ALA’s Leadership Training Institute Honors 11 Exemplary Community Members/Organizations Who Positively Impact the Desert Communities with Exemplary Leadership & Serve as “Angels on Earth”

By Michelle McLaughlin

Above & Beyond honorees were nominated by their peers for their outstanding performance and proven excellence in community service.  Angel Light Academy’s (ALA) Leadership Training Institute will be presenting this prestigious event this October 9th at the Indian Wells Golf Resort Pavilion in Indian Wells with cocktails/silent auction beginning at 5 pm and Awards Dinner Gala at 6 pm.

Recipients of this honor demonstrate excellence in leadership and consistently go Above & Beyond in our local communities and beyond.  This year’s diverse group of honorees are from a unique array of service backgrounds and cities in the desert that represent business, community, education, non-profit/social services, elderly, sports, healthcare, and youth.  ALA is proud to honor some of the finest examples of devoted citizens who are serving others to make the desert communities a better place to live.

More About the 2021 Above and Beyond Honorees


Cindy Burreson, Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert

Cindy is a 15-year resident of the Coachella Valley and has been an integral part of leading and serving the community since arriving here. She is currently the CEO of the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert. The CDMoD is a valuable community resource for children and families to experience the joy of learning about themselves and the world around them. The museum inspires personal growth by engaging curiosity and creativity through hands-on explorations of exhibits and programs. The Children’s Discovery Museum has been in the desert for 30 years and it attracts about 80,000 families annually. CDMoD values being a place that nurtures thoughtful, hands-on learning in a creative and engaging environment that celebrates learning as an innately joyful activity. CDMoD has been a community resource and a welcoming place where people of all ages and backgrounds can come together to share experiences. Cindy is playing a key role in revitalizing CDMoD and adding programs for children of all ages for its re-opening in 2022. Professionally, Cindy has been recognized as “Businessperson of the Year” by the Palm Desert Area Chamber of Commerce and awarded the “Excellence in Hospitality and Service Award” from the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Cindy’s motto is “Choose Joy,” which is something she lives by each and every day. Cindy has played a key role in various non-profits in Coachella Valley, including Palm Desert Rotary, Best Buddies, Bright Pink, Desert Cancer Foundation, YMCA of the Desert, Shelter From the Storm, United Way of the Desert Bedtimes Stories Volunteer, Board Member of Palm Desert Greater Coachella Valley Chamber of Commerce, and started Little Kids, Big Impact initiative at CDMoD.

Chris Gubler

Early in Chris’s career he recognized some of the needs of the Landers Community and began to take action in helping the community.  He believed the key to meeting community needs was to generate excitement by getting people involved, collectively making a stronger voice and achieving community goals faster. Chris was a part of various community projects such as, establishing a special road maintenance district in Landers to maintain unimproved roads, a street sign program for the Homestead Valley to correctly mark over 200 intersections with reflective street signs for emergency personnel, the building of an elementary school for the children of Homestead Valley, and he developed the concept of a 3rd of July Independence Day celebration, making it their biggest fundraiser.  In 2005, Chris was the recipient of the Basin Wide Foundation “Lifetime Achievement” award” for achievements in community service. Chris has served as a Yucca Valley Sunset Rotary President four times.  Under his leadership, Yucca Valley Sunset Rotary established an emergency storage facility for the Citizens Emergency Response Team, with many of the supplies needed to support the Morongo Basin residents in the event of a major disaster. The Morongo Basin Orchid Festival was expanded to collaborate with Yucca Valley Sunset Rotarians and has grown into a show case/fundraiser for non-profits. Since its start 25 years ago, it has become one of the largest events in the Morongo Basin. The Gubler Family donates all orchid sales to benefit local charities throughout the high desert communities.  This spirit of community service is generational, and Chris is passing this amazing tradition on to his daughter.  Chris and the Gubler family lead by example to create a stronger community!

