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Ramon Leija

#230 Ramon Leija, Student

Faced with negativity and peer pressure, I had a tough time growing up in my hometown of Indio, CA. Young and naïve, I began to partake in the wrong doings around me to overcome my feeling of being entrenched in poverty. Naturally my poor decisions and associations with the wrong people led me to become incarcerated through the Department of Juvenile Justice where I spent three of my teenage years.

I was sent to the S. Carraway Public Service and Fire Center, a fire camp through DJJ. I had ample time to reflect on where I went wrong in life and how I could have made the right decisions. I voluntarily participated in many counseling classes and found my passion - firefighting and helping my community.

A defining moment for me was when I realized how much I upset my Mother when she came to visit me in the facility. It was then that I realized that not only was I hurting myself, but I was also hurting the people around me. I experienced redemption during my time there and decided that moving forward I would make my Mother proud of me.

In the Spring of 2011, I took courses at College of the Desert. Then I spent one year volunteering with a Los Angeles Conservations Corps Americorps program working with and being trained by the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority in Calabasas, CA fighting wild fires, maintaining local hiking trails and performing a variety of wild land conservation tasks. After my year of service, I returned home where I was hired as a youth coordinator with the non-profit organization Raices Cultura in the East Coachella Valley. As a coordinator I organized presentations and discussions around broad themes like cultural consciousness, healing and well-being, manhood development, health equity, social justice, and leadership.

Ultimately as the coordinator, I had the opportunity to influence young men to avoid the pitfalls that I encountered as a youth and encouraged them to instead focus on their education and making a positive difference within their lives and in society.

Along with my community engagement, I continued my studies at College of the Desert with EMT and fire courses. In the Fall of 2014, I enrolled in the Fire Academy and now have expectations of graduating in April of 2015. I credit COD Fire Technology coordinator, Chief Scott Ventura, with guiding me and encouraging me to continue with my education.

My next goal is to get an A.S. degree in Fire Science here at College of the Desert and then transfer to Cal State Los Angeles to get a B.S. degree in Fire Administration and Technology. I also have aspirations for becoming a paramedic prior to working in the fire service. I would also like to continue providing community service and gain real work experience by becoming a Volunteer Reserve Firefighter for the Riverside County/Cal Fire department. I know that one day I will fulfill my final goal of becoming a full time employed Fire Fighter.

In December of 2014, I received the Young Visionary of the Year Award presented to me at the Coachella Chamber of Commerce’s Business & Awards Gala for my work in the community.

I am very dedicated to uplifting and “giving back” to society. It is my family, peers, and mentors that encourage me and give me the fuel to continue on the path to accomplishing my goals.

Not only have I exceeded the promise I made to myself, which was to make my Mother proud, but I’ve also contributed to my community along the way. My past is what motivated me to be the man that I am now. What began as a punishment became a blessing. In fact, education is my liberation from the decisions that I made as a youth. Thankfully, College of the Desert has created a path for me to do just that.

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#229 Robert Anzovino, Class of 1988
(AA degree in Golf Management)

I started at the Culinary Institute of America as a first venture in post high school education and became a student of Chef Beno in the senior year of my education in New Haven, CT. Culinary school prepared me for positions preparing food for 2,000 diners nightly, preparing dishes table side before an amazed public, and providing BBQ grill work on the beach in Coronado, CA at the famous Hotel Del Coronado. One great accomplishment was laughing at the "look of bewilderment" on the GM's face when I produced the love birds on a heart basket ice carving for a wedding reception at the exclusive Meadow Club in Fairfax, CA.

I arrived at College of the Desert with a Chef degree and a BS degree from a university. At the time, the College was offering a new program in Golf Management and I knew that this would further my career. Since the selection process was focused on potential students highly skilled in golf, which I was not, I was not initially selected as a candidate for the program. Using my power of persistence, I kept trying and was ultimately admitted into the program. Graduation day saw only five of us receive our degrees at the ceremony. When a nightly news reporter for the local TV station asked me what it felt like to graduate from COD I informed her that I had just received my third advanced degree; it was powerful, and I was excited about the future. I am so proud of myself for this accomplishment.

My next gigantic accomplishment was having the honor of serving President and Mrs. Ford and the Prime Minister of Japan with sitting President George Bush, Sr. during an official White House sponsored luncheon. I was the Dining Room Manager of the Club at Morningside at the time. I still possess a photo obtained from the Presidential Library taken at this historic event.

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James Salisbury

#228 James Salisbury, Class of 1985, Transfer to California Institute of the Arts

College of the Desert inspired filmmaker James Salisbury to pursue his passion for story-telling. A self-described Army brat, Salisbury was born in the Philippines, and grew up in Long Island, eventually settling in Twentynine Palms, where his father was stationed. As a young man, he struggled with school, eventually enrolling at College of the Desert in 1983 with no clear career goal in mind. At COD, the classes he took opened his mind and changed his life. Literature classes inspired James to read the classics, where he was introduced to the power of storytelling. Media classes helped James follow his passion to pursue his first documentary film.

