Santa Clarita Unsung Hero Mike Mizrahi Driven By Veterans Village Idea
More than Two Years from Concept to Shovel: Mizrahi a Primary Force Behind Habitat for Humanity and SCV Habitat for Heroes’ Veterans Village Project in Santa Clarita
Saturday’s groundbreaking for the SCV Habitat for Heroes Veterans Village housing development in Santa Clarita marks more than one significant milestone for Mike Mizrahi, SoCalGas’s northern regional public affairs manager and the latest KHTS Santa Clarita Unsung Hero, proudly presented by Mercedes-Benz of Valencia.
Milestone No. 1: Mizrahi is witnessing his vision for a Veterans Village come to life – the start of an “enriched neighborhood” of 11 single-story homes and 76 duplex units to be built off Centre Pointe Parkway, between Bowman High School and Soledad Canyon Road.
The budget of around $21 million came from a combination of federal, state and local agencies, augmented by nonprofit fundraising over the last couple of years. That the groundbreaking is happening on Veterans’ Day weekend 2013 makes the event that much more historic.
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“When it comes to the idea for the Veterans Village and then getting it built, Mike has been ‘The Man,’” said Jeri Seratti-Goldman, who along with her husband Carl, joined Mizrahi as SCV Habitat for Heroes cofounders. The couple owns KHTS-AM 1220 in Santa Clarita, and chairs the nonprofit organization’s advisory board.
Mizrahi, who grew up in Los Angeles and now lives in Woodland Hills, earned a journalism bachelor’s from San Diego State and worked as a newspaper reporter after graduation. He met his future wife, Karen ((they're pictured in March 2011), and when she earned her teaching credential, they moved to Boston, where he earned a master’s in public relations from Boston University.
Back in Southern California, Mizrahi began his public affairs career at Sunkist Growers about 1975. After a stint building custom homes during the real estate boom, he worked for Getty Oil in downtown Los Angeles. When Texaco bought Getty out in the largest corporate merger up to that time, he joined SoCalGas in 1984.
As the Gas Company's PA manager, Mizrahi most recently oversaw the half-dozen public affairs specialists who serve as company liaisons with civic and community groups and government officials in 67 cities spread over six counties. Over the years, he became well-known and highly respected among Santa Clarita Valley business, civic and government leaders.
Retiring from SoCalGas, Continuing to Help Others
The second milestone for Mizrahi: He is officially retiring from SoCalGas as of Dec. 1. Driving the Veterans Village project from concept to creation over the last couple of years is how he’s wrapping up his 40-plus-year career in public affairs.
That’s one classy exit plan.
A third milestone: Mizrahi now gets to focus more on continuing humanitarian projects in troubled parts of Africa through his church. He's also writing a book to share his experiences and, he hopes, generate awareness, interest and financial support to help the people there.
Meanwhile, hundreds of SCV residents are expected to attend Saturday morning’s Veterans Village groundbreaking and dedication, which open a day-long “BBQ for the Troops” bash and fundraiser hosted by Habitat, the city of Santa Clarita, and the USO. Read all the details in the link just below.
The Veterans Village shovel-shoving will include federal, state and local officials, representatives of Habitat for Humanity’s San Fernando Valley/Santa Clarita Valley chapter, and representatives of its offshoot, SCV Habitat for Heroes.
Mizrahi co-founded nonprofit SCV Habitat for Heroes as the engine to drive the Veterans Village project to this crucial moment.
Talking with this reporter for KHTS earlier this week, Mizrahi chuckled when he heard about Seratti-Goldman’s comment.
“I love that Jeri and Carl think of me in that way and I’m greatly appreciative of them in so many different ways,” he said. “But I never tend to think of myself as ‘The Man.’ The SCV Habitat for Heroes project is actually where it is today because of a lot of people, their hard work and the encouragement of many, many people, not just myself.”
Spoken like a true unsung hero.
Mizrahi laughed again at hearing that. He said the Veterans Village project was actually inspired by conversations he had with Donna Deutchman, CEO of SFV/SCV Habitat for Humanity, when he was serving as a board member with that organization. If he was indeed “The Man,” she would be “The Woman.”
In the following KHTS Santa Clarita Unsung Hero Q&A, Mizrahi went on to detail how the Village idea formed, and what it took to make it happen.
* * * * *
Mike Mizrahi: Donna Deutchman and I conceived the idea of a veterans village in Santa Clarita a couple of years ago. I had been on the Santa Clarita/San Fernando Valley Habitat for Humanity board and leading their PR marketing effort.
They had been having some difficulty expanding their work to the Santa Clarita Valley, part of their territory. Habitat had done a number of wonderful projects (in the SFV), most recently a 61-unit community in Pacoima, but it had a project turned down by the city of Santa Clarita before this for various reasons. Getting a foothold in Santa Clarita up to this point had been a challenge.
So, we thought the idea of building a village for veterans would be really inviting for the Santa Clarita Valley. We conceived the idea in three phases.
But first, it was very clear to me that for something like this to happen, there needed to be a groundswell of support. It needed to start at the grassroots and work its way up, all the way to the top decision-makers in Santa Clarita, including the Santa Clarita Planning Commission and the City Council.
