Since its inception in 2013, the Hilary Zunin CanDo Spirit Award has recognized exceptional work performed by one young, full-time employee making a difference in the Napa County nonprofit sector. The winner receives a plaque and a check for $1000 generously sponsored by the Napa Valley Vintners.
2020 CanDo Spirit Award Winner
Napa Valley Education Foundation
The CanDo Spirit is alive and well in Napa County, even – or perhaps especially – in 2020.
It’s that spirit that inspires Kristin Anderson of the Napa Valley Education Foundation (NVEF), this year’s CanDo Spirit Award recipient. Even a global pandemic, two major fires, suspension of in-person teaching, and a major economic downturn could not quell that spirit.
“I can be fearless in trying new things and seeing what sticks. I think, this year especially, our programs are no longer operating the same way. We have had to change structures and policies that have been in place for decades. Our organization’s success is directly linked to how we respond to these obstacles and I am not afraid to try something new,” says Anderson. “I am not afraid to make mistakes and admit that something didn’t or isn’t working. Our organizations need to be fearless and compassionate with our coworkers, our partners and our community.”
Says Jennifer Stewart, NVEF Executive Director, “Kristin is the heart of our organization … [she] has helped NVEF grow the Music Connection, started a scholarship program, and expanded donations to provide nearly 900 instruments. Kristin always looks for new ways to engage and expand our mission.” She has created camps, clinics, virtual events and much more in partnership with teachers, all focused on providing great enrichment activities for students.”
Kristin’s needs drive her. “I NEED to feel as though I am fighting to be a positive force in my community, and I NEED to be allowed to flex my creative muscles.”
Our community is glad she does.
2019 CanDo Spirit Award Winner
Immigration Institute of the Bay Area (IIBA)
As the daughter of an immigrant, Madeline Hernandez knew to her bones the struggle her mother faced as she learned a second language and searched for a stable job while raising a family. Likewise, growing up in Oakland, CA she witnessed discrimination that immigrants faced in her community.
Those early experiences led to what became a mission: to help create a community where immigrants are fully valued, contributing members of their communities with full access to justice and economic opportunity. Hernandez pursues her passion as an immigration attorney making a difference in the lives of residents who need help navigating the complex immigration system.
As the North Bay Regional Director and Staff Attorney of the Immigration Institute of the North Bay (IIBA), “Mady” Hernandez mentors fellow staff and brings her keen legal skills to help individuals gain a more safe and secure future. “Serving my community is extremely rewarding. In my clients, I see great parents, intelligent and driven students, responsible and honest workers, and strong resilient people. I admire the courage and strength I see in my clients. When clients are approved for an immigration benefit, I am filled with joy.”
Ellen Dumesnil, Executive Director of IIBA, describes Hernandez as “A fearless and compassionate advocate for immigrants . . . tireless and relentless in her pursuit of justice.” Dumesnil highlights Hernandez’s ability to inspire and motivate others and her collaborative orientation. As an active community member, she is part of Congressman Mike Thompson’s Immigration Advisory group, on the Board of Ole Health, member of the Community Leaders Coalition, collaborates with local community-based organizations and is always ready to speak in public forums on behalf of immigrants.
In her six years with the IIBA, 1726 citizenship applications have been filed resulting in 1281 new citizens in Napa County.
2018 CanDo Spirit Award Winner
On the Move: VOICES
From the age of ten, when Andres Cantera and three of his siblings were placed in foster care, he could have bowed down to the pressures and unknowns of foster life. Instead, he found deep within himself a CanDo Spirit and a resilience that served him well.
His commitment to helping other youth who find themselves in the foster care world brought him to On the Move’s VOICES program, a support system dedicated to helping emancipating youth navigate the often tumultuous waters of life after foster care.
Angel Mackelvie, Education and Employment Case Manager at VOICES, recognizes in Cantera qualities that have flourished through adversity. “In everything that Andres does, his drive, compassion and versatility shine through. He is empathetic and considerate when working with each youth; he is able to form strong relationships with his kind-hearted spirit and sincerity.”
Cantera sees flexibility as central to success when working to meet the needs of dozens of individuals in his caseload. Says Cantera, “Working with youth, specifically young adults, is challenging in so many ways. The biggest challenge is oftentimes helping them to understand the importance of follow-through and commitment because of the many times they have been betrayed or let down. It is a journey to rebuild their trust in our system…It sometimes just takes support of someone or several someones to help them realize it.”
2017 CanDo Spirit Award Winner
Napa Wildlife Rescue
Autumn Turner, Napa Wildlife Rescue’s first full-time employee, was nominated by the organization’s vice-president, Carol Poole.
“Autumn is calm, caring, flexible, enthusiastic and informed. She remains grounded, whether faced with severely injured and frightened animals or meeting emotional human beings. She treats each animal as if it is the most important one in her care. When new situations arise, she quickly changes course and responds to emergencies. She demonstrates vast knowledge about wildlife and is always looking for new information.”
Says Autumn, “There is nothing as gratifying as releasing a successfully rehabilitated animal, especially those who have survived the most horrible circumstances. Releasing a wren that was caught by a cat, then flew into the kitchen window and landed in soapy water in the sink. Or a fox who was hit by a car and broke a jaw and lost an eye, but made a full recovery.
“The positive rewards are truly endless. The challenges, however, are also seemingly endless. Free-roaming cats injure fledglings. Rodenticides spread to non-target wildlife such as owls, foxes, bobcats. Volunteer shortages at the Clinic where begging baby birds must be fed every 30 minutes. Challenges can be disheartening, but the release of that patient who you weren’t quite sure was going to make it, dissolves all those worries.”
