Mihaylo business administration alumni Henry Reyes ’10 and Raquel Lizarraga ’10 were awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award for more than 900 combined hours of service on behalf of the International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA).
Southern California beaches draw millions of surfers, swimmers and beachgoers each year. That translates to thousands of beach rescues each year as rip currents and rough surf can pose dangers for even experienced enthusiasts. On Nov. 3, 2014, Los Angeles County lifeguards reported a record 14,331 ocean rescues for 2014. In other parts of the United States and around the globe, there are thousands more rescues and drownings each year.
Mihaylo business administration alumni Henry Reyes ’10 and Raquel Lizarraga ’10 are part of the solution. Reyes is co-founder and president of the International Surf Lifesaving Association (ISLA) and Lizarraga is vice president of development for the organization, a nonprofit that advances water lifesaving worldwide. Founded by four Huntington Beach lifeguards in 2008, the volunteer organization seeks to prevent drowning in the U.S. and locations throughout the world, with operations in many nations, including Mexico, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Macedonia.
For their efforts, President Barack Obama awarded Lizarraga, Reyes and others within the organization with the President’s Volunteer Service Award in November, a national award created in 2003 to honor Americans that demonstrate outstanding volunteer service.
Reyes and vice president of operations, Will Koon, received gold awards, the highest honor, for more than 500 hours of service. Lizarraga and ISLA director and co-founder, Olin Patterson, received silver awards for 400 service hours. ISLA IT manager, Michael Lopez, received a bronze award for more than 100 service hours.
“It is an honor to be recognized by the Obama Administration for our efforts to prevent drowning,” Lizarraga said upon receiving the award. “Drowning is a leading cause of death worldwide with two people drowning every minute. When a few of us started ISLA with our first trip to Nicaragua, we had big dreams. Now, we are seeing our dreams become a reality. Not only do we have over 200 volunteers going on multiple trips on every continent, but even the president recognizes drowning as a global issue and the importance of the work we do.”
“This is another chance to get the issue of global drowning in front of our world’s leaders,” said Reyes when he received the award.
In addition to the award from President Obama, ISLA members have attracted high-profile attention from the U.S. Congress, which invited several members to discuss their Global Drowning Tracker in early 2013. They also met with Princess Charlene of Monaco in April when she visited California.
Lizarraga says that her Mihaylo education, and particularly taking ACCT 463 – Financial Controls for Entrepreneurs, was invaluable to her success.
“In the class, my team had the chance to assess the business needs of a local non-profit, ISLA,” recalls Lizarraga. “ISLA’s mission was to advance professional lifesaving development to areas in need around the globe. And our main goal was to identify new opportunities and reach a wider audience.”
After completing the course assignment, Lizarraga devoted herself to the cause of water lifesaving. “I was shocked to discover that drowning is a leading cause of death for people all over the world, and that 372,000 people drown every year,” she says. “The more I researched, the more I wanted to learn, the more I wanted to do more.”
Reyes invited her to continue volunteering for ISLA. Starting with developing social media accounts for the organization, she became manager of public relations for the nonprofit in 2011 and vice president of development in July 2013, her current position.
In addition to her volunteer work, Lizarraga works for the technology division of Cerritos College, a community college serving the Gateway Cities region of Los Angeles County.
“During college I didn’t think that my future would include traveling the world advocating for water safety, lifesaving development and drowning prevention,” she says. “Through ISLA, I’ve had the opportunity to change the world. I’ve been able to implement positive change through spreading awareness and educating.”