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To do that, you need to have a person or persons who are highly respected ho can lead the charge. So I thought about who I knew in Santa Clarita, and Carl Goldman and Jeri Seratti-Goldman came to mind. I took them out to a nice dinner and a basketball game, and pitched the idea to them.
I said, ‘I want you guys to put together an advisory board of influentials in Santa Clarita, and head it as chairs of the board.” And they quickly agreed. I was ready to do the hard sell, but Jeri, in her fashion, put up her hands and said, “You had us in the first 30 seconds, when you said ‘veterans in Santa Clarita.’”
That was the genesis of this project. Then, the three of us rolled up our sleeves. The Habitat front office got to work, and it was like rolling a snowball uphill in a snowy mountain area. If you can get it to the top and push it down, it’s going to build and grow by its own momentum. And that’s what happened with this project.
Stephen K. Peeples: The snowball – what else did you do to roll it uphill? You’re a marketing guy, you understand the importance of having a marketing plan, the importance of networking and media contacts and getting everyone in the community on the same page. I think that’s really what you brought to the party. Is that an accurate read?
Mizrahi: I think so, I would humbly say. First and foremost, with this advisory board, I was aiming for a cross-section of the community leadership in Santa Clarita to participate. I figured we needed to build a good, sturdy board of 40-50 people from all different sectors in the Santa Clarita Valley.
So, that included everyone from Buck McKeon and Mike Antonovich to the Santa Clarita City Council, and some of the key business and nonprofit leaders in the valley. We had the Rotary Club, a representative from College of the Canyons, representatives from the various veteran associations based in the Santa Clarita Valley – just a total cross-section of people we perceived were leaders in different sectors for a variety of reasons.
Then we got to work. Carl and Jeri were very, very helpful because they knew who the movers and shakers in the valley were, and we built this advisory board. We started meeting in the first year. We had a meeting once a quarter. As we moved forward, we were advising these leaders of the advances we were making.
We built the vision. KHTS was very important in that respect because we had a strong media outlet that allowed us to do that. So, I cut a number of 30-second and 60-second public service announcements that Carl and Jeri peppered the driving community in Santa Clarita with every day.
We embarked on Phase One, which my company, SoCalGas, sponsored and kicked off the ground. Phase One was that we would use an existing Habitat program called “Brush of Kindness,” where we go into a veteran’s home, find out what’s needed, and then spruce it up. Maybe it’s a rehab of a bathroom to allow a wounded veteran to be able to move about more easily.
The first house we kicked off the “Brush of Kindness” program with in Santa Clarita was for an Iraq war veteran named Joshua Murphy and his wife Windie, who live in Saugus. He suffers from PTSD and other problems. We did a number of things inside, landscaped the backyard and front yard – completely rehabbed his house (pictured).
Of course, that was a big to-do. We had a big rallying party in his front yard. We had more than 200 volunteers, all Habitat-style, that we had assembled to work on the Murphys' home. A year later, we went back and installed solar panels on their home.
So we used that model, and from that point forward, each month we did at least one Brush With Kindness (rehab job), picking veterans’ homes to fix up.
Meanwhile, we began pursuing the process of Phase Three, which always was to build a dedicated veterans village - after we got the funding in Phase Two.
That was kind of a long process, from doing envisioning meetings with the government leaders in town to actually having plans drawn up and looking for the appropriate land, going through the permitting process, through city planning, and purchasing the land.
The key player to help this come to fruition was Donna Deutchman. She serves on the governor’s council. That put her in direct contact with the Veterans Administration, and she was able to gain funding to facilitate the cost of the houses through the VA.
She was able to get funding not just for the Santa Clarita project, but also for another unrelated program we built. We also had a corollary program with a piece of property in Sylmar, which we called Habitat for Heroes. It was about 12 dedicated homes for veterans. Part of the veterans’ State Department funding was for that as well.
So you get the picture. It was a process moving forward. There were a lot of players in the front office at Habitat. The dedicated people on the Board of Directors and the work they did all facilitated where we are now.
That’s what I like about this. When Jeri says, “He’s the man,” yeah, at one point it was a vision in the heads of a couple of individuals that grew. But you can see how this kind of thing doesn’t take place without the help of many, many people.
It’s been a great blessing for me in that I could do something from the heart, something that means a lot to me in terms of giving to the community, and I could do it representing SoCalGas, having my company facilitate this dream. I’m so, so fortunate, but now it’s time for me to retire.
Peeples: But you will be at Veterans Village groundbreaking on Saturday, right?
Mizrahi: Yes, there will be presentations of plaques, my company will present its contribution for 2013 of $25,000 toward the Veterans Village, constituting our sponsorship of the community garden that will be created inside the village.
They’re expecting a great number of people. I’d be surprised if there weren’t at least a thousand people out there. There will be a lot of activities for folks who come out, and it should be a lot of fun.
Watch Mizrahi's KHTS Santa Clarita Unsung Hero Interview with George Cummings, Listen to the Podcast
Watch the video or listen to the podcast of Mizrahi's interview with KHTS air personality George Cummings, and learn lots more about this KHTS Santa Clarita Unsung Hero’s good deeds.
Photos: Map courtesy SCVNews.com; Mizrahis courtesy Mike Mizrahi; Murphy home by KHTS.
Mercedes-Benz of Valencia Salutes Santa Clarita's Unsung Heroes
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