Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership Announces Recipients 9th Annual Heart of Napa Awards™

Where nonprofit volunteers, leaders, and organizations shine.

NAPA, CA, May 22, 2024 – Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership (CVNL) is pleased to announce the recipients of the 9th Annual Heart of Napa™ Awards, celebrating Napa’s outstanding nonprofit volunteers, leaders, and organizations. The annual awards celebration and luncheon, produced by CVNL with support from Presenting Sponsor Bank of Marin, was held on Thursday, May 16, 2024, at the Yountville Community Center.

“CVNL’s Heart Events continue to be one of my favorite programs because of the amazing people that come together, and the opportunity to celebrate the great work of nonprofits, leaders, and local businesses,” said Linda Jacobs, CVNL CEO.

250 community leaders, volunteers, elected officials, and business members gathered to recognize the 61 individuals and organizations nominated for their community service across Napa County. Award categories included Corporate Community Service, Volunteer of the Year, Excellence in Board Leadership, Youth Volunteer of the Year, Excellence in Leadership, and Achievement in Nonprofit Excellence. Award recipients were honored and celebrated for each category, five recipients were awarded the Youth Volunteer of the Year, and, thanks to the generous support of award sponsors, $22,500 in award funds were distributed.

“Heart of Napa celebrates the people, businesses, and nonprofits that work tirelessly to bring our community to life,” said Brandi Campbell, Head of Retail Banking for Bank of Marin, which served as the presenting sponsor of this year’s event. “We’re honored to be part of this special day, which commemorates the tremendous efforts of our community leaders, especially our youth community advocates whose compassion and passion inspire positive change locally and beyond. On behalf of Bank of Marin, we thank all of the nominees for their acts of service that not only strengthen our community but the lives of its residents.”

Brandi Campbell, Head of Retail Banking for Bank of Marin

The Corporate Community Service Award, sponsored by CVNL, was presented to La Cheve Bakery and Brews. This small business is known for its strong community focus and philanthropy. Founder Cinthya Cisneros affectionately refers to her patrons as “familia” and supports local nonprofits and schools through dine-and-donate events and “Paint Brunches.” La Cheve’s American Dream Scholarships support local youth in pursuing business or science careers. As a Napa Advisory Board Member for 10,000 Degrees, Cinthya actively organizes and fundraises for local causes.

The Volunteer of the Year Award, sponsored by Syar Foundation, was presented to Ray Branstetter of Upvalley Family Centers. For 20 years Ray has provided free tax preparation for qualifying individuals and households as a Volunteer Income Tax Assistant (VITA) volunteer. Known for his meticulous research and reliability, Ray has garnered a reputation that draws many clients specifically requesting his assistance. Through his efforts, countless households have accessed crucial tax credits and refunds. Ray’s invaluable contributions play a pivotal role in helping families meet their basic needs and strive toward financial equity.

The Excellence in Board Leadership Award, sponsored by PG&E, was presented to Kristen Georges of UpValley Family Centers. Kristen has been a guiding force for the organization’s growth and development. During her tenure, Kristen championed staff support, oversaw significant budget and staff increases for the organization, and facilitated the establishment of a facilities improvement fund. Kristen guided a strategic planning process to streamline structures, enhance member diversity, and develop a compensation philosophy to attract and retain a talented workforce.

The Youth Volunteer of the Year Award, sponsored by Redwood Credit Union, was presented to five full-time high school students serving in a Napa County nonprofit, education, or faith environment. Recipients of the Youth Volunteer of the Year Awards included:

Julia Bui, Bring Change to Mind and Mentis. Julia, a senior at Napa High School, has been actively involved with Mentis’ Teens Connect for four years, currently serving as President. Julia leads meetings, manages social media, and serves as a suicide prevention gatekeeper, while also speaking on youth mental health panels. Julia is a dedicated volunteer and musician, participating in chamber choir, orchestra, youth symphony and offers violin tutoring through the Unidos orchestra.

Edmundo Gonzalez, Boys & Girls Clubs of Napa Valley. As a junior at Vintage High School, Edmundo is a student athlete and captain of the Varsity Boys Soccer Team. Edmundo has participated in the Club 1515 Teen Center for 11 years. Serving hundreds of hours of volunteer service, he has developed a natural ability to lead and mentor others, fostered a positive club culture, and inspired his peers. Edmundo developed a youth soccer training program for elementary and middle school students, emphasizing the importance of teamwork and leadership, on and off the field.

Paola Barajas, Boys & Girls Clubs of Napa Valley. Paola, a junior at Napa High School, actively participates as a teen mentor and volunteer through the organization’s Club 1515 Teen Center and Keystone Leadership Club. Paola has made a significant impact through her leadership in the Keystone program, organizing various service projects such as the Crush Challenge bike race for cancer research and the Santa Train Holiday Workshop. Paola also mentors’ younger students and coaches after-school basketball leagues, fostering an environment where they can develop essential skills, gain confidence, and cultivate a sense of belonging.