Connie Golds, Desert Best Friend’s Closet

Connie Golds co-founded and oversees Desert Best Friend’s Closet to educate and empower clients for success in employment and life. Connie is dedicated to helping Coachella Valley residents have the confidence, tools and clothes to secure employment. Under her leadership over the last 13 years, DBFC has made a difference in the lives of more than 7,000 community members. In 2008, Desert Best Friend’s Closet (DBFC) surveyed human resources representatives and learned that inappropriately dressed job applicants were a problem in the community. Sixty percent of those surveyed confessed that they judge appearance first and eighty-five percent admitted they hesitate to hire someone who is dressed unprofessionally. Over two-thirds estimate that job applicants do not have the financial resources to buy appropriate interview attire or even know what to wear. The Interview Attire program provides unused clothes to those who need it and will use them. The Bridge to Employment Program prepares clients for job searches by providing help with resume writing, job applications, and interview skills. The core goal of these two programs is to help clients achieve economic self-sufficiency through employment, to reduce the burden on the public, and create a better life for themselves and their families. Connie has a demonstrated history of commitment and service in Palm Desert and the Coachella Valley beyond her work as the co-founder of Desert Best Friend’s Closet. She serves on the Scholarship Committee of the Desert Community Foundation, and is a Board member of Women Leaders Forum of the Desert.

Glenn A. Miller

Glenn Miller is the three-time mayor of Indio, the largest city in the Coachella Valley, and has called the desert home for more than thirty years. In addition to Council member Miller’s duties in Indio, he is also the District Director for California State Senator Melissa Melendez for the 28th Senate District. Miller presently serves on the board of Indio’s agencies, including Indio Water Authority; Public Financing Authority and the Successor Agency to the City of Indio’s Redevelopment Agency. He is also on the board of directors for the California Joint Powers Insurance, and executive boards of the Sunline Transit Agency, Coachella Valley Association of Government and East Valley Reclamation Authority Joint Powers Authority. Glenn Miller is also a Certified Golf Course Superintendent and Landscape Irrigation and Golf Course Irrigation Auditor and has built and maintained prestigious golf courses throughout the valley. Miller’s passion is his long-standing involvement with local and regional civic and non-profit organizations. He is a Board Member for the ABC Recovery Center, Boys & Girls Club of Coachella Valley, Desert Arc and also active with the Woman’s Club of Indio, Ronald McDonald House, FIND Food Bank, Veterans’ of Foreign Wars Indio, American Legion Indio and Coachella Valley Rescue Mission. During Miller’s last thirteen years on the Indio City Council he has donated back his entire City Council salary to various charitable and civic organizations throughout the Coachella Valley. Known for his high energy and tireless work ethic, Miller has been a longtime member and past-president of two Rotary clubs in the City of Indio, and was awarded the prestigious designation as a Paul Harris Fellow. Glenn exemplifies the meaning of “Service above Self.”

Dr. Priscilla Porter 

Dr. Priscilla Porter is the Co-Director of the Porter History-Social Science Resource Center at the Palm Desert Campus of California State University San Bernardino.  An avid volunteer at the campus, she is a member of their Advancement Board, a past president of PDC Associates, and recent chair of the University Legacy Scholars. She volunteers at the Coachella Valley History Museum and is the Director of their Jr. Historian Program. This fun after-school program gives students the chance to socialize, learn about history, and learn about how the things that are important to them are often a part of a bigger picture. An active writer, Dr. Porter is the senior author of Reflections, the Harcourt School Publishers K-6 Social Studies textbook program. Priscilla is a former elementary school teacher, and she has taught all grade levels from Kindergarten to Grade 6. Priscilla and her husband Chuck are active supporters of the Gent’s Alliance Program sponsored by One Future Coachella Valley. They are founders of the World Affairs Council of the Desert’s Academic World Quest Program, a competition between teams from public and private high schools throughout the Coachella Valley. She is also a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Woman’s Club of Indio, the Girl Friend Factor, Trojan League of the Desert, numerous historical societies, and much, much more. Dr. Porter leads by example and utilizes her passion for education to inspire others to take leadership in their community.

