Hilary Zunin CanDo Spirit Award
Generously sponsored by the Napa Valley Vintners
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.
2022 Hilary Zunin CanDo Spirit Award Winner
The CanDo Spirit shines through this year’s Hilary Zunin CanDo Spirit Award winner, Nyah McWilliams. She serves as the Prevention Specialist at Mentis, a local nonprofit, where she supports mental health for the teens in our community.
“My passion and understanding of the youth are things that I really value within myself. Many adults have forgotten what it feels like to be a teen. Through this work, I find myself being reminded of what it was like to be a teen. Teens are humans. Teens can go down a path with less support, growing fear, and being closed off to the world. But there’s another path where they get the support and love that they need to reach their potential and the positive things in life”, says McWilliams.
In McWilliams’s nomination, Jeni Olsen, Prevention Director of Mentis wrote “Nyah is thoughtful and courageous, and she encourages everyone to be the best version of themselves. Throughout this past winter and spring, teens from Mentis’ Teen Council worked with a local artist to create a series of mosaic tile stepping stones with mental health and wellness themes. This project took place over a period of months, and Nyah’s dedication to our organization, community, and the teenagers we work with made it possible.
Additionally, she planned a debut showcase of the tiles and then worked with each high school in Napa County to permanently ‘plant’ the stones and documented the project on Instagram. Nyah’s work has a lasting impact on our community – the tiles are a permanent reminder of mental health and community to each person who views them.”
When asked what motivates her, McWilliams said, “Being a teen is tough so adding in these supports and resources creates a new reality for teens of Napa County. They get to explore their purpose, passions, and connections to the community through the Teen Council.”
Thank you Nyah for your work to support those in need of mental health care and to destigmatize mental illness in our community.
2021 Hilary Zunin CanDo Spirit Award Winner
Another COVID year. Worse yet, we lost our co-founder, Hilary. She conceived of this award so we’ve renamed it to honor her legacy.
The CanDo spirit clearly shines through this year’s Hilary Zunin CanDo Spirit Award winner, Tania Coronado-Basulto of OLE Health.
Tania was inspired by the COVID pandemic to single-handedly design and implement a COVID testing project at the onset of the pandemic. Her program set up services in multiple wineries across the community to help test people who might otherwise not have access. Tania also organized a COVID mass vaccination clinic, ultimately helping thousands of Napans get vaccinated.
In her nomination of Tania, Shira Revzen, Director of Clinical Operations for OLE Health, said “Tania tackled the project with enthusiasm and perseverance. OLE continues to provide vaccination services and Tania is integral to its success.”
“Growing up as the eldest of 3, I always helped my parents navigate through difficult situations, as many children of immigrants do. I’ve seen my parents through a lens that’s shown me how to be compassionate, patient, and to offer care to everyone around me. I chose to work in the nonprofit field because I know there are more people like my mother and father who are going through tough times and need support and guidance.”
Tania’s father developed diabetes when she was in high school; this led to her pursuing a degree in Nutrition. She became her family’s first college graduate when she received a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition from UC Davis. And OLE Health was her family’s health care home. She notes: “OLE Health aligns with my core values and mission to help the underserved and diverse populations in obtaining the high-quality care everyone deserves.”
“The greatest reward from working at OLE Health is being able to give back to my community, especially during unprecedented times. Although this pandemic has been incredibly challenging, I am grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way. We’re still working to overcome the current challenges of removing any trust issues our patients or community members might have related to misinformation about the COVID vaccine, and having the community view OLE Health as a high-quality medical home.”
2020 Hilary Zunin 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 Hilary Zunin 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 Hilary Zunin 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 Hilary Zunin 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 Hilary Zunin 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 Hilary Zunin 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 Hilary Zunin 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 Hilary Zunin 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.”