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Red Cross Central Coast Announces 2016 Heroes Breakfast Honorees

Santa Cruz, CA (April 25, 2016) — The American Red Cross of the Central Coast will be honoring 10 community members at its 2016 Real Heroes Breakfast on Friday, June 17. Doors open at 8 a.m. and the program will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Twin Lakes Church in Aptos.  

Each year at the breakfast, the Central Coast Chapter salutes local community members in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito Counties whose courageous actions exemplify the values of the Red Cross.

Here is the list of this year’s honorees, followed by a brief description of their heroic actions:

  • Act of Courage Hero: Zachariah Clayman – Aptos
  • Animal Rescue Hero: Summer Emmons – Monterey
  • Clara Barton Volunteer Hero: Mary Contani – Gilroy
  • Educational Hero: Oscar Ramos – Salinas
  • Environmental Hero: Ross Clark – Santa Cruz
  • Humanitarian Adult Hero: Dick Peixoto – Watsonville
  • Humanitarian Youth Hero: Mercedes Molloy – Scotts Valley
  • Law Enforcement Hero: Michael Johnson – Pacific Grove
  • Medical Hero: Bruce Block – Santa Cruz
  • Military Hero: Antonio Virrueta – Soledad
  • Rescue Professional Hero: Blake Anderson – Santa Cruz
  • Table sponsorships and individual tickets are available for purchase for the event at If you have questions or need additional information about this event, please contact

    About the American Red Cross of the Central Coast

    The American Red Cross of the Central Coast is a non-profit, humanitarian organization that depends on the generous contributions of time and money from Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz County residents and companies to provide services and programs that help our community to prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies.  For more information on disaster preparedness, health and safety classes, volunteer opportunities, and financial contributions, visit our website at or call us at 831-462-2881. You may also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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    2016 Central Coast Heroes Breakfast Honorees

    Act of Courage Hero: Zachariah Clayman – Aptos  

    Sponsored by PG&E 

    One afternoon in December, George Garcia was driving home with his faithful companion Sadie, a two-year-old Queensland Heller — like George had done hundreds of times before. Suddenly, a deer jumped in front of his car on the narrow Larkin Valley Road. George lost control of his vehicle, it flew over a cliff, and it landed behind a large patch of brush. Having suffered extensive injures, he lay undiscovered for 17 long hours. Today, George is alive because Zachariah Clayman, a 17-year-old, happened upon the accident site and immediately sprung into action. Zachariah not only was able to get George the emergency help he desperately needed, Zachariah even provided Sadie with a ride home.

    Animal Rescue Hero: Summer Emmons – Monterey  

    Sponsored by Home Helpers

    Summer is a true companion for animals in our community. She quietly, selflessly, and generously offers her time, home, and expertise to animals in need. Her love for animals started at the age of 8 when she fought for the release of the steelhead that were trapped in a shallow and drying section of Carmel River. An active volunteer for the SPCA for over half her life, Summer now devotes herself to fostering and finding the right home for all animals, volunteering with "Early Alert Canines," and running youth canine rehabilitation programs.  

    Clara Barton Volunteer Hero: Mary Cortani – Gilroy  

    Sponsored by Carl’s Jr.

    Mary has created a truly collaborative solution that is aiding American combat veterans dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Through the organization Operations Freedom Paws, which she founded, Mary matches local veterans with dogs — and then she trains both for a life together. The approach does so much more than provide companionship for veterans. It gives them a sense of mission and purpose — and as training proceeds, it provides them with a sense of accomplishment and renewed confidence. A veteran herself, Mary founded Operation Freedom Paws in 2010. Her dedication and skill also landed her a KSBW-TV Jefferson Award in 2015.  

    Educational Hero: Oscar Ramos – Salinas  

    Sponsored by Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare  

    Oscar has been employed by Sherwood School in East Salinas for 20 years, but his work goes far beyond his job site. During his years there, he has developed programs to encourage underprivileged students to grow academically, socially, and spiritually. He has developed programs to help empower parents to develop and manage a well-balanced home life. Over the years, his programs have helped hundreds of families.

