From left: Lee Erwin, Yadira Regla-Cuevas, Lizette Vela, Frank and Mary Ann Xavier, Abigail Cheley, Dr. Timothy Jochen, and Stephanie Minor.

Local Heroes Recognized for National Philanthropy Day in the Desert

The annual event celebrates gamechangers who are transforming the lives of Coachella Valley citizens.

Theresa Maggio Arts & Entertainment, Social Scene

From left: Lee Erwin, Yadira Regla-Cuevas, Lizette Vela, Frank and Mary Ann Xavier, Abigail Cheley, Dr. Timothy Jochen, and Stephanie Minor.

From left: Lee Erwin, Yadira Regla-Cuevas, Lizette Vela, Frank and Mary Ann Xavier, Abigail Cheley,  Dr. Timothy Jochen, and Stephanie Minor.

Advocate, activist, supporter, mentor, and champion are only a few words that describe this year’s National Philanthropy Day in the Desert honorees. Their nurturing spirits combined with their abilities to secure resources and impact the most underserved communities epitomize the event’s theme: “Changing the World With a Giving Heart.”

The Desert Communities chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals CA (AFP) will recognize shining stars in six categories on Nov. 3 at its 17th annual National Philanthropy Day in the Desert. “We honor our community’s philanthropic heroes who give so generously of their time, skills, talents, and financial support,” says AFP chapter chair James Lindquist.

“Since 2007, we have paid tribute to 94 individuals and organizations whose fundraising contributions and passions have helped build vibrant and healthy communities,” adds AFP chapter president Josh N. Zahid. “We are proud to be a Ten Star Chapter and a multiyear recipient of AFP’s IDEA Champion Designation recognizing our members’ innovative development and effective fundraising campaigns for Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA).”

Here, we introduce this year’s honorees.

Outstanding Philanthropists

Mary Ann and Frank Xavier

Mary Ann and Frank Xavier’s support of Loma Linda University Health (LLUH) for more than two decades has provided unprecedented access to healthcare, medical equipment, clothing, well-check visits, dental checkups, books, teddy bears, Lego sets, and scholarships for the arts. While serving on the LLUH president’s advisory cabinet, they helped raise millions for the academic medical center’s largest campaign, Vision 2020, The Campaign for a Whole Tomorrow. The couple has sought out roles supporting the McCallum Theatre, Coachella Valley Symphony, Buddy Rogers Youth Symphony, and Big Hearts for Little Hearts Desert Guild, and their fundraising efforts enabled the building of the Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital outpatient clinic in Indio. Housed in the Jill and Barry Golden Pavilion, the clinic cares for more than 12,000 pediatric patients annually. “Every child deserves the chance to lead a healthy and fulfilling life,” Mary Ann says. “We are helping to provide life-saving care and advanced medical treatments to children in need.”

Outstanding Fundraising Volunteer

Lizette Vela

This local business owner has fulfilled her mission to uplift as many charities as possible over the past 30 years, all while helping families celebrate life’s special moments with Enchanted Memories and Funtastik Balloons & Party Rentals. As immediate past-president of Big Hearts for Little Hearts Desert Guild for Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital (LLUCH), Lizette Vela secured medical care for thousands of local children. Her enthusiasm radiates in her fundraising, strategic planning, and mentorship. She supports a range of nonprofits including American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Autism Society Inland Empire, LLUCH Child Protection Services, Christopher’s Clubhouse, Coachella Valley Sexual Assault Services, Desi Strong Foundation, Family YMCA of the Desert, Olive Crest, McCallum Theatre, Mecca Family and Farm Workers Service, Suicide Prevention Walk, and Women Leaders Forum.

“We honor our community’s philanthropic heroes who give so generously of their time, skills, talents, and financial support.”

Outstanding Philanthropic Corporation

Contour Dermatology

For the past 20 years, Contour Dermatology’s Dr. Timothy Jochen and executive director Lee Erwin have been as passionate about helping their community as they are about helping people look and feel their best. Contour Dermatology hosts free Community Skin Cancer Screenings with Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine, serves meals at Martha’s Village & Kitchen, and participates in 5Ks benefiting Relay for Life. Through the company’s Day of Beauty events, the business has supported more than 60 nonprofits, upholding heartfelt giving and volunteerism as core values of their practice. “It’s important to get involved and make a difference,” Jochen says. “When local businesses and nonprofits work together, we can create a stronger and more vibrant community for everyone.”

Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy

Abigail Cheley

At age 17, Abigail Cheley shows a dedication to philanthropy that exceeds her years. Her countless hours of community service have bolstered The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, Palm Desert High School Community Outreach Club, Coachella Valley Rescue Mission, Palm Desert Library, National Charity League, and most notably, seniors experiencing memory loss at Alzheimer’s Coachella Valley (ACV). For her Girl Scouts Gold Award project, she recruited peer volunteers and created engaging art projects, memory aids, and customized games to provide valuable social interaction and companionship for ACV members. Cheley’s leadership and innovation earned her the nationally recognized honor, awarded to only 5.4 percent of eligible scouts.

Outstanding Nonprofit Founder

Yadira Regla-Cuevas

Upon the birth of her son, Ezekiel, Yadira Regla-Cuevas discovered a dire need for a Down syndrome support system. Ezekiel’s Gift of Love Coachella Valley Down Syndrome Foundation empowers children and adults to reach their full potential while ensuring no family feels alone in their journey. Regla-Cuevas welcomes new babies with a “Gift of Love” basket and delivers care packages during hospitalizations. If a family loses a loved one, she sends a personalized memorial gift. She hopes parents who receive a Down syndrome diagnosis will hear “Congratulations!” when they share the news of their beautiful baby instead of the words, “I’m sorry.” In 2021, to honor individuals thriving with Trisomy 21 — and the great strides they make every day — the organization created a billboard featuring seven of its young “Achievers” posing as Avengers-inspired superheroes.

Outstanding Fundraising Professional

Stephanie Minor

Stephanie Minor has been the driving force for financial support behind impressive nonprofit initiatives that include Martha’s Village & Kitchen’s 2017 Capital Campaign, raising $5 million in only eight months. At the RAP Foundation, she reconfigured and expanded the organization’s technical assistance/capacity-building program, NPO Centric. She has led training in ethical fundraising and has taught hundreds of leaders how to leverage partnerships, garner sponsorships, produce strategic campaigns, cultivate relationships, and create special events to meet and exceed their revenue goals. Minor has written several e-books and has been featured in industry publications and on nonprofit podcasts.