Sophia Dominici, the God is Good Group (The GIGG).  Sophia, a junior at Justin-Siena, lost her uncle in a drinking and driving car accident. The God is Good Group, GIGG, was created in his memory to educate on the dangers of drinking and driving and to inspire and empower active leadership and service to others. She is President of Justin-Siena’s Friday Night Live and Thirst Clubs, raising awareness on issues related to underage drinking and vaping. A founding member of the GIGG’s Youth Leadership Academy, Sophia works to uplift and strengthen youth voice and leadership skills.

Demian Gonzalez, Napa Valley Education Foundation. Demian, a senior at New Technology High School, co-hosts and edits the Napa Valley Education Foundation’s youth-led mental health podcast, SHINEcast. Demian plays a key role in destigmatizing mental health issues, fostering open discussions, and leading the planning and editing of each episode. Additionally, Demian is active in Mentis’ Teen Connect program, promoting youth mental health and wellness, and is trained in QPR suicide prevention.

The Excellence in Leadership Award, sponsored by Comerica Bank, was presented to Jennifer Stewart, Executive Director of the Napa Valley Education Foundation. Under Jennifer’s decade of leadership, the foundation has expanded from one staff member to ten, and increased fundraising from $400,000 to $2.6 million. Jennifer partnered with the Napa Valley Unified School District to establish seven school-based Wellness Centers and raised $3 million for mental health services, while also expanding the Music Connection program to serve over 5,000 students. Jennifer has enhanced career readiness programs, launched the Napa Valley Learning Innovation Summit, and facilitated a merger with NapaLearns, impacting 18,500 students and 1,000 educators.

The Achievement in Nonprofit Excellence Award, sponsored by Peter A. and Vernice H. Gasser Foundation, was presented to Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation. Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation offers mentorship and professional growth opportunities to predominantly Latino vineyard workers and their families. Historically deprived of educational access, these workers face barriers to career advancement, civic engagement, homeownership, and effective communication with their children’s teachers. Since its establishment in 2011, the foundation has invested $12 million, delivering 3,232 hours of education and benefiting 25,000 farm workers and their families. Their services encompass adult literacy classes covering subjects such as mathematics, English, technology, and financial management. Notably, participants experienced an average pay increase of $3 per hour from 2020 to 2023. 

All recipients were presented with certificates of recognition from Congressman Mike Thompson, State Senator Bill Dodd, State Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, and the Napa County Board of Supervisors. Additionally, all recipients, excluding Corporate Community Service, received awards of $2,500 or $5,000 for their nonprofit organizations. The five Youth Volunteers of the Year each received a $1,000 scholarship.  

Bank of Marin served as the Presenting Sponsor for the 9th Annual Heart of Napa Awards. The awards were sponsored and presented by Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership (Corporate Community Service); Syar Foundation (Volunteer of the Year); PG&E (Excellence in Board Leadership); Comerica Bank (Excellence in Leadership); Redwood Credit Union (Youth Volunteer of the Year); and Peter A. & Vernice H. Gasser Foundation (Achievement in Nonprofit Excellence).  

“In the 31 years CVNL has produced Heart EventsTM, we have been able to award over $1.4 million dollars to local nonprofits,” said Jacobs. “CVNL is a resource, connection, and voice for the nonprofit community and the challenges we face, and has offices in Marin, Napa, Solano, and Sonoma Counties. We stand united with our nonprofit colleagues and stakeholders. Today’s event serves as a reminder that we are, truly, stronger together.” 

Linda Jacobs, CEO, CVNL

Visit CVNL’s 9th Annual Heart of Napa Awards for event photos and recipient bios:

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About CVNL: Since 1964,  Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership has advanced nonprofits and volunteerism by strengthening leadership, encouraging innovation, and empowering individuals in their communities. We believe that passion alone isn’t enough when it comes to creating strong nonprofits. That’s why we work with aspiring and established leaders every day to help them build the skills and connections that can take their impact to the next level. Together we offer comprehensive programs that support nonprofits and volunteers including training, executive search, customized consulting solutions, volunteer matching, and corporate engagement. Heart of Marin, Heart of Napa, and Heart of Sonoma County events support nonprofits of every size and mission through recognition and cash awards. Other programs and services include 100MARIN, Sonoma County Human Race, Secret Santa, Court Referral Program, Sonoma County Paratransit and Volunteer Services. CVNL’s Volunteer Services includes a range of disaster services for response, relief, and recovery in the aftermath of disasters in Marin, Solano, Napa, and Sonoma Counties. We believe that with confident and prepared leaders, our nonprofits will be better equipped to create healthy, happy, and more equitable communities.