Welcome to PUSD

District welcomes new team members this summer

Courtesy Pasadena Unified School District

New school years bring new staff members and Pasadena Unified School District is no different. Here are a few new faces to PUSD this school year. 

Marco Villegas

Dr. Marco Villegas is associate superintendent of specialized student support. Villegas is responsible for administering all programs and services for children with disabilities, leading cross-departmental strategic planning, improving standardized procedures and training for staff, strengthening collaborative partnerships with parents, and improving the organizational efficacy of the special education department.

With nearly three decades of experience as a teacher, successful principal and regional director, Villegas has provided leadership skills training and coaching, and customized professional development for schools across the state. 

“I am pleased to welcome Dr. Villegas to PUSD where he will focus on improving the efficacy of systems that serve students with disabilities,” says Superintendent Brian McDonald. 

“As a teacher, successful principal, district administrator, and mentor to emerging educational leaders across the state, Dr. Villegas is uniquely qualified to lead our district’s special education department in developing effective teams and creating systems that support a culture of learning for all students.”

Villegas joins PUSD from the Ontario-Montclair School District in San Bernardino County where he served as regional director of learning and teaching since 2015. In this position, he was the direct supervisor of 16 schools in the region while supporting the general administration of instructional, business and operational functions.

“I truly feel honored to join the Pasadena Unified School District family, and I am excited about the level of collaboration and the systems already in place that support students with disabilities,” Villegas says. “I look forward to partnering with general and special education educators and families to provide the best possible educational opportunities for all of our students.”

Villegas earned a Ph.D. in urban educational leadership from Claremont Graduate University and has been an adjunct professor in the educational administration department at Azusa Pacific University and California State University Los Angeles. 

An experienced educator and leader, he has served as a mentor for aspiring school administrators and leaders through the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators’ (CALSA) mentoring program. He has also presented at numerous state and national educational conferences over the past 10 years. He replaces Dr. Cherilyn Lew, who accepted a position with another district.

Ana Maria Apodaca 

Ana Maria “Ria” Apodaca, director of health programs. Apodaca leads the planning, development, implementation, evaluation and maintenance of all district student health programs, including the delivery of health services, health education, staff development, and assistance pursuing competitive grants. 

“I am pleased to welcome Ms. Apodaca to PUSD at this crucial time in our history,” McDonald says. “As a proven educational leader with deep ties to our community, non-profit administrator, and devoted advocate for the health and well-being of our students and staff, Ms. Apodaca is a crucial member of the PUSD team as we confront the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and plan for our district’s return to normal times.”

With 25 years of experience as a leader and advocate for student wellness, a trauma-informed practices administrator and coach, school principal and classroom teacher, Apodaca brings a dedication to the academic, physical, social and emotional growth and development of the children of PUSD. She has extensive experience working with nonprofits and has deep ties to the community, having grown up in the area and devoting her professional life to serving the needs of the students of PUSD.

“In these challenging times, services that support the health and well-being of our students, teachers, staff, and families have never been more essential and therefore the work of the Health Programs Department is even more valuable,” Apodaca says. “I have been honored to have served PUSD for many years as both a teacher and an administrator and now I am honored to continue to serve our community by joining the health programs team as we continue our vital mission.”

A member of the PUSD team since 1995 when she began her career as an educator, Apodaca moves to the director of health programs position from her most recent post as a second- and third-grade teacher at Madison Elementary School.  

From 2017-2019, she was director and trauma-informed practices coach with the Resilience in School Environments program of the Los Angeles Education Partnership. Apodaca supported the management of Kaiser Permanente national pilot project, designed and implemented professional development focused on trauma-informed practices, collaborated with district and school leadership to ensure that policies and procedures reflected a trauma-informed mindset, and coached school personnel to implement and sustain trauma-informed practices. She developed a curriculum for the Resilience in School Environments program funded by Kaiser Permanente.

Previously, Apodaca was principal of PUSD’s Altadena Elementary School, where she collaborated on the successful application for a Magnet School Assistance Program grant and the development of an implementation plan for the school’s French Dual Language Immersion program. Prior to Altadena Elementary, Apodaca was principal of Field Elementary School from 2007 to 2016, leading the school’s Mandarin Dual Language Immersion program and implementing a successful Farm-to-School Program, including the development of a 12,000-square-foot vegetable garden and three hydroponic gardens. Under her leadership, Field Elementary won the California Distinguished School Award in 2010 and the Title I Academic Achievement Award in 2007. 

Apodaca earned a master’s in educational leadership from California State University, Los Angeles, a teaching credential from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and a bachelor’s from the University of California, Berkeley. 

She replaces former Health Programs Director Ann Rector, who retired in June.

