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December 24, 2008 > Local Heroes (continued)

Local Heroes (continued)

On December 11, Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico recognized contributions of citizens in the Assembly District who have demonstrated exceptional leadership and generosity in their service to the community.

"Local heroes" include the Reed family of Fremont, Paddy Iyer of Union City, Harold Colon of Newark, Cossette Sun of Castro Valley, Ed Mullins of Hayward, Ray Maglalang of Milpitas, and John McWilliams of Pleasanton.

In addition to the local heroes awardees, Centro de Servicios was named the Community Partner Local Hero, Eden Housing was named the Non-profit of the Year, and Dr. Bhupinder Bhandari was given the Unity Award.

In our second of a series of profiles of these illustrious people and organizations, TCV interviewed Union City Local Hero, Paddy Iver, and Newark Local Hero, Harold Colon, to learn more about their accomplishments.

Paddy Iyer (Union City)

Paddy Iyer has been socially and politically active since his youth. Since 2003, when he opened Paddy's Coffee House in the Old Alvarado District of Union City, he has worked to encourage political involvement and foster artistic expression in his community.

Iyer works with the Art Association of the East Bay and with the Union City Leisure Services Department to cultivate a diverse local arts community, and his coffee house has become a popular venue for Open Mics and Spoken Word poetry events, frequented by high school and college students from all over the Tri-City area.

Along with Union City Leisure Services, Iyer also hosts the annual PaddyPalooza, an afternoon of music featuring local bands, and the annual Paddy's Film Festival, which is open to all moviemakers, local and otherwise. In addition, Iyer is an important contributor to the Union City Annual Fall Festival of the Arts.

Paddy's Coffee House is a certified "green business." Composting and recycling regularly is a cause that Iyer believes in. Currently, he is working with Union City to become the first business to completely compost or recycle all of its waste.

To Iyer, the coffee house is a perfect gathering spot, because the welcoming environment creates open discussion, fostering engagement in the political process.

The coffee house is the only commercial establishment in the Alameda County to be certified as a polling station. After hosting numerous Open Mics and becoming increasingly involved in community activities, qualifying as a polling station was just the "next logical step," said Iyer.

Throughout the year, Iyer holds voter-registration drives and school events at the coffee house, all in an effort to encourage people, especially youth, to be more aware of civic duties and more active in influencing their communities.

In 2007, Paddy's Coffee House hosted a special two-day event to raise funds to aid Darfur refugees. Iyer went on to donate one hundred percent of the proceeds to Doctors Without Borders, one of the agencies serving refugee camps in the Darfur region.

As seen in each of his endeavors, Paddy Iyer has dedicated himself to fostering a sense of community, starting from within his coffee house.

"[When] people come, they get a sense of belonging," he said. "My colleagues and I know everybody by name, and even if you are a newcomer, by the second visit, we know you by name. We know what you like, what you don't like, where you go to school, or what you do. We try to foster a sense of home. It's very personal. We laugh, we joke, we share stories."

Harold Colon (Newark)

What does it mean to serve the community?

"It is a learning process, learning about yourself as well as others. Learning, listening, focusing on a problem, and resolving it," writes Harold Colon in his poem, "What is community service?" featured on the Tri Cities League of Volunteers website.

Community service is also about "sharing a kind smile as well as having a spiritual connection with others," he continues. It means "waking up in the morning and being grateful you are alive," and it is about "laughter and the knowledge that we need each other." Community service is about "walking around a worm on a rainy day so as not to step on it."

"Even though I hate worms," he said.

Colon has served as a volunteer for the Tri-Cities League of Volunteers for 20 years. During that time, he served for 18 years as a member of the Board of Directors, ten of them as Vice-President. Since 2005, he has been the Assistant Executive Director.

Over the years, he has remained committed to local programs, including Music in the Grove, Toys for Tots, and A Thanksgiving Dinner.

Besides working for the Tri-Cities LOV, Colon volunteers at daughter Tammy's preschool and supports daughter Tracy at her job by helping out at library events. He has also taught faith formation to students at St. Catherine's Catholic Church.

Colon continues to embody his conception of community service and shares his spirit with others.

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