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Communitas Awards 2009:

The Church in Ocean Park’s annual Communitas Awards brings to mind the award for kindness (a heart) given to the Tin Man by the Wizard of Oz. These awards have been given for 11 years to community members who have given back to their community. This year’s honorees were Santa Monica Mayor Ken Genser, Venice activists Steve Clare and Susan Millman, and Church member Chuck Howell.

Genser, who has now served more time than anyone else on the Santa Monica City Council (more than 20 years), co-founded the Community Corporation of Santa Monica, helped to build a tenants union at the original Sea Castle Apartments, and worked with the Pier Restoration Committee. His three main focuses, he says, are affordable housing, support for youth and public schools, and environmental sustainability.

“My friends told me I should run for City Council,” Genser recalled as he accepted his award. “I never could imagine myself as someone who could be elected to office!” He said that housing issues were the “turning point” that propelled him to run for Council despite being in recovery from surgery at the time.

Clare and Millman were honored both as individuals and as a team. She is a lawyer who has done much work for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, specializing in domestic violence and family law. Clare is a founder of Venice Community Housing Corporation, an organization that helps to develop new and affordable housing in Venice and surrounding areas. The couple were also instrumental in founding Venice’s Tenant Action Center.

Local activist Ethel Gullette said that Clare and Millman had been characterized by friends as “quintessential community activists,“ “loyal,” “committed,” and at the same time, “fun-loving.”

Millman said that it was “particularly touching” that she and her partner Clare were being honored together. But she added that “tonight is really about building community.”

Clare added that he believes that “whatever I’ve accomplished, I owe a great deal to Susan,” and emphasized that America needs to move from being a “thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society.”

Chuck Howell, a local citizen, worked on Tom Hayden’s State Senate campaign, has been active in labor organizing, and helps out at the Church with maintenance and other activities.

His less well-known contributions in human kindness were described by Church member and friend Steve Goldman, who commended Howell for his “passionate concern for the amelioration of human suffering,” and the fact that he has performed many acts of thoughtfulness and generosity “behind the scenes.”

Among the acts described were Howell’s contributing Christmas presents to hospitalized children at UCLA Medical Center, and his helping Goldman after the latter’s recovery from surgery.

“I’ve been in this church for 32 years,” Howell told the audience. “I never expected to be this happy in my ‘old age.’ “

The affection shown for Howell and the other recipients brought to mind again, the Wizard, who told the Tin Man that a heart is judged “by how much you are loved by others.”

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