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John Yeager, Sarah Lopez to be honored at Chamber installation as Citizens of the Year

The Valley Center Chamber of Commerce has announced its 2014 Citizens of the Year and Businesses of the Year.

As it did last year the Chamber has chosen a man and woman as joint Citizens of the Year: John Yeager of Summit Mortgage and Sarah Lopez of Ridgeview Preschool. They will be honored at the Chamber’s Installation Dinner and Concert on February 7 at Valley View Casino and Hotel.

The Chamber will also honor a Large Business of 2014, Armstrong Feed & Supply and Small Business of the Year, Melrose Ranch Weddings and Special Events.

Stuart Holthaus of A-1 Irrigation will be installed as president of the Chamber for 2015, along with the other officers of the business-centered organization.

Live entertainment has been arranged by Cattle Call LLC, which is bringing in Nu-Blu, a band from North Carolina. Holthaus told the Times- Advocate, “If you didn’t make it to the house concert last year when they were here, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to hear them at the Installation Dinner and Concert.” More information on the band will be forthcoming.

Tickets cost $50/member and $60/ non-member. The Chamber has table sponsorships available and if you get yours before January 20 it’s $550/table instead of $650. You can get tickets from any board member or at the Chamber office. Seating is limited. A block of rooms has been reserved at Valley View Casino and Hotel. The cost is $149/room and needs to be booked by February 1. Simply mention “VC Chamber of Commerce” when you call the hotel.

The Chamber is looking for silent auction prizes. This is a great way to have an added presence at the Installation Dinner and Concert. Call Julie Stroh at 760-390-9277 or Mary at the office if you would like to donate a prize.

Because the Chamber is operated largely by volunteers, Holthaus added, “I am looking forward to a great year at the VC Chamber. If you would like to get more involved, give me a call, I have a job for you!”

The Times-Advocate interviewed both Citizens of the Year: Sarah Lopez and John Yeager.

John Yeager

John and his wife Linda have been Valley Center residents for 11 years. “We are very active in the community,” he explains. He is currently the treasurer of the Valley Center Community Aid Group, which is composed of VC Realtors and people in related fields. “I’m also a BIG supporter of the VC Music Boosters.”

“I guess I acquired my love of music when I began playing the trumpet in the seventh grade, something that I continued to do until I graduated from high school,” he says. “In a lot of places they have cut music out of the school curriculum. I try to support them with donations and volunteering.” Earlier this year he was a volunteer at the annual VC Music Fest, as he has been at many previous events.

Yeager is also past president of the VC Chamber, and was a board member for five years. Currently he is sort of an “emeritus” board member and will usually be found at most of the Sundowners and Sunrisers. He has also helped with many Western Days events, sometimes by manning the beer gardens.

“I think my winning of this honor is in no small degree due to my wife, Linda. She has a passion for books,” he says. She is very active in the Friends of the Valley Center Library. “We are kind of a team,” he adds.

Valley Center’s very strong culture of volunteerism appeals to Yeager. “I always try to be a good person and it’s really easy in Valley Center,” he says. “I could give you ten people who I would give Citizen of the Year to first, before me. Everywhere you turn there are people who give great efforts of themselves, such as the Friends of the Library.”

One thing differentiates Valley Center’s volunteerism from that of many other communities, he says. “You can see that what you are doing is making a difference. Things are put on by far too few people. But what they are doing is really affecting kids’ lives. You can see the positive effect.”

He adds, “I would encourage anyone to find something they are passionate about and get involved. There are many opportunities to do that in Valley Center.”

Sarah Lopez

“I was shocked,” says Sarah Lopez, referring to the moment when outgoing Chamber President Greg Carlson called her to tell her she had been named one of the Citizens of the Year. “I kinda figured he wasn’t trying to solicit me to be a member.”

Mrs. Lopez, who is married to Sgt. Dan Lopez of the Sheriff’s Department, is the founder and director/teacher of Ridgeview Preschool. She works with two other teachers at the preschool, which opened in February of 2003. Currently there are 16 preschoolers enrolled. Occasionally there have been as many as 50.

The preschool donates all of its recycling money back to the community. It has given close to $10,000 over the years to, organizations such as the VC History Museum, VC Music Boosters, VC schools ag department and Valley Center Symphony. “We donated twice to Interfaith Services for special education. We have sponsored people in the breast cancer walk and helped people in need,” says Mrs. Lopez.

Recycling is used as a teaching tool at the preschool. “Parents bring in all their recycling and kids get to learn about the earth,” she says. Sometimes the activity leads to other educational activities. “When we donated to the history museum, they gave us a tour. When we donated to the music boosters we had students who came and played for us. It’s been a really good thing,” she says.

So far this year they have collected $250 worth of recycling. “The kids get to learn how to sort, which is also a preschool concept. The things that they are learning goes beyond them becoming citizens too,” she says.

In 2003 Mrs. Lopez was teaching at Community Lutheran Church in Escondido. “I was working at San Diego Bank & Trust. Pastor Bill Trok wanted to start a school at Ridgeview and I had worked with somebody at Community Lutheran who was going to be the director there, so I had learned about doing it. I decided that this was something that I wanted to do.”

She had previously earned a master’s in education and always wanted to teacher kindergarten aged children. I was offered a job in sixth and said, ‘No thanks.’ Then this opportunity came up and I jumped at it.”

The preschool started with five students, and has had as many as 50 when it was getting some funding from the tobacco tax that funded Preschool for All. At that time it was the only faithbased preschool in San Diego County. Now, however, because that money is earmarked mainly for low income schools Ridgeview doesn’t get any of it.

Ridgeview also offers an after school program and a middle school program.

Mrs. Lopez likes working with preschoolers

“because they are absorbing everything with new eyes. They are soaking it up like a sponge. They don’t have preconceived ideas,” she says. “If we are doing something about the rain forest, they say, ‘Look at that!’ If we do a volcano experiment, we’re catching them right at the beginning. They are all friendly and ready to learn.”

She adds, “They are at an age where they connect the dots. They see a picture of an animal and they might have a friend who has that animal. Some of them are tracking, pre-reading. We have a couple who can read.”

When she is not teaching at Ridgeview she sometimes does volunteering with the high school’s cross country program, where she has worked at the snack bar and donated things. She has also volunteered with soccer.

When she gives her speech in February she plans to talk about citizenship. “That’s key to my school. We have a citizen of the month—a boy and a girl. They have to talk about what it means to be citizen and not everyone is going to get to be the citizen of the month. At the end of the year we have an overall dinner, but in the meantime they get a double scoop of ice cream from Country Junction.”

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