Updated 1:10 p.m. to include additional information about John and his grandfather Dempsey Holder.
John Holder defines "community." The 26-year-old was born in Coronado, raised in Imperial Beach and has been involved in volunteer projects since 2007.
He has served as an environmental development volunteer for the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic, helped organize the National Surfing Circuit and is currently working to collect water quality data to determine the impacts of poor water quality in Tijuana.
The UC Santa Barbara graduate said his "life has been a series of small successes and impacts that have kept me going and optimistic along the way. Development work involves a lot of patience and persistence."
"You always encounter a lot of cynicism or apathy, but when you see these small impacts you realize how important they are and how important it is to keep doing it. I think learning this is a big accomplishment," said Holder who finds support from his family.
John's grandfather is famous Imperial Beach surfer Dempsey Holder, whose 16-foot tall Spirit of Imperial Beach statue stands tall near the shoreline. Older surfers still stop him to tell him about his grandfather and the Tijuana Sloughs, John said.
His volunteering experience and passion for conservation began with WiLDCOAST, whose executive director Serge Dedina knew Dempsey well. The Dempsey Holder Ocean Festival and Surf Contest will take place later this month.
"I totally feel an obligation, as all surfers should, to continue to work for good water quality and ocean conservation awareness," he said. "It is a massive issue for South County beaches and Northern Baja, and I feel like we all need to become more aware and participate to help the situation."
In the future Holder plans to get an advanced degree in urban planning and internationa development, and eventually find a job "where I can put that to good use and somehow make positive change."
Advice for young people:
Find your passion. Learn a skill where you can actually help people; we have plenty of activists but not enough skilled practitioners. Combine education and travel. Do Peace Corps. Read a lot.