The Latino Civic Gala honored these three local difference makers


Three Long Beach residents — Orlando Ariza, Mike Cruz and Martha Otero — were concerned about social problems in the Latino community in the 1990s. Too many people in town who shared their heritage were struggling to fit in and make a living, and they wanted to do something about that.

They came together in 1994 to create an organization that would try to solve those problems. They started with meetings at the public library, which attracted 30 to 40 people. A year later, they decided to officially organize, and turned themselves into a nonprofit organization: the Long Beach Latino Civic Association.

From offering socio-economic development programs to stimulate leadership and generate environmental and cultural awareness, to encouraging educational and civic participation through one-on-one meetings and public events and celebrations, the association is seemingly always busy in the city.

To celebrate its history, it held the 27th annual Hispanic Heritage Gala Oct. 19. The event featured performances by Long Beach musician Ben Metzger, and a packed house at the Bridgeview Yacht Club, in Island Park, recognized three honorees from the city: Nicole Fader, vice president of the association; Jennifer Gallagher, superintendent of the Long Beach school district; and Harvey Weisenberg, a former longtime assemblyman who is widely known as “Mr. Long Beach.”

Fader earned the Entrepreneur of the Year Award; Gallagher, the Educational Innovator Award; and Weisenberg, the Legacy Award.

“I am truly honored,” Fader said. “This is just the ultimate honor. I have actually been doing community service in this town since I was 14 years old.”

Fader joined the association over a decade ago, just wanting to get involved. She was named its vice president in 2016. She has done a lot for the association, including finding inspiration, while visiting Puerto Rico, for one of its biggest events: the Hispanic Heritage kite-flying event, which took place Oct. 8.

Before joining the association, Fader was the president of the Hispanic Youth Committee. She moved away for a short time, but when she came back to Long Beach, Cruz reached out to her to see if she’d join the association. The rest is history.

In her acceptance speech, Fader spoke about her mother, who was a bilingual teacher in the Long Beach school district in the 1980s. Hispanic children from other classes were coming to her for help with their homework. Fader began to understand the needs of the Latino community in Long Beach.

Gallagher has been with the school district since 2016, when she became the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. She took over as superintendent in 2018.

“It is humbling to be recognized by Long Beach Latino Civic Association, an organization that does such wonderful work in our community,” Gallagher said. “It is also extremely humbling, to be honest, to be honored for doing work that I love.”

She said that being an educator has always been her life’s passion, second only to being a mother. She added that she was “so grateful to work with the amazing students and families of Long Beach.”

“I have to say that I share this honor with the Board of Education and my team of administrators and staff members,” Gallagher said. “It takes a village to accomplish the wonderful things that our district achieves, and I have the very best of teams. And finally, I think the real honorees for this event are our students, the rising stars, who are being honored for their effort and achievement. They inspire all of us with their courage and determination. I am so proud of them, as is our entire community.”

Weisenberg, a lifelong resident of Long Beach, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to area causes. In 2015, he and his late wife, Ellen, launched the Harvey and Ellen Weisenberg Foundation, which helps individuals with special needs as well as their families and caregivers. While working in the Assembly in Albany, he dedicated much of his energy to improving conditions for professionals who care for the developmentally disabled.

“The rewards of being in government are not the power and money — it’s about the thank-yous you get for helping everybody,” Weisenberg said. “I know everybody, and everybody says ‘Thank you for what you do.’ What’s more valuable than that?”

Over the years, Weisenberg has helped secure some $90 million for children and adults with disabilities and their caregivers, turning the effort into nothing less than his life’s mission. His son Ricky, 65, was born with cerebral palsy, and Weisenberg recently released the short film “A Voice for the Voiceless.” The film, which documents the 89-year-old’s life, has garnered widespread positive reactions. For Weisenberg, his legacy is about the things he has loved, which he references in his book, “For the Love of a Child: My Life, My City, and My Mission,” written in 2018.

“God gave me an angel, a saint and a mission,” Weisenberg said. “The angel is my special child, Ricky. The saint is my wife, Ellen, for the love that we had for each other, and her love for our special child. And my mission is to help people. I’ve had a happy life, and given happiness to others. That, to me, is what life is all about — that’s success.”

Additional reporting by Kepherd Daniel.