Leonard Hernandez 

Leonard Hernandez Jr., director of maintenance, operations, transportation and facilities. Hernandez leads the management of districtwide facilities planning, maintenance and repair functions, custodial services, transportation services, fleet management, utility management, and district safety, recycling, indoor air quality and security programs. 

Hernandez has served in high levels of school district facilities management, led facilities and operations for a 1,800-student school complex, taught JROTC, and retired from the U.S. Army as a sergeant, first class, after more than two decades of honorable service.

“Mr. Hernandez brings a unique blend of leadership, experience, and expertise in school facilities and operations, school site-level administration, classroom instruction, and military service to PUSD,” McDonald says. 

“His emphasis on excellence in service through delivering campuses that are clean and in good repair is especially important as we prepare for the eventual safe return of students and staff to our schools as public health conditions with the COVID-19 pandemic evolve.”

Hernandez joins PUSD from the Pomona Unified School District, where he was director of facilities, maintenance operations, from 2019-2020 and was responsible for directing, coordinating, evaluating, and planning the day-to-day facilities, maintenance, operations and transportation for the district’s 43 campuses and three sites. From 2003-2007, he was a school site administrator for Pomona Unified’s Pueblo K-8 and Village Academy High School complex that served 1,800 K-12th grade students and hosted an adult education program. In this role, he managed student discipline and student leadership activities, the schools’ operations, maintenance, and facilities, and supervised classified employees. He was subsequently promoted and served as Pomona Unified’s coordinator of civic center permits and operations from 2007-2016.

From 2016-2019, he was the chief facilities operations officer of the Inglewood Unified School District, where he supervised the construction, maintenance, and repair of school buildings and facilities, energy management, and facilities planning and operations. 

“I am honored to join the PUSD team,” Hernandez says. “As a former site administrator and classroom instructor, I know that the role of school facilities and maintenance is to support and serve students, teachers, and staff with clean facilities in good repair. The facilities and maintenance team has a powerful influence on the educational experience of our students, staff, and families. I look forward to working collaboratively to provide excellent and caring service to our students and staff during the challenging times we face now and in the future.”

Hernandez has a passion for education and is a life-long learner, obtaining several degrees and professional certificates. He earned an MBA from the University of Phoenix, a master’s degree in occupational studies in education from California State University, Long Beach, and a bachelor’s degree from Excelsior College in New York. 

Merian Stewart

Dr. Merian Stewart, interim principal of McKinley School. Stewart is the interim principal of McKinley School for the 2020-21 academic year. 

Stewart brings 29 years of steady experience as an elementary and middle school principal. She has served as principal of Franklin Elementary since 2016, where she ushered in a computer immersion program, and Washington STEAM Middle School from 2008-2016, where she led the school’s transition to a STEAM magnet school. 

Stewart previously served as principal of Noyes Elementary and as program and services director of D’Veal Family and Youth Services Mental Health Agency. She began her career as an instructional assistant in PUSD. Stewart brings experience with technology and her commitment to family and community partnerships.  

Dr. Merle Bugarin

Dr. Merle Bugarin, interim principal, Don Benito Fundamental Elementary School for the 2020-21 academic year. 

Bugarin brings 23 years of experience as an elementary and middle school educator and administrator. She successfully served as principal of Roosevelt Elementary for the last five years. Prior to becoming a principal, she was a teacher on special assignment coordinating the K-12 English Learner program for the Pasadena Unified School District for two years, a curriculum coach for 12 years and a classroom teacher for five years. Bugarin has consistently mentored colleagues throughout her career. Her focus while at Roosevelt was to use a growth mindset model to develop learners who are curious, motivated to think critically, innovative in developing solutions, and strong communicators. 

Committed to Community

Urban Kitchen’s intimate classes  teach the tricks of the trade
By Kamala Kirk

Raised in a home where her family connected over food and cooking, Michelle Hohman was inspired by the special moments she experienced growing up. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu with restaurant and test kitchen experience, she opened Urban Kitchen in 2013 to offer a space where people could create and enjoy meals together. 

“Urban Kitchen is a culinary space that celebrates community and connection over the preparation and enjoyment of handcrafted meals,” Hohman says. “We do this through a variety of curated experiences, including our recreational classes and workshops, private dinners, corporate team-building events and kid camps.”

Cooking classes are offered in Urban Kitchen’s industrial loft-style space in South Pasadena, which includes a large kitchen that resembles one you’d find in a person’s home, not a restaurant. Hohman designed it this way this so that customers could learn how to make a meal and visualize themselves doing it at home.

The classes cover everything from pasta making, breads and desserts to farm-to-table Latin meals. Seasonal classes, such as making desserts as holiday gifts, are added to the schedule at various times of the year. Classes are taught by Hohman and her team of guest instructors—all are accomplished chefs who share knowledge, tips and tricks that participants can incorporate into their cooking at home. Previous instructors have included Food Network star Jane Soudah and chef Matthew Roberts of Union Restaurant, among others. 

