CAP Community Heroes

The Community Assessment Project (CAP) annually honors local community heroes- special individuals whose efforts help move Santa Cruz County toward the achievement of the community goals. These true-life heroes can be found throughout the community and are wonderful examples of making Santa Cruz County a better place to live. A special thank you goes to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, one of our local newspapers, for sponsoring the selection of the annual Community Heroes.


                   Meet the 2013 CAP Community Heroes

Photo by Paul Schraub

1st Row (Bottom): Jim Marshall, Sandra Wallace
2nd: John Dietz, Tracey Marquart, Ryan Coonerty, Fernando Giraldo
3rd: Ross Clark, Jane Schwickerath, Lynn McKibbin, Talitha Stills, Nancy Macy
4th: Nesh Dhillon, Saskia Lucas, Tiffany Wise-West, Chris Johnson-Lyons, Joaquin Nelson
5th: Jonathan Fry, Lori Butterworth, Will O’Sullivan, Farris Sabbah, PhD, Tom Helman
Not Pictured: Elisa Breton, MD, Dominican Hospital, Mark Donnelly, Michael Isaacson, Maria Mead, MD, Kristina Muten, MD, Jeremy Neuner, Casey Shirmer, MD, Wendy Sickles, MD, Prof. John Vesecky

Click here to view the 2012 Community Heroes

We Accept Community Hero Nominations Throughout the Year: Nominate here!

