grants in 1993 to buy six acres of land on the edge of the neighborhood. Then county commissioners and Perrysburg City Council donated $155,000 to build the community center. The Perrysburg Heights Community Association center now houses a boys and girls club and is home to the Association and many activities for the Heights.

The South of the Border Festival is a major event and fundraiser for the Heights that attract thousands of people from throughout the region.

Serda accepted the Diamante on behalf of the Association.

Five higher education institutions - Bowling Green State University, Lourdes College, Medical College of Ohio, Owens Community College and The University of Toledo - partnered to sponsor the Diamante Awards presented by DaimlerChrysler. Proceeds from the event fund scholarship opportunities for Latino students at each of the institutions.

La Revancha and Los Cuatro Vientos provided entertainment for the evening.


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