“Professor Bill Seacrest was there for me and guided me through the film making process from start to finish,” James explained. Working part-time as a camera man at a local television studio, James edited his film at night and on weekends at the station. After two years at the College, he applied to the prestigious California Institute of the Arts and was accepted. His application was the documentary he completed at College of the Desert.

After graduating from the Film Program at Cal Arts, he worked in Los Angeles making feature films before returning to the desert to lead the creative department at a local television station. In 1998, he started his own business distributing films overseas and producing ads for local businesses.

Today, Salisbury continues at the helm of Mercury Film and TV, still aiming his camera at people, allowing them to express themselves and share their stories. In the hands of this talented documentary film director and producer, personal stories become art.

“College of the Desert was in the right place at the right time for me,” said Salisbury.

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Cinthia Paiz

#227 Cinthia Paiz, Student
(Physical Education)

Since high school, I have dreamed of being an Athletic Trainer. I've always wanted to train for the highest level of Professional Sports. College of the Desert gave me that shot, working with then Head Athletic Trainer Dave Anderson. As a student trainer I was assigned the school’s Football Team, winners of the California Bowl in 1994,as well as the Men’s Basketball and Women’s Softball Teams. I was given the opportunity to do an internship as a trainer with the 1994 and 1995 Palm Springs Suns Baseball Club, members of the Western Baseball League with Coaches Bill Sudakis (former Dodger), Steve Garvey (Former Dodger), Lee Lacey (Former Dodger) and John Verhoeven (Former Anaheim Angels). I traveled with the team all over California, Oregon, Washington State and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Later that same year, I assisted with NFL players during the NFL Fastest Man Competition and assisted the Los Angeles Lakers Pre-Season Camps which were held on the COD Campus. It was my second year at COD when Dave Anderson encouraged me to apply for an internship with the MLB Atlanta Braves. I didn’t get that internship. The letter from the Club President stated that I had too much professional experience, as the internship was for student athletic trainers trying to pursue the professional experience I had already gained. I was a little disappointed; however, Dave told me to take it as a compliment.

I stopped attending COD for a while; however, the passion was still there. I would drop in every once awhile and help here and there in the training room (which was located under the football stadium). Dave convinced me to re-enroll in school and so I did, where I was once again helping the Football and Men’s Basketball Teams. Once again, complications arose and I dropped out of school.

As the saying goes, the third time's a charm. In 2012, I decided it was time to finish what I started all those years ago. It was no easy task to continue school as well as work and raise a family. In August 2013, I was brought on to the SoCal Coyotes, a non-profit Sports Leadership program based out of Palm Spring’s, CA, as an Assistant Athletic Trainer under my High School Athletic Trainer Mike McBride. I am still with the team today and loving every minute of it.

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#226 Christina Chase, Student
(Business Student; McCarthy Center Mom)

Although I am still a student, I can see how College of the Desert has steered my life in the right direction. When I first stepped foot on the campus, I felt so hopeless as I was already a single mom and didn't know how I could possibly go to school with small children. I never dreamed there would be a "daycare" I could trust and afford. Well, at COD there is a gem called the McCarthy Child Development Center. I was so relieved the moment I walked in and looked around. I didn't feel like I was in a classroom or daycare, it was like a second home for the children. The toddlers can explore everything and be comfortable just like at home. They were nurtured by loving teachers and assistants. They were served healthy food made from scratch and with loving hands; not processed cafeteria food. Everything about the Center left me feeling at ease.

I met with a counselor, who helped me figure out a plan to accomplish my goals of earning an accounting certificate. Everywhere on campus I went, people were there to help me. As a single mom with limited resources, I found so many doors opening rather than closing. I qualified for grants for child care, books and even money to help pay the bills. With COD's versatile schedule and online courses I was able to arrange my schedule to fit mine and my children's needs.

I have hit some major bumps in the road. My youngest son was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, a fatal disease. It caused me to have to take a break in my studies to get a grip with the complicated care regiment that now rules our life. I thought for sure this was the end of my ability to get care for my son and the end of my education. But once again, Diane Russom at the McCarthy Child Development Center has opened up yet another door for me! My son came back to the center as a four year old for preschool. Tiffany, the amazing chef at the Center, prepares my son his own meals based on his strict diet. His unbelievably reliable teacher, Miss Claudia, administers him several medications a day with the efficiency of a nurse! And the children are all supportive in all of his extra needs without poking fun at him, because it has all been handled so perfectly. The Center also hired me as a student worker in the office where I am learning and earning and preparing myself for the years to follow.

I have one semester left at COD until my goals have all been accomplished. Because of my opportunity to work in an office in addition to having some amazing teachers like Rizzo, Hall, George, Johnson and Leushner I have learned so much. Thank you COD!

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