East San Jose Celebrates Its Everyday Community Heroes at D5 United Event

A super student with a health challenge, a three-time cancer survivor preparing for a university, a legendary community education advocate, a hard-working business owner and the champion for equal access to education.

Nikki and L’Ka Gonzales.

What do they have in common?

They are the first District 5 Heroes who were honored at a recent event at Emma Prush Park in East San Jose. Sponsored by District 5 United, a grass-roots coalition of East San Jose neighborhood associations, the event on June 30, drew about 125 to the park for a barbecue and presentation of heroes nominated by community members.

“We didn’t know who people would consider heroes,” said Juan Estrada, president of District 5 United. “The first event was a learning experience.”

Friends and relatives of Betty Howard with Councilman Xavier Campos, at right.

Estrada hopes that resident in other San Jose City Council Districts will follow D5’s lead and honor heroes in their neighborhoods.

The $1,300 event was funded by a Community Action and Pride Grant, donations from Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa’s office, San Jose City Councilman Xavier Campos’ office and Alum Rock Neighborhood Coalition, Estrada said.

Frank Arnold and Michelle Urmeneta.

Recipients or their designees received a plaque, certificate and a District 5 United Heroes pin. Estrada said the award program would continue later in the year. D5 United will ask for online nominations and a steering committee will again chose honorees.

“There is a lot to be proud of in East San Jose,” Estrada said.

The District 5 Heroes of

Juan Estrada presents Alice Zavala with a plaque for her father.

K’La Gonzalez was diagnosed with diabetes just before her 10th birthday. At 13, she injects herself with insulin daily, watches her diet, and checks her blood sugar. But she also is a 3.0 student and a cheerleader. Said her mother, Nikki Gonzales, at the event: “She’s the reason I wake up every day. She’s my hero.”

Michelle Urmeneta is a three-time cancer survivor studying at Evergreen College so she can transfer to a four-year university. Frank Arnold, who nominated her, said: Michelle “managers to be an inspiration to all of us who know her. We’re all proud of her.

Roger and Lidia Reguerin.

In 1984, Betty Howard started her own business, Betty Howard’s Quality Daycare, and was involved in organizations, committees and boards that served Alum Rock schools. She devoted decades to promoting education in East San Jose. Howard passed away in March. Community member Kim Mesa, who nominated her, said at the event, “She’s not here in person, but her spirit lives on.”
Read more about Betty Howard’s service and accomplishments.

Vic Zavala started his own roofing company with one pick-up truck. Before he retired in 1988, Zavala Roofing was one of the biggest roofing contractors in Northern California. Wrote community member Aaron Resendez, who nominated Zavala, “His success was a result of years of working in the heat of the sun, hard physical labor, coming home dirty and tired only to do it again the next day.” He died on May 6. Read more about his life.

Lidia Reguerin is the founder of Escuela Popular, a charter school that has served elementary and high school students for more than 27 years. Reguerin believed in education as the tool for Latinos to succeed and took a special interest in teens who were dropping out of traditional schools. She was diagnosed last year with Lymphoma, but continued to teach. She is now cancer free. Read more about what her son, Roger Reguerin, wrote about her.