Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership Announces the 2023 Award Recipients, 4th Annual Heart of Sonoma County Awards

Honoring Sonoma County’s outstanding nonprofit volunteers, leaders & organizations

SONOMA COUNTY, CA, March 19, 2024 – Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership (CVNL) is pleased to announce the recipients of the 4th Annual Heart of Sonoma County™ Awards. 317 nonprofit leaders, volunteers, elected officials, and business members attended the event held Thursday, March 14th, 2024, from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM , at The Backdrop in Santa Rosa, CA. 

Heart of Sonoma County, produced by Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership with Presenting Sponsor Comerica Bank, recognizes, honors, and awards Sonoma County’s nonprofit volunteers, leaders, and organizations for their outstanding contributions and impact to Sonoma County’s communities.

91 nominees were recognized across eight award categories, and recipients were announced for each award. $35,000 in award funds were distributed. Each of the award recipients received $5,000 for their organization (except Corporate Community Service) and the five Youth Volunteer of the Year recipients received $1,000 each.

“Each year as we prepare for this event, I am continually reminded of the brilliance and creativity exhibited by leaders in Sonoma County,” said Linda Jacobs, CEO of CVNL. “Over the past 4+ years, we have navigated countless pivots and challenges, yet each nominee has demonstrated unwavering perseverance, growth, and adaptability.  I am honored to recognize all nominees for their immense contributions.”

Comerica Bank was the Presenting Sponsor. Mike Silva, President, Northern California, had this to say: “Comerica Bank is extremely pleased to have a role in recognizing so many nonprofit community partners and the many wonderful people who give their all to serve others. CVNL has been doing this for many years in Marin and Napa counties, and we are pleased to support this tradition of recognizing the nonprofit superstars here in Sonoma County.”

CVNL is pleased to introduce the 4th Annual Heart of Sonoma County Award Recipients. Recipient’s bios and photos are available online

Meet the 4th Annual Heart of Sonoma County Award Recipients:

The Corporate Community Service Award, sponsored by CVNL, was presented to Redwood Credit Union (RCU). RCU’s mission is to serve the best interests of its members, team, and communities. Through volunteerism, sponsorships, board leadership, grant-making, and matching funds, RCU makes a lasting impact. Last year, their team dedicated more than 3,159 volunteer hours, $295,000 in grant dollars, $240,000 in match campaigns, and 127 sponsorships.

The Volunteer of the Year Award, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, Northern California Santa Rosa Service Area, was presented to Michael Kaufman. Since 2022, Michael has volunteered with Vital Immigrant Defense Advocacy and Services (VIDAS), leveraging his legal background and teaching experience to assist immigrant clients with DACA applications and work permissions. 

The Excellence in Board Leadership Award, sponsored by Acrisure, was presented to Wendy Davies for her leadership with Treasure House Consignment Shop. A volunteer since 2017, she joined the board in 2021 and spearheaded efforts to keep the organization open when faced with closure in 2022.

The Excellence in Innovation Award, sponsored by PG&E, was awarded to Reuse Alliance, Inc. for their impactful work in transforming waste prevention through advocacy, collaboration, and support for reuse enterprises. They pioneer innovative concepts like repair, repurpose, and refill through initiatives like Reuse and Repair Fairs and advocacy for reuse-friendly policies.

The Youth Volunteer of the Year Award, sponsored by Ginnie and Peter Haas, Jr., honors five outstanding middle or high school students serving in a Sonoma County nonprofit, education, or faith environment. This year’s recipients were:

Luis Chavarin Perez, Petaluma Adult School, Latino Service Providers, for his dedication to supporting immigrant communities, volunteering his time with Citizenship & ESL students to assist them in preparation for their citizenship exams and English reading and writing skills.

Luke Cilia with United Cerebral Palsy of the North Bay, for going above and beyond to support individuals with disabilities and fostering empowerment and resilience to live life without limits.

Natalie Burton, Robert Ferguson Observatory, for leading others along a journey of discovery in astronomy, education, and community engagement with the Youth Astronomers Club.

Stella Koene, National Alliance on Mental Illness Sonoma County, for founding and developing “The Positivity Project”, a safe space for teenagers to share their experiences, access resources, and combat the stigma surrounding mental health.

Cannon Meiers, Sonoma County Secret Santa Program, where he has raised a total of $48,000 in five years to bring hope and delight to those less fortunate and whose purpose for volunteering is to foster equity and belonging across Sonoma County.

The Excellence in Leadership Award, sponsored by Medtronic, was presented to Luana Vaetoe, Becoming Independent (BI). Luana’s strategic initiatives have propelled BI to new heights, including the redevelopment of the organization’s Program Headquarters and innovative revenue-generating enterprises that provide job training and employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities while enriching the community.

The Achievement in Nonprofit Excellence Award, sponsored by Comerica Bank, was presented to Food For Thought (FFT) for their exemplary service to its constituents. Founded in 1988, FFT began with a mission to provide food and compassion to those living with HIV/AIDS in Sonoma County. Over the years, FFT has evolved to offer free, home-delivered, medically tailored meals and groceries to residents facing serious medical conditions.

The Lifetime Achievement Award, sponsored by Redwood Credit Union, was presented to Maxine Freitas for making a positive and notable difference over three decades, from counseling at-risk students to pioneering therapeutic riding programs. As the founder of Equi-Ed, she has dedicated her life to providing healing experiences through horseback riding tailored to individuals with special needs. 

All recipients were presented with certificates of recognition from Congressman Jared Huffman, Congressman Mike Thompson, Senator Bill Dodd, Senator Mike McGuire, Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, Assemblymember Damon Connolly, Assemblymember Jim Wood, and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. 

“In the 31 years CVNL has been producing these events, we have had the honor of shining a spotlight on hundreds of organizations and contributing thousands of dollars to local nonprofits,” said Jacobs. “CVNL is a resource, connection, and advocate for our nonprofit community. With offices in Marin, Napa, Solano, and Sonoma Counties, we stand firmly alongside our nonprofit partners in our commitment to support them in the years ahead.”

For Recipient Bios, Photos, and more visit:

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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. Visit to discover more.