Class sizes are eight to 10 people and typically last three hours. The first two hours are spent cooking, followed by the last hour, where everyone sits together around a table and eats their creations. Hohman’s weekly classes were always full and quickly booked up on the website—so much, in fact, that the South Pasadena space had already reached full capacity. Hohman was planning to open more locations in other cities in order to accommodate people in other communities that wanted to enroll in her cooking courses. But then the COVID-19 crisis occurred and changed all of her plans.

“We had great momentum going into 2020 when the pandemic hit,” Hohman says. “I think initially we thought it would be somewhat short term, so we postponed our recreational classes and private events for the first few weeks. As the coronavirus numbers and casualties continued to mount, we realized this was going to be our new reality for the foreseeable future. The revenue stream was completely cut off.”

Back to square one, Hohman knew she had to get creative—and fast. She and her team members began reaching out to their loyal customer base and asking how they could be of service. Based on the feedback they received, Hohman built out a more robust recipe page on the website, provided meal plans and shopping lists via her newsletters, and hosted “Saturday Social” live lessons on IGTV.

“We also began promoting like-minded businesses who were also in need of help during this pandemic,” Hohman shares. 

“These were not revenue-generating activities, but we felt it was important to be a resource to our customers and community. This pandemic has taught us so much. We learned to stay positive and turn to our customers as a resource for how we can best serve. It created the space and revealed the importance of reaching out to other businesses and developing long-lasting partnerships. It solidified the idea that we needed a revenue stream that we could maintain should this happen again. We are a family-owned and -operated business, and this pandemic certainly brought us closer together.”

Just prior to the shutdown, Hohman had been planning the addition of a pantry component. She picked up the pace on the project during the time that her business was closed. 

“We’ve been working with our fabulous branding team, Designsake Studio, on building out the pantry component,” Hohman says. “Urban Kitchen Pantry will have an on-site and e-commerce presence and offer many of the products and ingredients we use in our classes and then some.”

As businesses have begun to gradually reopen, Hohman says she will offer her popular “Kids in the Kitchen” summer camps once again this year but with new guidelines. Designed for kids ages 9 to 14, each week-long session enables young chefs to learn new culinary skills, tips and techniques. On the last day of camp, participants get to compete in a friendly “Chopped” challenge as they put their new skills to the test.

Hohman and her team are excited to see its campers and have been busy redesigning the space and curriculum to adhere to Los Angeles County guidelines. Urban Kitchen’s adult recreational classes will also slowly restart, but their private parties, workshops and team-building events will remain on hold for now.

“The pandemic may have been a punch to the gut, but the recent display of minority-targeted brutality and violence knocked us out emotionally,” Hohman says. “Since the day we opened our doors, Urban Kitchen has been deeply committed to providing a safe culinary space to celebrate family, friends and community. Our community only thrives when we collaborate while celebrating our differences.”

For more information, visit urbankitchen-la.com.

Movies for the Masses

Tribeca moves screen classics to drive-ins
By Connor Dziawura

As local economies attempt to return to some semblance of normalcy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the film industry continues to take a hit, with theaters remaining closed, numerous tentpole summer blockbusters pushed back, and major film festivals attempting to compensate with alternate programming.

Tribeca Enterprises, behind Manhattan’s annual Tribeca Film Festival, is one such organization that has been looking to find new ways to connect with moviegoers. That includes a multi-state drive-in series.

The Tribeca Drive-In will bring classic films, comedy acts and more to venues around the country all summer, including the Rose Bowl Stadium every Thursday through Sunday July 2 to July 26.

“I think from the minute we all were told get back to your house in lockdown, we tried to figure out ways that we could engage the community, which is really the basis of Tribeca’s existence,” explains film and television producer Paula Weinstein, Tribeca Enterprises’ executive vice president, referring to the festival’s revitalization efforts in New York after 9/11.

Weinstein calls Tribeca’s long-running drive-in movies one of her favorite aspects. After deciding to expand it, Tribeca organizers brainstormed new locations, partnerships and films while also figuring out ways to ensure social distancing and sanitation. Weinstein says programming is different, in that the focus is now on beloved movies and classics as opposed to the festival’s usual discovery model.

“Festivals like Tribeca are mostly independent film, so we thought, ‘OK, this is a wider audience. So, what do you go to a drive-in to see? Fan favorites.’ And that’s what we did,” Weinstein explains, noting that a large part of curation went into refreshing audiences on previous entries in current franchises, exposing younger audiences to classics, and just choosing films that people may have never seen on the big screen. The schedule is extensive.

Fourth of July will celebrate “The Wizard of Oz,” “Apollo 13” and “Field of Dreams.” The latter is sold out.

