Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership 8th Annual Heart of Napa Awards™ is Pleased to Announce Recipients

Photos & full recipient bios available online here.

NAPA, CA, March 21, 2023 – Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership (CVNL) is pleased to announce the recipients of the 8th Annual Heart of Napa™ Awards, held on Thursday, March 16, 2023, at the Napa Valley Expo Center where over 250 community leaders, volunteers, elected officials, and business members gathered to celebrate Napa’s outstanding nonprofit volunteers, leaders, and organizations.   

“We have come together to focus on the positive, our strength as a sector, the value of our collective work and to recognize and celebrate the leadership talent and what we love about our local nonprofits, who are bold, courageous, and innovative,” said Linda Jacobs, CVNL CEO. “The demand for basic needs that increased in 2020 has not let up. Despite that, each of you continue to step up, show up, and serve our communities’ core needs. You are all doing remarkable work. To me you are all heroes and Heart of Napa Awards demonstrate repeatedly that Napa is a community of great leaders that do the right thing.”  

Andrea Henderson, Senior Vice President and Director of Marketing at Bank of Marin, the event’s Presenting Sponsor, had this to say: “It is so great to be here celebrating the amazing people and organizations that make Napa County one of the most spectacular regions in California. Three years ago this month, our lives, our communities, and our way of being changed. While the pandemic tested our limits, it also brought us closer together. Nonprofits were particularly resilient, shifting their areas of focus and developing innovative ways to provide their services”. 

The 2022 CVNL Heart of Napa Award for Corporate Community Service was presented to American Canyon Orthodontics.  Dr. Jeff Nichelini, DDS and staff model the values of volunteerism and service to others, donating and supporting many schools and local organizations. They spearheaded weekly food distributions that reached 1,000 people, provided a free pumpkin patch for the community and a holiday gift center with 1,000 free gifts. Community support is an everyday occurrence for American Canyon Orthodontics.  

The Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Debbie Alter-Starr, Napa Valley Latino Heritage Committee.  Debbie is the co-chair for the Napa Valley Latino Heritage Committee, where she coordinates the Hilos Visibles Latino community quilt project. She facilitated close to 400 predominantly Latino students and adults in making art. She worked with K-12 classrooms, public libraries, and others, to create accessibility across ages and communities. Debbie spent many nights cutting fabric swatches and filling quilt kits to ensure that the project was inclusive for all ages, ethnicities, and abilities.

The Excellence in Board Leadership Award was given to Justin Gomez of Molly’s Angels of Napa Valley. Molly’s Angels, a 25-year-old organization was run by highly dedicated volunteers, until recently. Justin has been a force of change. He kickstarted the board’s evolution from an operational to governing mindset.  He is an ambassador to the community. Justin is adept at managing at the 10,000-foot level but is also not afraid to roll up his sleeves.  

The Youth Volunteer of the Year award recognizes five full-time middle or high school students serving in a Napa nonprofit, education, or faith environment.

The first Youth Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Carson Goodrich.Carson is a Napa County 4-H Ambassador where he supports the production of events, mentors, coaches, and assists younger members to be successful with their presentation skills. Carson serves in other volunteer capacities for Napa High Athletics, fundraisers, distributing wreaths for seniors, and many school dances and activities.

The second Youth Volunteer of the Year Award was presented toDareydy Rojas, who serves as a member of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Napa and the Mentis Teen Center. Dareyday represents the leadership and service program “Keystone”, implementing service projects such as the Crush Challenge, a bike race supporting cancer research, care packages for troops, service animal training, California Coastal Cleanup, and the DiRosa artist program community mural.

The third Youth Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Araceli Cantera.Araceli has been a member of the Mentis Teen Council for three years. Araceli is deeply dedicated to mental health advocacy, especially in communities that have been traditionally excluded. She serves on the Napa Youth Council, the California Youth Council, and Rainbow Action Network’s “Little Libraries”.

The fourth Youth Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Victor Chen, a volunteer with the Napa County Library since 2015. Victor has implemented several programs, most notably, the first Lunar New Year Celebration, where roughly 115 people came out to celebrate and learn about Asian culture and traditions.  Victor also partners with Scouts of America to educate and inform the community on outdoor skills such as first aid, knot tying, native plants, and animals, and how to ‘leave no trace behind’.  

The final Youth Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Abbey Mercer. Abbey joined her local 4-H chapter in 2014 and now serves as president. Abbey is a member of Mentis’ Teen Council, volunteers with Jameson Humane and with Agape Food Pantry.  She has served on Mike Thompson’s Congressional Student Leaders Council and Community Leaders Coalition Youth Voting Council. 

The 2022 Heart of Napa Award for Excellence in Leadership went to Margaret Farman, United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) of the North Bay. UCP of the North Bay provides employment, education, and recreation programs for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism. Margaret and the Board set out to revolutionize employment for persons with developmental disabilities, paying them at prevailing wages, and with a focus on integration in the community. WineBev Services was established in Napa County in 2008, providing job training and paid work. Today, they serve 102 adults working at local businesses. When Margaret became CEO, the annual budget was $30,047, with assets totaling $4.2 million. At the start of 2023, the budget is $23.1 million, with assets totaling $58.8 million. This extraordinary growth has provided both stability and sustainability. Her leadership and mentoring have always prioritized her ongoing commitment to helping people with disabilities live a “Life Without Limits.” 

The 2022 award for Achievement in Nonprofit Excellence was presented to Expressions of Hope, Inc. Peggy and Tom Smith began Expressions of Hope (EOH) 17 years ago to change the way a child is transitioned into a new home. Foster and adoptive parents themselves, they understood the need for resources and support, from the beginning. All EOH services are open to anyone caring for an at-risk child. They work closely with Napa County’s Family Preservation Unit and offer services to parents in the Family Maintenance Unit to help reunify families. EOH provides specialized services including: A Resource Center; delivery of meals during the first week of a new placement; a mentoring program for new parents; and more. When a social worker removes a child, they have the peace of mind knowing they can refer the child and the caregiver to EOH and the team will wrap their arms around them.  

All recipients were presented with certificates of recognition from Congressman Mike Thompson, State Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, State Senator Bill Dodd, and the Napa County Board of Supervisors.

Additionally, recipients (except Corporate Community Service) received awards of $2,500 and $5,000 for their nonprofit organizations. The five Youth Volunteers of the Year received $1,000 each.  

8th Annual Heart of Napa presenting sponsor was Bank of Marin. 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. and Vernice Gasser Foundation (Achievement in Nonprofit Excellence).  

“In the years CVNL has produced this event, we have been able to award thousands of 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 County. We stand united with our nonprofit colleagues and stakeholders. Today’s event serves as a reminder that we are, truly, stronger together.”