Santa Cruz NEXT’s Four Under 40 – Santa Cruz News

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Santa Cruz NEXT’s Four Under 40 – Santa Cruz News

Reyna Ruiz managed to keep the Beach Flats Community Center open against all odds. Photo by Curtis Cartier.
Reyna Ruiz managed to keep the Beach Flats Community Center open against all odds. Photo by Curtis Cartier.

Right in the thick of award season, Santa Cruz NEXT is slowing down to appreciate Santa Cruz now, at least insofar as honoring current members who’ve done outstanding work here in the community, with the first annual NEXTies Awards. “We want to emphasize there are people here that are world–renowned, who are making a life here in Santa Cruz and enjoying every minute of it, and having a really positive impact on our community,” says Santa Cruz NEXT member and city councilman Ryan Coonerty, pausing before adding, “and we also hope that it’s going to be the best party of the year.”

He’s expecting plenty of local hotshots dressed to the nines for the ceremony honoring the four chosen winners: Danny Keith of Santa Cruz Skate and Surf Shop, astrophysicist Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz of UCSC, Reyna Ruiz of Beach Flats Community Center and Marina Sousa, owner of Just Cakes in Capitola. “I’m definitely honored,” says Sousa. “I just think everybody else that is getting this award does amazing things, and there’s part of me that feels a little bit silly because I just make cakes.”

Well, she “just makes cakes” for Oprah Winfrey and the Food Network, but Coonerty says Sousa embodies an important aspect of the NEXTies. “She’s a great example of someone who could choose to live anywhere they want, but makes their home here,” he says.

Keith is being feted not just for his professional success, but for his organization Grind Out Hunger, which incentivizes local elementary, middle and high schoolers to participate in Second Harvest food drives. “I think [Santa Cruz has] a good mixture of live and let live, at the same time encouraging entrepreneurship and out-of-the-box ideas,” says Keith, whose efforts helped to raise 116,853 pounds of food during the 2009-2010 holiday food drive. “We’re [also] very aware of our problems, and the way we deal with it is unique. We care about our neighbors in Santa Cruz. Most communities have lost that.”

Packard Fellowship winner Ramirez-Ruiz will take home a NEXTie for his success as a world-renowned astrophysicist as well as a founder of the Lamat (Mayan Star) fellowship, which provides an immersive introduction to the astrophysics program at UCSC for Hartnell Community College students. And finally, Reyna Ruiz, director of the Beach Flats Community Center, will be recognized for raising $130,000 in individual donations and grants for a mind-blowing reversal of the center’s fate after the city declared its budget crisis would shutter it. “Failure was not an option,” she says. “I don’t believe in sheer luck. You make a plan, you surround yourself with the best and the brightest and people that believe in the cause. In this case, it was social justice—the families that are the most vulnerable in the city.”

All four will receive brushed stainless steel awards created by Chris Yonge from Studio Cruz at the former Wrigley Building, which Santa Cruz NEXT spokesperson Peter Koht says will be tricked out with a digital media makeover. “It’s not going to feel like an old gum factory,” he promises.

Here’s to high NEXTpectations.

The First Annual NEXTies take place Saturday, Jan. 23, 7pm at 2801 Mission St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $35 ($60 for two; $45 at the door) at

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