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Three Community Leaders to Receive Foundation's 2008 California Peace Prize

$25,000 Cash Awards Honor Unsung Heroes of Violence Prevention

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- Kismet Evans' personal history with drug abuse, incarceration, and homelessness inspires her to provide support and guidance to youth and their families. Orlando Ramos brings the power of education and his personal experience to inspire hope among at-risk students. Billie Weiss conducts pioneering public-health research that helps community- based organizations become more effective in preventing violence.

The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF) will honor these three individuals with its 16th annual California Peace Prize at a ceremony in Los Angeles on November 19, 2008. In recognition of their efforts to prevent violence and promote peace, each honoree will receive a cash award of $25,000. [Visit for biographies, photographs and video profiles.]

"This year's honorees have helped youth and families touched by violence, and supported organizations that work to make our communities safer," said Gary L. Yates, president and CEO of TCWF. "They represent thousands of unsung heroes dedicated to improving the health and well-being of California's youth."

Kismet Evans

Kismet Evans has worked over the past decade to provide drug, alcohol, and violence-intervention counseling for youth and to increase public awareness of the trauma that incarceration has on families and communities. Most recently, she was a program manager at Young Visionaries Youth Leadership Academy, where she worked to prevent violence and teen pregnancy through academics and job development among gang-affiliated and other youth at risk.

In the 1990s, Evans was incarcerated for drug-related offenses and experienced periods of homelessness. After a year of outpatient drug treatment, she realized that she wanted to help others. She first worked at MFI Recovery Center, a co-ed residential treatment program in Woodcrest, California, and continued her work at Inland Valley Recovery Center, in a program for female parolees and their children. She founded Men of Valor and Excellence, a recovery transitional program, and co-founded Inland Empire Veterans Stand Down, a program that connects homeless veterans and their families to resources.

"Who better to teach someone about the dangers that come along with the lifestyle of drugs and violence than someone who has been there?" asked Evans. "I share who I am so they know they're not alone. There are second chances. There is hope."

Orlando Ramos

A native New Yorker, Orlando Ramos began his violence prevention work in several New York City high schools and moved west in 2006 to become principal of Richmond High School -- located in one of the most impoverished communities in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ramos is skillful at mediating among students involved in violent incidents and his interventions -- especially among gang members -- have led to community agreements and decreases in suspensions and incidents. Ramos helped the city of Richmond campaign for increased involvement of parents and community members in the lives of area youth. A key stakeholder in the California Cities Gang Prevention Network, he advocates to keep schools open until midnight in order to bring community-based organizations on campus to support youth and their families.

"I'm a firm believer that education saves lives," Ramos said. "It was an incredibly talented teacher that got me into a GED program when I had dropped out. That person helped guide me and I try to be that role model for my students now."

Billie Weiss

Billie Weiss is an epidemiologist and public health champion who has worked for over 20 years to reduce violence against youth. Weiss is currently the associate director of the Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Public Health and the founder and executive director emeritus of the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles.

Weiss' research has investigated subjects including gang violence and violence against intimate partners. She has authored or co-authored numerous papers, including a study of a gang-violence epidemic in Los Angeles, and is considered an expert on the public health approach to reducing violence. Weiss is the former director of the Los Angeles County's Injury and Violence Prevention Program.

"Things are not changing fast enough," said Weiss. "We need everybody we can muster. I keep looking to build that critical mass of people that can tip this epidemic so that we really look at prevention and community building as opposed to locking youth up."

The California Wellness Foundation is an independent, private foundation created in 1992 with a mission to improve the health of the people of California by making grants for health promotion, wellness education and disease prevention. The Foundation prioritizes eight issues for funding: diversity in the health professions, environmental health, healthy aging, mental health, teenage pregnancy prevention, violence prevention, women's health, and work and health. It also responds to timely issues or special projects outside the funding priorities.

Since its first founding in 1992, TCWF has awarded 5,299 grants totaling $660 million. It is one of the state's largest private foundations. Please visit TCWF's website at for more information, including a newsroom section devoted to the California Peace Prize and the three honorees. High-resolution photos are available.

SOURCE The California Wellness Foundation
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