Service above self: Six individuals, one organization honored Monday by Human Rights Commission

Honorees came from many different background and included those helping military veterans, members of the LGBTQ community, the unhoused, and more.
After accepting one of seven Community Service Awards handed out Monday at Palm Springs City Hall, Jase Nagaia leads members of the city’s Human Rights Commission through an exercise similar to the one he ends each of his exercise classes with.

If you were seeking area residents content with the status quo, you wouldn’t have found them Monday evening at Palm Springs City Hall. Still, the half dozen individuals and one organization honored in City Council Chambers stepped up in the community simply because it was the right thing to do.

“If you can say nothing or do nothing, nothing changes,” Human Rights Commission Chair Hugo Loyola said before handing out the annual Community Service Awards. “The honorees here tonight are not do-nothing people.”

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The Commission was formed in 1992 to promote and protect the city’s diversity. Monday’s awards ceremony was its 21st and reflected that diversity. Honorees came from many different backgrounds and included those helping military veterans, members of the LGBTQ community, the unhoused, and more.

“It’s being given to people who are not expecting recognition,” said Mayor Grace Garner, who was part of a group that received the award in 2019. “They do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

That was a consistent theme among the honorees, who each spoke after being presented with plaques by Loyola following remarks by Commission members. Each credited others in the community for continuing to inspire them after they took it upon themselves to solve a problem or meet a need.

Honorees included:

  • Bettye Cotton, the 93-year-old greeter at Palm Springs American Legion Post 519, who Commissioner Donna Shepherd said, “makes veterans and active-duty personnel feel at home when they are often far away from their own homes”;

  • Tori St. Johns, who is in her 26th year with Desert Sands Unified School District, where she has been involved in the formation and activities of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs at multiple high schools;

  • Dan Gore, owner of Oscar’s, who was singled out for waking at “o-dark-thirty” every Christmas morning to begin working with a team of 40 volunteers to serve free breakfast at his restaurant to anyone in need;

  • PFLAG Palm Springs/Desert Communities, founded in 1995 by George and Jacquie Spencer, which supports families of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning persons;

  • Jase Nagaia, founder of Endeavor With Jase, which offers free low-impact fitness classes at Demuth Park Community Center with a mission to “foster a diverse fitness environment that is inclusive, regardless of age, body type, fitness level, gender identity, or ethnicity”;

  • Brett Klein, who has devoted much of his life to activism and fundraising for charities related to people impacted by HIV and is also an avid cyclist who actively campaigns for safer streets for cyclists; and

  • Gary Moline, who founded Desert Winds Freedom Band 22 years ago after moving to the city with his husband and noticing that while there was a gay men’s choir, there was no gay band. His efforts started small — with only eight musicians — but grew to now include four different bands and multiple small ensembles. There were 100 musicians on stage at the organization’s last concert.

While those honored Monday evening were not expecting nor seeking recognition, Loyola said it’s important that the tradition continues in order to bring attention to the importance of good work in the community.

“This helps to keep people engaged in things they really care about,” he said. “The more engaged people are, the more diverse we become and the more we work collectively together as a community.”


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