2016 CanDo Spirit Award Winner
LBGTQ Connection (On the Move)
Eliseo Rivas has the CanDo spirit – and everybody knows it. In the words of LGBTQ Director Ian Stanley, “Eliseo is on fire to make our community better.”
Since its inception in 2013, the CanDo Spirit Award, generously sponsored by the Napa Valley Vintners, celebrates outstanding work performed by an exceptional young professional in the Napa County nonprofit sector. The CanDo Spirit Award is part of Napa Valley CanDo’s annual Give!Guide project, which raises funds and awareness for over 40 local nonprofits. Each Napa County nonprofit, whether involved in the Give!Guide or not, may nominate an employee age 30 or younger who has been employed for at least one year. The award comes with a $1,000 prize.
Mx. Rivas is recognized for exemplary work with LGBTQ Connection, a program offered by the nonprofit group On the Move. LGBTQ Connection strives to create a healthy, diverse and inclusive LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning) community, driven by youth and other emerging leaders in the North Bay Area.
Eliseo’s professional responsibilities for LGBTQ are many, including leading programming for youth, schools and families. “What motivates me to work for LGBTQ Connection is the opportunity to empower my people. This means the LGBTQ community, communities of color, and communities from lower socioeconomic status. These are some of the people that held me during my growth to discover a sense of real freedom.”
Ian Stanley, LGBTQ Program Director, says, “Eliseo doesn’t just treat work as a check-list, but uses heart, relationship and passion to create real change for justice in our local community.”
2015 CanDo Spirit Award Winner
Eric J. McKee
Napa County Resource Conservation District
CanDo and the Napa Valley Vintners are proud to name Eric J. McKee of the Napa County Resource Conservation District for this year’s CanDo Spirit Award. The award recognizes outstanding work and commitment by a full-time professional, 30 years old or younger, in the Napa County nonprofit sector. Each nonprofit organization in Napa County is invited to nominate one exceptional employee.
This is the third year that the Vintners have generously supported the Award with a $1000 cash prize.
Eric McKee, Education Program Coordinator for the Resource Conservation District, connects students and the public with opportunities to learn about our environment and serve our community. He creates curriculum for K-12 students as well as for court and community schools, afterschool programs and similar nonprofits.
“I love nonprofits,” says Eric. They are the glue that binds communities together – a human face that shows the world that we care for each other and for causes that are greater than ourselves.”
Eric’s goals: “To scale our programs to a low- or no-cost model so they’re accessible to any school or group interested in natural science education; create a training program to help foster leadership qualities in children; and develop more pathways to careers in conservation by partnering with other entities in workforce development and higher education.”
2014 CanDo Spirit Award Winner
Sarahid Rivera Vazquez
Legal Aid of Napa Valley
“Compassionate, patient and extremely caring” with a “never quit attitude” are just a few of the ways Legal Aid’s Executive Director, Diana Dorame, describes this remarkable young woman.
As a bilingual paralegal , certified domestic violence counselor, and Board of Immigration Appeals Representative, Rivera Vazquez sensitively assists clients who are often anxious about their legal issues. Many have been the victims of violent crimes including domestic violence and sexual assault.
In addition, she conducts outreach education programs for members of the immigrant community through organizations such as Napa Emergency Women’s Services, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Migrant
While a single mom and full-time professional, Rivera Vazquez maintains balance in her life by participating on a voluntary basis with the Suscol Inter-Tribal Council and performing throughout the Bay Area with a Native American dance group.
Of her commitment to the nonprofit sector, Rivera Vazquez says, “The rewards in working at a nonprofit are always rewards for the heart, never the wallet.” And yet, the services provided by Rivera Vazquez and the attorneys of Legal Aid reward clients by helping to ease their confusion as they learn their rights and navigate the complex legal system. Sarahid’s goal is clear. “I want to continue to be part of change in my community, one family at a time.”
Napa Valley CanDo, the Napa Valley Vintners, and representatives of the 2014 Give!Guide’s 40 featured nonprofits will honor Ms. Rivera Vazquez at the Give!Guide kick-off party November 6 at Napa Valley College. The event is free and open to the public.
2013 CanDo Spirit Award Winner
Graciela Rodriguez Garcia
Napa Emergency Women’s Services (NEWS)
Graciela Rodriguez Garcia is an extraordinary young woman. As Program Manager for Kids Exposed to Domestic Violence Services (KEDS), a program of Napa Emergency Women’s Services’ (NEWS), she’s responsible for working with children in the shelter to ensure that KEDS reduces children’s trauma by building protective factors and reducing risk factors for future violence. Strategies include children’s support groups, internship programs, after school homework help club, and extracurricular programs.
NEWS describes Graciela with words like “role model, Latina advocate for education, compassionate, empathetic, boundless energy, committed.”
“Graciela is on a mission to ensure that children who live at the NEWS shelter do not feel frightened and alone. She is committed to the idea that children will remember their stay at NEWS in a positive way.”
Graciela recently graduated with a Master’s Degree in Social Work, the first generation in her family to attend college. In 2010 she co-founded the Napa Valley DREAM Team and recently became a US Citizen. She is a member of the Domestic Violence Task Force and other advocacy groups.
Graciela says, “I feel honored and blessed to help children and families in a meaningful and transformative way. Helping children to develop strategies to strengthen their self-esteem, safety, sense of control, and to understand that domestic violence is not their fault. To provide a safe environment to play in and be kids is incredibly rewarding! I am extremely excited to continue NEWS’ mission of being a catalyst for change through prevention, intervention, and advocacy.”