Some Sundays will include sports movies, like “Creed” (July 5) and “Friday Night Lights” (July 19).

Early-afternoon films for kids include “Inside Out” (July 11), “Spy Kids” (July 12) and “The Lego Movie” (July 25).

High school comedies “Mean Girls” and “Superbad” will be shown on July 17. The latter is sold out.

The N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton” will hit the screen July 18.

“Meet the Parents” and its sequel “Meet the Fockers” will play July 23.

Ladies’ Night, July 24, will feature “Girls Trip” and “Bridesmaids.”

Spike Lee’s “Inside Man” and “Do the Right Thing” will screen July 25.

Other classics include “The Goonies” (July 18) and “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” (July 26), while some modern hits include “John Wick” (July 16) and “Wonder Woman” (July 19).

The new romantic comedy “Palm Springs,” starring Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti and J.K. Simmons, will also screen, on July 9.

Planners also looked for anniversaries, a major one being the 45th year of Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws,” which Weinstein calls “the ultimate summer scary great movie.” That will screen July 2 but is sold out. “Apollo 13” is also celebrating 25 years.

While Weinstein wouldn’t reveal any details, some filmmakers and others are slated to introduce movies. Upcoming film teasers are planned, too.

“We all have very good relationships with the studios, and the studios have been great because it’s very clear we cannot wait for the movie theaters to open and for everybody to be able to go back to see a movie,” Weinstein says. “We’re not in competition with that. We are supportive of that. And, it also I think gives the studios a chance to know that people are out there experiencing movies together in a safe way.”

Films aside, Tribeca has partnered with Comedy Dynamics to host four standup shows at the Rose Bowl the weekend of July 9 through July 12: Dave Helem, Ester Steinberg, Daniel Webb and Erica Rhodes. The shows will be taped for a wider release down the road, which Weinstein says “should be a fun experience.”

Tribeca will also support the community. According to a press release, a portion of ticket proceeds will be donated to Black Lives Matter. Additionally, essential workers will be offered complimentary access and reserved parking the first night at each venue.

“It’s our way of saying thank you,” Weinstein says of supporting essential workers, adding that the events will employ hundreds of people at each site and look to partner with local food trucks on concessions. “This is, in our minds, also an economic development revitalization plan, just the way it was when Jane (Rosenthal) and Bob (De Niro) started the festival.”

As event partners, Tribeca announced AT&T will provide other on-site entertainment, like photo ops, film trivia and giveaways, while IMAX will lead on the technology front with its Digital Re-Mastering process, technological support and equipment for venues, and film curation assistance.

“The hope is that the audience comes and has a wonderful time, and that the essential workers and the people in Pasadena and the local other areas around find enjoyment, employment, putting some people back to work or helping them restart their businesses in some way—if we can help, that’s what we want to do,” Weinstein says. “That will give us great joy.”

A Lasting Legacy

Judson Studios remembered in new book
By Kamala Kirk

For more than a century, Judson Studios has created stained glass installations for projects around the world, ranging from historic landmarks and religious institutions to private residences.

Founded in 1897 by painter and professor William Lees Judson and his three sons, Judson is the oldest family-run stained glass company in the United States. Throughout the years, they have continued to build upon their legacy due to their level of expertise, Old World craftsmanship, and commitment to artistic innovation. 

The first book to document Judson’s 124-year history was published in March by Angel City Press. Co-authored by Steffie Nelson and David Judson, fifth-generation president of Judson Studios and William’s great-great grandson, “Judson: Innovation in Stained Glass” covers generations of the studio’s famed projects and collaborations. 

“The book was inspired by the creation of the new studio,” Judson says. “I found that as I was making decisions for the future of the studio, I really needed to look into its past to see when it performed its best and when it struggled the most. Expanding the company felt like a risky endeavor—knowing more about its past helped me ease my fears.”

Judson Studios was established in Downtown Los Angeles before moving to its Highland Park location in 1920, which was declared a historic monument in 1969 and remains open to this day. In 2016, the company expanded to open a second facility in South Pasadena, which hosts most of its contemporary projects and also serves as a space for exploring innovative techniques and opportunities in fused and kiln-formed glass.

“Our big push has been in the realm of fused glass,” Judson says. “When we expanded our studio to a second location, it was to move into a state-of-the-art fusing studio with six kilns, cold working/polishing equipment, and a dozen light tables to create our glass panels. No one has ever created such a major studio dedicated to working in fused glass, and we are putting together a talented team of artisans to work with fine artists in developing the future of stained glass design.”

Through 11 chapters and 300 original images, the book sheds a unique light on a fairly unknown part of the history of Los Angeles that is a visual delight. It begins with patriarch William Lees Judson’s move to Southern California and his involvement with the arts community, eventually leading to his appointment as dean of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Southern California. In 1906, his son Walter founded the family’s first studio, W.H. Judson Art Glass Company.

