Serving the community since 1922

Chamber honors some of Shafter's best

The Shafter Chamber of Commerce held its annual Awards Banquet on Thursday night, celebrating select individuals and groups who have helped make Shafter the city it is.

The evening at the Ford Theater began with a State of the City address by Shafter Mayor Chad Givens (see separate story)

Before the regular awards, a special award was given to the late Helen Gaede, which was accepted for the family by Shafter Depot Museum Curator Stan Wilson. Gaede had worked tirelessly for the Shafter Historical Society, in addition to her many other activities, including being director of the Shafter Kiddie Kollege for decades. Gaede passed away last month.

The awards recognized eight different groups or individuals, including the Shafter Pride Pantry, which received the Humanitarian Award. Honored by the chamber for the pantry were Katie Young, Anne Dearmore, Dana Gonzalez, Maria Arellanes, Michele Livingston, Sharaya Durant, Kelly Borrego, Sabrina Macias and Yessica Martinez.

This group of SHS staffers saw the issues facing their students in their daily lives. "We saw that they had a need, especially during the pandemic, the need for even essentials, such as clothes, toiletries, even blankets and school supplies," Young said. They received help from local businesses and individuals in their collection of items, and also got a couple of C-trains transportation units to house the items, donated by Lynnda Martin of American Refuse.

They continue to serve those students in need, making their education experience a more positive one.

Receiving the Citizen of the Year award was Bob Wiebe. Wiebe has spent many years serving the community, in a variety of positions in the city. Wiebe served on the city's Planning Commission, and was active in other businesses and organizations. Wiebe also has been a sports official for decades, even serving as an official at the U.S. Open Tennis tournament in New York for the past seven years.

Maria Martinez received the Health Award. Martinez has operated the senior activity program for Shafter Recreation for years, keeping them active and healthy. Martinez leads the seniors in exercise programs, keeping them moving, as well as taking them on different outings, be it to a park, a shopping mall or other destinations, giving them a chance to fellowship with one another. "I have had such a wonderful time serving these amazing people, seeing their smiles and their energy," she said in her remarks.

Receiving the Education Award was Shawn Pennell. Pennell recently retired from his position as head coach of the Shafter High girls basketball team. Pennell and his staff led the Lady Generals into the playoffs in recent years, building the program from the cellar to the top of the SSL and the Central Section.

More than the wins and losses, Pennell said that the most important part of the experience has been the relationships with the girls. "They will always be my girls. I have coached so many amazing young ladies, considering them a part of my family," he said. Pennell also thanked his wife and family, understanding their amazing sacrifice they have made. "This was not just a nine-to-five, three-month job. It was a yearlong job that takes so many hours, long nights, up all night watching film or getting up early for morning practices. I appreciate them so much for their love and understanding."

Jesse Escobedo and Dustin Hooper received the Business Award, on behalf of Hitchcock's Auto Parts. Hitchcock's celebrated its 100th year in business in 2023, serving many generations of Shafter residents. Hooper said, "I dreamed of one day owning the store, when I was working there for Jesse. This dream has come true. I will be working with Jesse as he phases his way out over a few years. We are looking forward to serving the people of Shafter for many years to come."

The Youth Award was presented to Natalie Leyva. Leyva is a senior at Shafter High School who has excelled in and out of the classroom. She was a first runner-up in the Shafter Distinguished Young Woman program, winning scholarships for her future education.

Leyva also is involved in her church and extracurricular activities at Shafter High School, in addition to her studies. "I am so honored for this award and want to thank so many people, including my parents, family, friends and my teachers who have been so supportive of me along this journey," she told the audience of nearly 200.

Fabian Jimenez received the Youth Development Award, on behalf of Salvation Training Ground, which is a girls traveling basketball team. The team traveled to San Diego last year and came home with the State Championship, beating the host team in the final. Jimenez said that he has such a great bunch of girls and staff that make it a joy to be a part of. "I started this because of the opportunity to help these kids have a chance to succeed, keeping them active and giving them something that is positive." Jimenez said that there were a few of his friends growing up in his neighborhood that ended up in jail or worse. "My mom was determined to keep me and my brother on the right path, and she got us into every sports program she could, to keep us busy and out of trouble. I wanted to give the youth of Shafter the same chance, helping them in their lives, keeping them on a positive road."

Jimenez said that he was so humbled by the award and thanked his family, staff and his players for making this experience so special.


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