Coach J. David Miller, SoCal Coyotes

Sustained excellence is a career staple for “Coach” J. David Miller, a Hall of Fame coach, best-selling author, minister, producer and award-winning marketing and communications strategist. Currently, Coach Miller is Chairman of Coachella Sports and Entertainment Stadium Authority (CSESA) and the visionary behind The Shield at 1 Coyote Way, a planned, multi-use 573-acre, faith, medical, sports and entertainment campus in Cathedral City that includes two indoor stadiums. To develop what Miller calls “a centrifuge of faith, hope and redemption,” CSESA designed a “Sports Based Community Planned Development.”  Since 2012, Miller is also a three-time Coach of the Year for the Palm Springs SoCal Coyotes, a non-profit leadership and ministry organization named by NFL executives, ‘America’s #1 Developmental Pro Football Program.’ In addition, the 501(c)3 was awarded Nonprofit of the Year for California’s entire 28th Senate District this year. Off the field, Coach Miller authored the Coyotes’ award-winning ‘Above the Line’ leadership program, which impacts more than 50,000 students and youth annually through the team’s camps, clinics and symposiums. The SoCal Coyotes organization reshapes lives, homes and communities by Building Champions, Building Men™. It ‘Defends the Shield™’ through year-round ‘Faith, Family, Football™’ leadership programs, community service and sports initiatives that develop aspiring football athletes; educate, equip and inspire at-risk youth; nurture single fathers and father figures; extol the virtues of family values, positive fathering and family legacy; mentor young men into trusted corporate citizens with employment opportunities and sustainable incomes; and empower future generations throughout the Coachella Valley. The AAA Football Hall of Fame made Miller a unanimous induction for his ongoing 30-year contribution as an author, administrator and coach. Coach Miller truly exemplifies excellence on the field, excellence in writing, and excellence in leadership.

Alzheimers Coachella Valley

Alzheimers Coachella Valley is a non-profit that provides support and services at low or no-cost for Coachella Valley residents living with cognitive impairment, their families and care partners. It was formed to meet the needs of families and focus on hope. The goal is to provide ongoing support for patients, care partners and families in a safe environment, and to help navigate the changes inherent in dementia-related conditions, and to retain a quality of life during the progression of the disease. All of ACV’s programs emphasize where the family is and work with what is still possible. ACV’s philosophy is to assist the individual and family, by providing resources, up-to-date information, and socialization. They believe that “life goes on,” and encourage both caregiver and loved one to tap into that and continue to live! ACV has created innovative and relevant programs and services that are run by trained and professional volunteers, many of whom have more than 20 years of Alzheimer’s/dementia care experience. Programs include professional and peer-led support groups: including the innovative Traveling the Journey Together, an 8-week series that encompasses both the patient and care partner. Caregiver support groups are available at senior centers and senior living communities throughout the Coachella Valley. Care Advisors work closely with patients and families to develop care plans that include support groups, community resources and local referrals to help manage and plan for the challenges ahead. ACV’s leadership team is dedicated to their clients and has been a beacon of hope for the community.

Misty Wiley

Misty Wiley is a native Indio resident with a drive to make a difference in her community. It all started with a toy drive at Abundant Life Church, called “His Gift.” They gave away a few hundred toys and raffled off about 40 bikes. They also gave a hot lunch and bags of food for children to take home. The following summer they expanded efforts and held their first “Back 2 School Blessing,” in which they gave out backpacks filled with school supplies, haircut gift cards, and gift cards for shoes and uniforms. As the years progressed, the inspired church group held Toy Drives and Back to School Outreaches in the Cities of Coachella and Desert Hot Springs in addition to Indio. They sent items to Thermal, Salton Sea, Brawley, El Centro and Tijuana by donating items to other Ministries in those areas. When the pandemic hit in 2020, they began a weekly food distribution to help feed those in need, along with a monthly clothing drive. They have been partnering with FIND to better serve the community. Since the inception of the food distribution program, they have had the honor of helping to feed over 51,000 people. Since beginning these Community Outreaches in 2011, they have given away over $200,000 in goods and have served over 18,000 children. They hope to continue serving our Valley by expanding their reach to further surrounding Cities. What started as a small project once a year has grown to include multiple projects every year that reach thousands of people. Misty and her team truly demonstrate what it means to be angels on Earth!

Richard Loftus, M.D.