    Environmental Hero: Ross Clark – Santa Cruz  

    Sponsored by UCP

    Ross Clark is a leader in climate action in the greater Santa Cruz area. Since 2008, he has acted as the City of Santa Cruz's climate action coordinator, overseeing the city's award-winning programs, collaborating across departments, and engaging with community groups to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Also the Program Director for the Central Coast Wetlands Group, Ross writes a regular feature column, Earth Matters, for the Santa Cruz Sentinel.  

    Humanitarian Adult Hero: Dick Peixoto – Watsonville  

    Sponsored by Dignity Health Dominican Hospital

    Dick Piexoto and his ancestors have been farming in Pajaro Valley for the past 100 years. Dick understands farming's importance to the community, and after a long career working in traditional agriculture, he transitioned to organics and started Lakeside Organic Gardens in 1996 while simultaneously opening California Grill in Freedom. Dick exemplifies the definition of "Humanitarian Hero" because of his continuous generosity and concern for the community. In addition to providing employment for many individuals, Dick annually makes large donations to support agricultural programs, Toys for Tots, Second Harvest Food Bank, and other local charities.  

    Humanitarian Youth Hero: Mercedes Molloy – Scotts Valley  

    Sponsored by Bay Federal Credit Union  

    Mercedes, a local teenager of Scotts Valley, spends her Saturdays a little differently than most of her peers. Every third Saturday of each month, she volunteers her time at Faith Community Shelter — which runs a transitional shelter for homeless in Santa Cruz and serves the most vulnerable women, men, seniors and their families. Each month, she takes the time to help prepare and serve a meal at the shelter. She sits and eats with shelter clients, talking and sharing conversation about their life journeys. She also advocates for the shelter, getting other teenagers involved.  

    Law Enforcement Hero: Michael Johnson – Pacific Grove  

    Sponsored by Dignity Health Medical Group

    On February 1, 2015, Correctional Officer Mike Johnson randomly decided to take an alternate route on his drive home from the Salinas Valley State Prison — and it was good thing he did. To his shock and dismay, he came upon an accident on Blanco Road that had occurred just moments earlier. Mike's involvement that day went beyond his training in law enforcement. He was able to save the two accident victims — a mother and a daughter — and have them transported to Natividad Medical Center, where they spent a month in recovery.

    Medical Hero: Bruce Block – Santa Cruz  

    Sponsored by PAMF/Sutter Health  

    Dr. Bruce Block, a pediatrician for the Palo Alto Medical Foundation since 2008, is beloved by his patients. But because of a lack of pediatric behavioral health services in the community, Bruce didn't always feel like he was able to provide all of them with the best care possible. So he decided to take the matter into his own hands, taking the lead role in creating PAMF's innovative child and adolescent behavioral health program. This new program allows a concerned pediatric doctor to refer children and teens to on-site behavioral health providers for immediate and effective treatment.

    Military Hero: Antonio Virrueta – Soledad  

    Sponsored by Carl's Jr.  

    Antony Virrueta is a decorated combat veteran and former Army Ranger, with more than 40 jumps while serving in Panama and South America during his military service. After returning from his tour of duty, Antony settled into family life in his hometown of Salinas. Being a strong advocate of veteran's programs and very active in helping to promote the legacies of these local heroes, Antony organized the first-ever Salinas Veterans Day parade in 2010. Today, the parade has grown to 8,000 attendees and is a memorable annual event.  

    Rescue Professional Hero: Blake Anderson – Santa Cruz  

    Sponsored by Physician’s Medical Group

    During unusually high swells in the Monterey Bay, Deputy Harbormaster Blake Anderson was performing his routine duties in the Santa Cruz Office when he heard a very faint static-covered transmission on the VHF marine band radio. He could not make out the words but thought he heard "mile buoy" and "water." Acting on a hunch, he quickly located operations assistant Sean Hunt, and the two initiated a search in a Harbor Patrol vessel. Blake eventually spotted an overturned Hobie Cat at the buoy, a mile from shore. By then, the individual who had called for help was another quarter mile away in the Monterey Bay waters. Blake and Sean were able to located and rescue the victim and provide him with first aid on the way back to the harbor.