Caption: Araceli Castillo (center) holds her awards from the Santa Maria Elks Lodge Annual Law Enforcement Appreciation event with her two children, Angie (left) and Ray (right).
Caption: Araceli Castillo (center) holds her awards from the Santa Maria Elks Lodge Annual Law Enforcement Appreciation event with her two children, Angie (left) and Ray (right).

Araceli Castillo, sometimes known by her coworkers as the “backbone of the Allan Hancock Police Department,” was recently presented with a Law Enforcement Appreciation Award from the Santa Maria Elks Lodge, in recognition of her outstanding and invaluable service to the community.

“I was completely shocked when they called my name,” Castillo said. “It was a very emotional moment for me.”

Law Enforcement Appreciation Night is one of the largest events the Elks Lodge puts on every year. This was the Elks’ 45th year holding the ceremony, and approximately 250 people were in attendance. This was Castillo’s fourth year attending the ceremony with her coworkers.

Castillo was honored along with seven other officers and civilians from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, California Highway Patrol, Santa Maria Police Department, Grover Beach Police Department and Probation. Castillo, however, was one of the only recipients who didn’t know the award was coming and didn’t have a speech already prepared.

“It was a complete surprise. I can’t even remember what I said!” Castillo recalled. “I was just so happy and grateful.”

Even more surprised than Castillo were her two teenage children who were also in attendance with her.

“The look on their faces was priceless! They were so proud.” said Castilllo. “My daughter jumped out of her chair and started taking photos left and right.”

Along with the Elks award, she was also presented with certificates from local lawmakers including Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino and Guadalupe Mayor John Lizalde.

“Nobody deserves an award more than Aracelli,” said Paul Grohowski, new police chief of the Allan Hancock College Police District. “In the short time that I’ve known her, I’ve seen what an asset she is to the department and the great service she provides every day.”

A Santa Maria resident, Castillo started working at Hancock in the Children’s Center while she was an administration of justice student at the college. In 2010, she started working as a community safety officer in the college’s police department. She moved into her current position as dispatcher in 2014.

“The people in the police department office at Hancock feel like family to me. I have so much love and respect for all of them.” she said. “What I love most about my job is that I get a chance to meet so many good people. I always try to learn more and do more every day.”