Dr. Loftus is the founding Associate Program Director of the internal medicine residency at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage and founding Medical Director of the Primary Care 365 office at Eisenhower’s Sunrise Health Center in Palm Springs. In 2017, he switched to full time hospital work, along with treating primary care patients at the Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine twice monthly with the internal medicine residents.  CVVIM provides healthcare services in a compassionate, caring way to neighbors in need. They offer medical services at no cost to adults in the Coachella Valley who have no insurance. As a community safety net, the Health Center treats the whole person by addressing chronic diseases, acute conditions, preventive medicine, diet, and emotional health.  Dr. Loftus has also been recognized many times for his exceptional work as physician and teacher of medicine throughout his career.  He won Eisenhower Medical Center’s “Physician of the Month” award in November 2012. He won “Best Teacher in Ambulatory Medicine” in 2014 and 2015 from his residents. He co-founded a homeless medical outreach “street medicine” program out of the Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine in 2017, and helped run Eisenhower’s first conference on healthcare for the homeless in February 2019. He has been a part of research and development teams that have made a huge impact on caring for HIV and AIDS patients, and improving their quality of life and his team provided critical support for the approval of Ibalizumab, a treatment for drug resistant HIV. Currently, he is a physician at Bassett Medical Center and doing research on the long-term complications of COVID-19. Dr. Loftus represents the very best of a hard-working, service minded medical doctor.

Jeff Tropple & Ellie Koch, Nothing Bundt Cakes

Jeffrey Tropple and Ellie Koch were inspired to start Nothing Bundt Cakes-Palm Desert just over seven years ago! Jeff has over 30 years of hospitality and food industry experience. He owned and operated a fine-dining restaurant in northern California as Executive Chef. Ellie has over 30 years of human resource experience and a love of baking that began with her grandmother when she was a child. When they tried Nothing Bundt Cakes for the first time, they both agreed that it was a deliciously unforgettable experience and they were the perfect team to start a franchise! Their vision for opening Nothing Bundt Cakes-Palm Desert was three-fold: provide a very unique and delectable product, couple that with exemplary customer service, and give back to our wonderful desert community through donations and philanthropic offerings! As the business continues to grow, they are proud to have partnered with the many non-profit organizations in the desert community: Animal Samaritans, Angel Light Academy, A Few Good Men, The Learning Tree, The Narrow Door, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Desert, The Living Desert, Coachella Valley Autism Society, Society’s Outcast Animal Rescue, the Girlfriend Factor, Desert Sands Unified School District, Bighorn Charities, Parkinson’s Resource Organization, American Outreach Foundation, Bianca Rae Foundation and The College of the Desert, just to name a few. Jeffrey and Ellie each bring entrepreneurial and culinary expertise to their business and to their service.  They bake and give with love, bringing smiles to everyone’s face!  Jeff, Ellie, and their team have been angels to many organizations and their giving spirit and hard work have made a huge impact on the Coachella Valley!

Arlene Rosenthal, The Well in the Desert

The Well in the Desert is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that provides nutritious hot meals 5 days a week to those in need. They offer emergency food assistance, weekly supplemental food distribution and a wide array of services through advocacy to those affected by poverty, including the working poor, the homeless, seniors, veterans, the handicapped and others in the western end of the Coachella Valley. The Well’s mission fuels programs for poverty prevention, direct services for poverty intervention, and execute an organized effort to advocate for the poor. The Well has operated a cooling center where its clients retrieve their mail (government benefits and medicine), have access to hot meals every day, showers and clothing, and have access to wrap-around social services. The Well’s center serves as the last resort social safety net for approximately 250 of the unhoused residents of Palm Springs. Arlene has always had a spirit of community and has been involved in social change, helping to bring about change for those unable to advocate for themselves.  Her parents taught her the value of community action and interaction and the idea that everyone has an obligation to make things better in the world. Arlene was asked to sit on the board of The Well of the Desert and now serves as President.  Arlene is an advocate and voice for those in need, serving as an angel on earth for them all.

Event Details

Charity: Angel Light Academy’s (ALA) Leadership Training Institute (tax deductible donation). ALA teaches leadership, team building, problem solving, conflict resolution, and communication skills to local youth and adults.

Silent Auction: Bidding online available at

Where: Indian Wells Golf Resort, 44-500 Indian Wells Lane, Indian Wells, CA

Time: 5:00 pm Cocktail Reception with Silent Auction. Awards Dinner Gala at 6:00pm

Cost: $200 pp online registration at

For any questions about the event, please contact Angel Light Academy at 888.311.7388