“The book took a little over four years to put together,” Judson shares. “To be honest, working on it was a struggle for me and way more work than I was expecting, but finding older projects that my forefathers carried out that I did not know much about was worth the effort. One of the most interesting projects I learned a lot about was the Cadet Chapel at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.”

Among his favorite historical projects that are highlighted in the book are the 1914 dome at the Natural History Museum, which Judson Studios restored in the early 2000s, along with the globe at the LA Central Library in Downtown.

“Both of these projects feel like hidden gems in the fabric of our wonderful city,” Judson said. “There are also amazing pictures of the Frank Lloyd Wright houses where Judson did work in the 1920s for the legendary architect. Some of the more recent collaborative projects we have done with contemporary artists represent the intriguing future ahead for stained glass.”

Despite a long history of success, Judson Studios faced its biggest challenge yet during the COVID-19 crisis, which forced it to completely close its operations—a first in the company’s 124-year history.

“The pandemic has been an extremely stressful scenario for us,” Judson says. “Coming back online has been difficult to manage, but luckily our crew is used to working with PPE and other precautions, so we are getting back up to speed pretty quickly. A number of our artists are working from home now at least part time, so we are really having to adapt our communication skills while working apart.”

Judson’s latest project is developing art glass for dozens of the Seattle Sound Transit Authority’s expanded public transportation line stations and working on a 3D pagoda with artist James Jean that will create an immersive experience in colored art glass. 

“We will also be restoring the windows at the Air Force Academy chapel starting this fall, which will take us approximately four years to complete,” Judson says. “I hope people get a chance to go through our book and experience some of the wonderful projects that Judson has been lucky enough to be involved with over the years.”

“Judson: Innovation in Stained Glass” is available for purchase at all major bookstores in Los Angeles, including Vroman’s in Pasadena. Copies can also be purchased at angelcitypress.com. For more information, visit judsonstudios.com. 

History Revived

The lights haven’t gone out at the Pasadena Playhouse
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Beth Fernandez calls the history of Pasadena Playhouse “interesting and fun.” 

Fernandez, the Friends of the Pasadena Playhouse’s president, is celebrating a continuation of that—the renovation of the historic neon sign at the corner of Colorado Boulevard and El Molina Avenue. 

The Pasadena Playhouse neon sign is the last remaining example of a historic neon sign in Playhouse Village. It directs audiences and the community to the Playhouse and, as such, is a part of the neighborhood’s identity. “It was originally installed to tie all of the Spanish buildings on El Molina together,” Fernandez says.

In 1935 this freestanding neon sign, on a metal pole, was placed on Green Street. When Green became a one-way street, it was set into the sidewalk on the east side of the Symes Cadillac building (now Jacob Maarse Florist). It was moved to its present location by the city in 1993 and is now on Route 66. The Friends of the Pasadena Playhouse, a volunteer corporation that provides priceless support for the Playhouse, recently paid for some much-needed repairs to bring this sign into working order.

“The electrical work had gone dead,” Fernandez says. “It’s wonderful now. You drive down Colorado Avenue in the evenings and it’s brightly lit. The playhouse is bright, even though it’s not open. There’s a library above the theater entrance. The library was for the students when it was a drama academy. 

“Now we use it for meetings. They always keep a light in that window that says, ‘Yes, we are always open.’”

As for when the Pasadena Playhouse is officially open, Fernandez says she’s hoping the Holland Taylor play “Ann,” which was scheduled for May 27 to July 28, will be on stage in January, 

“It just depends on everybody’s schedules,” Fernandez says, “It’s very difficult right now with social distancing. Like all small theaters, we’re having problems. We’re a professional theater and we have to pay union rates. It’s expensive to launch any production.”

This time of year, the Friends of the Pasadena Playhouse are gearing up for the street fair, which has been canceled. Instead, the Friends have made online and mail appeals to keep supporting the playhouse. Online classes are another form of raising money.

“We have a wonderful class about Broadway and American theater,” she says. “I think we have close to 400 people signed up for it. It’s an eight-week course. I think that’s going to be ongoing as we go through the summer and fall. 

“I’ve been sitting in on it, too. It began with ‘Oklahoma’ and it talks about how the musical changes over the years to become more socially relevant. It’s basically an overview of Broadway and theater, especially how musicals have changed.”

The Pasadena Playhouse also hosts online student classes.

“They’re online, too. They’ve been very successful as families try to keep their kids busy during the quarantine and pandemic,” Fernandez says.

Fernandez grew up in theater. She attended classes at the Pasadena Playhouse when she was a teenager. As an adult, she worked as a puppeteer for 20 years. 

