Press Release: Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership’s 27th Annual Heart of Marin™ is Pleased to Announce Award Winners

Katelyn Willoughby

Katelyn is fired up about communication, marketing, business development, and working with diverse leaders in the North Bay to help them carry out their missions.

January 13, 2020

Linda Jacobs
415.479.5710 x300


Katelyn Willoughby-Bagley
Director of Marketing & Communications

Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership’s 27th Annual Heart of Marin™ is Pleased to Announce Award Winners

SAN RAFAEL, CA, January 13, 2020 – Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership (CVNL) is pleased to announce the recipients of the 27th Annual Heart of Marin™ Awards. 600 community leaders, volunteers, elected officials, and business members gathered at the Awards Ceremony and Luncheon on Thursday, January 9, 2020, from 11:00am to 2:00pm at the Marin Center Exhibit Hall in San Rafael.

“Every year we look forward to producing this event of appreciation and gratitude,” said Linda Jacobs, CEO of CVNL. “With contributions of their time, talent, and resources, the individuals and organizations nominated for the Heart of Marin awards demonstrate over and over again that Marin is a community of great leaders that do the right thing.”

Peter Pelham, Executive Vice President of Bank of Marin who served as the Event Sponsor said, “We are honored to once again help present the Heart of Marin Awards and to do our part to advance CVNL’S vision of a community engaged in positive change and transformed by service. Congratulations to this year’s Heart of Marin nominees and award recipients: you inspire all of us to do better.”

KPIX Reporter Betty Yu emceed the event. Thanks to the generosity of award sponsors, CVNL was able to give $35,000 to Marin County nonprofits.

EO Products received the Corporate Community Service Award for their employee volunteer efforts, nonprofit board service, and monetary and product donations to local nonprofits.

The Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Mehrbanoo Esmaili of Whistletop. Mehrbanoo is a one-woman powerhouse from Persia, who for the last 22 years has helped Iranian immigrants in multiple ways as a volunteer.  

The Excellence in Board Leadership Award was given to Kristen Bennett, Board President of To Celebrate Life Breast Cancer Foundation. Kristen shepherded the growth and sustainability of the Foundation, modernizing the board and increasing grant making to support and diagnose more patients.  

The Excellence in Innovation Award went to Autistry Studios for their ability to hold a complete and individualized picture for each client dealing with autism or a learning difference. They help clients take the risks to lift their skills into the world of work.  

Youth Volunteer of the Year Award winners included: Andrea Martinez, Senior, San Marin, for providing essential reproductive and mental health assistance at the teen clinic at North Marin Community Services; Emma Lauter, Senior/GED, Drake High School, for dedicating over 700 hours of service to Marin County  Search & Rescue and helping to develop the K9 First Aid course; Andrea Ortega, Senior, Terra Linda High School, for her work to gain access to sustainable, low-cost menstrual products and materials in Spanish for low-income, immigrant woman; Kai Nittenberg, Senior, Terra Linda High School, for his role as a volunteer chef at Ceres Community Project preparing and packaging meals and producing a video, and for his work with OneTam addressing the threat of invasive plant species; and Sarah Goody, Freshman, Redwood High School, for striking every Friday in SF and Marin to bring attention to environment issues, and creating the Marin youth organization Climate NOW, which empowers youth to take environmental actions.

Christine Paquette, Executive Director of St. Vincent de Paul Society, was awarded the Excellence in Leadership Award for her fundraising prowess, community building, and insistence on outcomes-driven programs. She was instrumental in starting the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) that has housed 25 high-need individuals, some who had lived homeless for 20 years.

The Achievement in Nonprofit Excellence Award was presented to San Geronimo Valley Community Center for providing a dynamic center for the 4,200 residents, offering family support, youth programs, music, art, cultural activities and sports, recreation, and active living programs.

Michael St. John, retired Firefighter and long-time unit leader with Marin County Search and Rescue, received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Michael started his fire service career in 1985. At 16, he joined the Marin County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Unit. His legacy includes authoring the state training curriculum for child abduction cases, guidelines for Incident Support Management, Urban Search and Rescue, as well as Technical Rope Rescue for the State’s Law Enforcement Mutual Aid plans. He helped establish affiliation with the Mountain Rescue Association, a designation that allows Marin to respond to searches in the state and serves as a mentor for youth who train and search alongside adults.

All recipients were presented with certificates of recognition from Congressman Jared Huffman, Senator Mike McGuire, Assemblymember Marc Levine, and the Marin County Board of Supervisors. Additionally, winners (except Corporate Community Service) received an award of $5,000 for their nonprofits. The five Youth Volunteers of the Year received $1,000 each.

The Awards were sponsored and presented by Nugget Markets (Achievement in Nonprofit Excellence); Marin Community Foundation (Excellence in Leadership); EO Products and Bregante+Company LLP (Excellence in Board Leadership); EACH Foundation (Volunteer of the Year); Pacific Gas and Electric Company and BioMarin (Corporate Community Service); Comerica Bank, (Excellence in Innovation); Redwood Credit Union (Youth Volunteer of the Year); and Kaiser Permanente, San Rafael (Lifetime Achievement). The Marin Independent Journal served as Media Sponsor.

“In the 27 years CVNL has produced this event, we’ve been able to award hundreds of thousands of dollars to dozens of nonprofits,” said Jacobs. “CVNL is a resource, connection, and voice for the nonprofit community and the challenges we face. The CVNL community is now Marin, Napa, Solano and, most recently, Sonoma County. This summer we merged with the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County and look forward to building on our shared legacy of advancing nonprofits and volunteerism by strengthening leadership, encouraging innovation, and empowering individuals in our communities.”

About CVNL and VCSC: Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership (CVNL) and Volunteer Center of Sonoma County (VCSC) joined forces on July 10, 2019 to better meet the growing needs of nonprofits in Northern California. For over 50 years, CVNL and VCSC have advanced nonprofits and volunteerism by strengthening leadership, encouraging innovation, and empowering individuals in their communities. 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™ and Heart of Napa™ events support nonprofits of every size and mission through recognition and cash awards. Other programs and services include the Sonoma Human Race, Secret Santa, Court Referral Program, and Volunteer Wheels. We provide disaster preparedness training and serve as an Emergency Volunteer Center (EVC), overseeing spontaneous volunteers and donations for Napa, Marin, and Sonoma Counties in the aftermath of a disaster. We believe that with confident and prepared leaders, our nonprofits will be better equipped to create healthy, happy communities. Visit to discover more.