“It was a great thing to be doing while my kids were growing up,” Fernandez says. “It was easy to be home when they were home. It was a wonderful career. At 42, I got my degree.”

She has high hopes that the Pasadena Playhouse will follow the light of its recently renovated sign. 

“Every theater in town is like we are—suffering,” she says. “We know we’ll make it. Our artistic director is working hard with the board to make sure we stay afloat.

“In January, we hope to go back to putting on great shows and bringing theater to the people of the San Gabriel Valley.”

Styling the Best

Hasblady Guzman vows safety first  at Bokaos Aveda Salon
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

The business of beauty is in Hasblady Guzman’s DNA. As a child in Colombia, she grew up watching her mother make women feel beautiful and confident in her salon. 

“Seeing my mother help women feel better than when they came in was awe-inspiring. At a young age I saw how powerful it was to provide a great service—making someone feel uplifted,” Guzman says. 

And quickly learned responsibility in her formative years.

“At 12, I was taking deposits on my bicycle and making change for her,” Guzman says. “She would give me hundreds of pesos and I would get her change. Nobody ever bothered me or questioned it.”

Guzman was offered a full-ride scholarship to UC Santa Barbara but gave in to her mother and joined the family business. She never looked back.

Now she’s at the helm of her successful 4,000-square-foot salon, Pasadena’s Bokaos Aveda Salon, where the staff goes above and beyond to make sure their clients stay healthy.

“I want my clients to feel really comfortable at Bokaos,” Guzman says. “My stylists want to give guests the best experience and provide the safest environment. We are taking every precaution to do so. We’re spaced 6 feet apart. We’re disinfecting. No one with a fever is allowed to enter the building. I’m protecting my business. I’ve given a lot of my life to it—29 years of myself to it.”

Coming to America

In 1982, Guzman and her family had to escape the dangers of Pablo Escobar’s reign, so they fled their native Colombia to find a better life in the United States. She learned English by watching American television, and at the age of 21 she opened her first hair salon, Renaissance Hair Studio in Glendale.

“Being in the business this long, it’s much more normal,” says Guzman, about being a female business owner.

“At the beginning, when I was 21, people would say, ‘Where’s the owner? Where is he?’ It’s been nice to show that a woman and an immigrant can make it if you stay focused. I don’t take no for an answer.”

In 2002, she expanded by opening a second salon, Bokaos Aveda Pasadena, and eventually a third location followed in Glendale in 2008. In 2009, she moved all three businesses to one beautiful loft location with hardwood floors and a soaring chandelier in the heart of Old Town Pasadena.

At the salon she is joined by her brother, Alfred Guzman. Her mother still owns her own salon.

“She’s been incredibly supportive and loving,” Guzman says. “She won’t stop working at 72. She has a shop in Glendale and shows up every day.”

Guzman has worked with many celebrity clients for print and TV projects, but it’s a special love for the styling, extensions and updos that feed her creative soul.

“I love doing extensions and wedding parties,” she says. “It’s so much fun. It’s so creative, and everyone is incredibly excited and loving. It’s like you’re part of an intimate moment of happiness. You see your work and it’s amazing how it all comes together.”

With bridal parties of 10 or more, they drink champagne and have a little celebration. Guzman has been invited to style brides in England, New York and Mexico.

“I’m not limited to Pasadena,” she says.

Guzman does three methods of extensions—keratin, I-tip and tape.

“When you take a woman who feels she doesn’t look as soft or young as she used to and put hair on her, it takes 10 years off. When she has shiny hair and it’s thick, it’s always a sign of youth. It really helps a woman come to life when she has hair like that.”

She is also a blond specialist and knows how to take someone safely to blonde with the right tones.

“We use Aveda color. It is 98% natural and all the packaging is 100% recyclable, which is incredible,” Guzman says. “They spend a lot of money in the way they package and are very honest as a brand. Right now, we have Nutriplenish, a moisturizing line that Aveda just came out with. It helps dry, stressed hair and makes it soft. It’s a great line for hair in California.”

What it all comes down to is her customers’ happiness.

“You have to have a lot of heart to be a small-business owner,” she says. “In my business, it’s important to remember the value of great relationships with your guests and staff.”

Guzman is a dedicated member of the Pasadena community, supporting Hillsides. She fundraises for their gala every year with cut-athons, service donations and clothing donations for the kids.

Family & Focused

Demetria Graves has helped countless folks resolve legal issues
By Kamala Kirk

Demetria Graves handles cases that focus on all aspects of family law, including divorce, child custody and support, visitation rights, and other related legal matters. Born and raised in Pasadena, she is an alumna of Loyola Law School and has received numerous accolades over the years, including the Women in Business Award and Attorney of the Year. Since starting The Graves Law Firm 15 years ago, the certified family law specialist has helped countless families resolve legal issues so that they can start the next chapter of their lives.

“The main area that we are currently helping people in is divorce,” she says. 

“Especially now with people being quarantined with their spouses, we’ve received a lot of calls about our services. Before starting the process, I always encourage people to talk to a therapist with their partner to make sure that divorce is the right decision for them. In some instances, I’m hesitant to go forward because it may be related to stress caused by COVID-19. My goal is to ensure that my clients make the best decisions for themselves and their families.”

Custody and visitation are the second most common issues that Graves helps her clients with, and as a result of COVID-19, these cases have become even more complex. Graves is committed to working closely with her clients, always paying close attention to their needs.

“Some of the current issues we’re dealing with include families being impact by reduced income, which affects their ability to afford child support,” she shares. 

“There are also concerns about custody and visitation when one parent lives out of state and there is hesitation about letting children travel, or a parent is concerned about the other not practicing social distancing. I translate for clients what the court process looks like, what the judges want to see, put together their case strategy, and am their helper during that time. I know a lot of attorneys don’t enjoy family law, but I enjoy what I do and want to help as many people as I possibly can. I love being able to provide support to someone through what may be one of the hardest journeys of their life so they can have a new beginning.”

Passionate about helping others in and out of the courtroom, Graves is involved in various organizations such as the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, Los Angeles Bar Association and Black Women’s Lawyers Los Angeles. She is working on creating a resource for women who want to open law practices.

“I was really young when I opened my practice, and I wasn’t aware of all the challenges that I would face,” Graves says. “On top of owning a business, you’re running a law practice and managing employees, in addition to caring for your own family. Only 5% of lawyers in California are African American, and an even smaller number of those people are women. There aren’t a lot of female and minority attorneys out there that have their own practices. Back when I started, I had nothing, and over the years I’ve done a lot of on-the-job training, so I’m going to package all of that and provide a resource for women that want to take this journey and be successful.”

Finding Justice Together

The Azat brothers fight for those who can’t  fight for themselves
By Kamala Kirk

From wrongful termination and sexual harassment to discrimination and unfair compensation, workplaces yield a variety of legal issues.

COVID-19 has also presented new issues, such as concerns about safety and health at work as well as record-high unemployment rates. To protect one’s rights and interests, there are times when it is necessary to seek legal representation.  

Issa and Michael Azat are plaintiff attorneys who specialize in employment law and have a proven track record in and out of the courtroom. 

Prior to forming The Azat Law Group in Pasadena with his brother, Michael was a military police officer who had the rank of captain while in the U.S. Marine Corps. After earning his law degree from the University of Southern California, he worked as a federal prosecutor and served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. 

“I’ve spent most of my professional career fighting for the people who can’t fight for themselves,” Michael says. “Issa and I aren’t intimidated by the size of a firm or an attorney’s credentials. That is something that sets us apart—you have a lot of employment attorneys who have never done a trial or don’t feel comfortable stepping in front of a jury.”

Prior to joining his brother, Issa was a criminal prosecutor with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office. A graduate of Loyola Law School, he works with individuals and corporations in a wide range of plaintiffs’ litigation. 

“There’s a big difference between arguing your points on a phone call and sitting in a courtroom with 12 peers that you need to convince of all the facts,” Issa says. “It’s essential to be able to articulate your points and share the story of the victim you are representing in a concise manner.”

With their unique backgrounds and expertise, Issa and Michael have developed and executed winning strategies for clients who have been the victims of various employment-related issues. Throughout the legal process, The Azat Law Group works closely with clients, providing them with crucial support, helping them explore their different options, and educating them about the various resources that are available.

“We enjoy the human aspect of working on employment cases,” Michael says. “There aren’t a lot of people with our backgrounds who do what we do. We take plaintiffs’ cases we can win and focus on pushing them towards trial. We are honest and upfront with our clients as to whether they have a case or not. We get to make a difference in the lives of people who need our help the most.”

Born and raised in South Pasadena, Mike and Issa remain close to their hometown and incorporate their family values into their practice as well.

“My brother’s office is right next to mine, and I don’t think that’s something you’ll find in very many law firms—a former federal and state prosecutor who are siblings that work together,” Issa says. “This is a family business, and we have that ‘family-first’ mentality approach when it comes to our clients.”

Adds Michael, “Whether it’s a factory worker denied time off to care for his sick father or a doctor who was let go because of his or her sexual orientation, we get the same satisfaction out of helping someone who feels helpless. Being able to be a voice for these people is very satisfying. We’re hometown trial attorneys who care about the people in our community, and we will help them in whatever way we can.”

‘Everyone is cherished’

Donald Schweitzer honors partners  with firm’s name change
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

When Donald Schweitzer worked for the Santa Ana Police Department as a gang homicide detective, he saw plenty of attorneys in action.

“I enjoyed the energy and the drama of the courtroom,” Schweitzer says. 

In the early 1990s, he decided to join the ranks of great attorneys and entered law school, leaving the PD behind. Eighteen years ago, he founded the Pasadena family law practice of Law Offices of Donald P. Schweitzer, soon to be renamed Schweitzer Law Partners. 

“I graduated and went to the DA’s office,” he recalls. “In law school, my favorite topic was family law. I took all the specialized classes. When I went to the DA’s office after graduating law school, I prosecuted deadbeat dads and paternity cases. In seven years, I worked my way to the top as a senior trial attorney. I left the DA’s office to start my own family law firm.”

His goal was to put together a team of “really good people.” He didn’t want to be a solo practitioner, because he realized he needed colleagues next to him who could help handle complex cases. 

“I needed excellent folks and a team behind me who could handle intense litigated cases,” he says. “Family law cases involve a lot of paperwork, planning and negotiation. My dream has been to pursue excellence in that way. We recruit the very best people we can.”

Changing the firm’s name is an organic move for Schweitzer.

“The name needs to match the firm,” he says. “This was not just built by me. Good, quality people have contributed. It’s a partnership. I don’t manage from the top down. Nobody here calls me ‘Mr. Schweitzer.’ 

“I purposely spent a lot of years grooming people and putting together the best team I could. We’re partners without a doubt.”

Education and development are key

Schweitzer Law Partners boasts an extensive law clerk program. As a matter of fact, most of the attorneys in its office started as clerks for the practice.

Schweitzer says the office is certified to provide licensed, mandatory continuing education. There’s training every Friday, and the attorneys take full advantage of it.

Partner Casey Marticorena, who also started with the firm as a law clerk in 2007, says the team is passionate about education and promoting from within.

“Don is someone who focuses on developing the people he has on his team,” Marticorena says. “This is a place where you walk in the door and start as a filing clerk and end up being an office manager, which is a true story. Or, you can start as a receptionist and end up being a senior managing paralegal, also a true story. He develops people. He’s not ego driven.”

The highlight of her career was becoming a certified family law specialist, as she’s on the younger side of her colleagues. 

“I’m passionate about the art of negotiation and efficacy, which means I’m very successful in settling cases. I have a strong presence in the courtroom.”

Empathetic staff

Partner Alexandra Smyser lost both of her parents within two days when she was 30. She poured over bank statements and related paperwork to settle her parents’ estates. She parlayed that knowledge into her career as a certified trust and estates attorney with Schweitzer. 

“One of these things is not like the other,” she says with a laugh about her role within the firm. “I handle the trust and estates practice. We do planning for people and anything that’s in probate court. This means conservatorships, guardianships and trust administrations. It’s definitely different from the family law side.”

This is a second career for Smyser. After graduating college, she entered the entertainment industry. When her parents passed away—her mom of breast cancer and her father of a heart attack two days later—she decided to leave her field of 10 years. 

“You don’t go through that without a big reexamination of your life,” says Smyser, who graduated magna cum laude from Southwestern Law School. 

“I started to get interested in estates, and I wanted to bring that experience to help other people. I entered law school at 34 with two little kids and graduated when I was 38. I love what I do and helping people through the things I went through. I get to know their families really in-depth. It’s a crisis when somebody dies or somebody’s very ill. I do feel like I’m helping people.”

Her experiences have made her more empathetic and a better attorney. She experienced probate court from the other side and knows what happens. 

“When you’re grieving and you’re trying to figure out things, that makes the grief 10 times worse,” she says. “When my mom died, she hadn’t done anything. She had bank accounts everywhere. I spent a year at my dining room table covered with her statements. I just waited for the mail to come. It wasn’t a good way to go through that.”

With a team that includes Smyser and Marticorena, Schweitzer says his firm is a “good, fun place to work.”

“It sounds very cliché, but I want this to be a place I’d want to work,” he adds. “I would love to work for our practice. Everyone here has a career opportunity. You feel like you’re helping others and growing individually in this profession.”

The new name reflects this upward trajectory and a genuine commitment to excellence. Schweitzer Law Partners boasts four certified specialists and five rising attorneys; the firm financially supports its attorneys during the certification program and offers time off to study for the test. Each attorney is encouraged to become a certified specialist. 

Schweitzer says his office is filled with great leaders who are innovative and trustworthy. 

“I’m thrilled I get to work next to them,” he says. “I get a kick out of working here. The spirits in the office are very high. It took time to cultivate. I had a lot of learning to do along the way. People have come and gone, but I stayed focused on excellence. The people who didn’t like that would eventually leave. I’m very, very proud of my awesome partners, office manager, paralegals and staff. Everyone in this office is cherished.”