                                              2013 COMMUNITY HEROES 

In Economy
                        Goal: By the year 2015, Santa Cruz County will leverage educational opportunities and academic institutions as engines to fuel economic growth and technology transfer better than similarly situated counties in California.
                        Dr. Faris Sabbah
                        For over twenty years Dr. Faris Sabbah has dedicated himself to improving education for students in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District. In his current position as Director of the Region XI Migrant Education Program he has championed the needs of the children of farmworkers and immigrant families. Through his steadfast advocacy Faris has increased access to quality school readiness programs and improved educational services for students ages 3-22. His efforts have helped to improve graduation rates and educational opportunities for this vulnerable group of youth. Faris’ effectiveness as an educational leader has tangibly improved the lives of thousands of students and families and in turn uplifted the economic and social prospects of our community.
                        Goal: By the year 2015, increase the percentage of economic activity with Santa Cruz County by 10% and “re-localize” 10% of our commuting workforce.
                        Tom Helman
                        Tom Helman worked with the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County for 21 years as the Assistant Director and retired in July. During his career, Tom directly increased economic activity in Santa Cruz County by guiding the success of several vital programs. Tom generated over three million dollars in revenue from public and private sources to support economic vitality through outstanding employment support and preparation programs. Under his direction, Community Action Board programs prevented homelessness for thousands of residents by assisting them to remain self-sufficient in their homes. Tom has created a significant positive impact on our local economic stability and has made life-changing improvements to the quality of life for thousands of our community residents along the way.
                        Goal: By the year 2015, Santa Cruz County will slow or stop the contraction of municipal budgets through economic development of the underlying economy.
                        Ryan Coonerty and Jeremy Neuner
                        Ryan Coonerty and Jeremy Neuner have introduced a revolutionary concept to the local economy and the CAP is joining many others in recognizing the groundbreaking impact that NextSpace has had in Santa Cruz County. NextSpace emerged from the vision of practical workspaces for self-employed residents coupled with much-needed community. NextSpace provides physical and virtual infrastructure that freelancers, entrepreneurs, and others need to conduct business professionally in a connected way. This innovative space allows our many creative self-employed and freelancing professionals to increase their productivity and has established an exemplary model for success that the next generations of young professionals will see as a viable local resource. Ryan and Jeremy have injected an exhilarating sense of creativity and collaboration into the freelancing field and have irreversibly advanced the potential of our local economy in five short years.                    
In Education
                        Goal: By the year 2015, all students will graduate with the skills and knowledge required to compete in a 21st century global economy.
                        Dr. Mark Donnelly
                        Dr. Mark Donnelly is the principal of Starlight Elementary School, part of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District. Mark has guided Starlight in its exemplary efforts to close the equity gap through innovative holistic programming integrated into the school day, after school programs and family participation. Under his direction, the elementary school is providing supportive programs to enrich each student and family by partnering with local agencies to offer healthy nutrition, sustainable environmental education, pre-K support and medical and dental screenings. As a direct result of Mark’s insightful leadership, Starlight students are seeing vast improvements in health, academics and well-being. Starlight has seen such great improvements that Mark is now collaborating with other educators in the community to share this effective holistic model of elementary education.
Goal: By the year 2015, more kindergarteners will be better prepared for school through participation in a high quality preschool.
                        Jim Marshall
                        Jim Marshall has been an integral part of early childhood education in Santa Cruz County for decades. He has impacted thousands of children and families through many different avenues as he works tirelessly to ensure the best possible future for our community’s youngest residents. Not only has he owned an innovative preschool with his wife for thirty years, Children’s Alley, but he also serves on the First 5 Commission and provides trainings for the Cabrillo College early education department. In addition, Jim coordinates the Childcare Ventures program alongside Community Ventures through the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union, which provides technical assistance and training to county childcare professionals. Jim’s dedicated efforts have reached thousands of young children and provided a launching pad for them to achieve success in Kindergarten and beyond.
In Health
                        Goal: By the year 2015, access to primary care will improve so that 95% of Santa Cruz County residents will report having a regular source of health care; and less than 10% will report the ER as one of their regular sources of health care; and no significant difference between the percent of Caucasian and Latino residents reporting a regular source of health care.
As a group, representing the physicians of the Santa Cruz Women’s Health Center:
Drs. Elisa Breton, Maria Mead, Kristina Muten, and Wendy Sickles
The Santa Cruz Women’s Health Center has served low-income women and their children for the past four decades and continually evolves to meet changing health care needs, currently serving 5,000 people.  Throughout, the clinic has relied on the commitment, skill, and compassion of its physicians and mid-levels who offer high quality care to patients in need.  In particular, this year we recognize four physicians at the Santa Cruz Women’s Health Center who between them have devoted 46 years of professional service to patients facing complex medical and social circumstances.  Day after day, Drs. Elisa Breton, Maria Mead, Kristina Muten, and Wendy Sickles have provided care to thousands of women and children based upon mutual trust and respect.  These four physicians have sacrificed more lucrative jobs in the private sector in order to quietly contribute to improving health and well-being for our community.  Next year, the Clinic will be opening a new health center serving men, women, and children in Live Oak, bringing exceptional care to more people than ever before.  For now, we owe a debt of thanks to Elisa, Maria, Kristina, and Wendy for all they’ve given – and will continue to give – to Santa Cruz County families.
Goal: By the year 2015, 98% of Santa Cruz County children 0 to 17 will have comprehensive health care coverage as measured by the California Health Interview Survey.
                        Sandra Wallace
                        Through the compassionate organization she founded, For Kids Foundation Monterey Bay, Sandra Wallace serves vulnerable children with unmet medical needs. Sandra identified significant gaps in health care services for many of our community’s youth and utilized her skills and commitment to create a local solution. As the founders of For Kids Foundation, Sandra and the board raise donations to fund medical needs for uninsured and underinsured children, particularly undocumented and foster youth. Sandra works diligently as a case-manager, volunteering her time to ensure that children and families in dire need have a supportive resource to turn to.
                        Goal:   By the year 2015, the prevalence of childhood obesity will decrease as measured by the following: the percentage of children under 5 years who are overweight or obese will decrease from 15% to 12% and the percentage of children from 5 to 19 years who are overweight or obese will decrease from 26% to 21%.
                        Dr. Casey Schirmer
Dr. Casey Schirmer has been a pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Santa Cruz for over 12 years and is a fierce advocate for the health of the children in our community. Casey volunteered many hours of his time to design the new Pediatric Weight Management program at PAMF in order to address the issue of childhood obesity in our county. He created the program by bringing together a dedicated team of health care providers to implement a curriculum that is delivered in an innovative style called a “shared medical appointment”. Pediatric patients and parents meet together for seven sessions, receiving treatment and education simultaneously. Casey’s resourceful model of Pediatric Weight Management has proven highly effective in providing education and treatment to families of children dealing with obesity.
In Natural Environment
                        Goal: By the year 2015, reduce water pollution: health of rivers and ocean is improved by reducing erosion, chemical and biological pollution and improving riparian corridors.
                        As a group, we would like to honor the San Lorenzo Valley Women’s Club:
                        Nancy Macy, Lynn McKibbin, and Talitha Stills
                        The Environmental Committee of the Women’s Club of San Lorenzo Valley has actively promoted the health of the San Lorenzo Valley waterways. They have coordinated River and Road Cleanups to remove hundreds of pounds of trash from the river and continually assist in operating the recycling centers that help keep recyclable refuse from becoming pollution. The Committee has inspired local residents to become active stewards of the waterways by creating an educational guide for homeowners to care for their septic systems responsibly. This attention to the balance of waterway health as well as the realities of Santa Cruz Mountain living is a hallmark of the Women’s Club’s work. The Women’s Club does not limit their efforts to the Valley; they are also engaged in advocacy at the County and State levels. This group of dedicated local women serves as an inspirational and successful model of community action.
                        Goal: By the year 2015, develop a local sustainable food system: all community members have access to affordable locally grown food produced in a sustainable manner that preserves farmland fertility.
                        Nesh Dhillon
                        Nesh Dhillon has worked for the Santa Cruz Community Farmer’s Market for 12 years and served as the director for 10. Under his direction, the market has expanded from two to five county markets and now accepts EBT, WIC and Senior Nutrition Coupons in order to increase access and affordability of market produce for low-income residents. In addition, Nesh has coordinated the Market Match program at two market locations to offer monetary incentives for customers who shop with their EBT cards to encourage CalFresh (food stamps) recipients to take advantage of fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables. By offering motivations that lower the price of fresh produce, the Farmer’s Market is helping shoppers stretch their food dollars while keeping their families healthy. These programs are a direct result of Nesh’s vision that all Santa Cruz County residents benefit from the abundant fresh and health fruit and vegetables our region produces.
                        Goal: By the year 2015, support clean/alternative energy; use of clean alternative energy and sustainable fuels are increased through financial incentives and reduced policy barriers.
                        Representing the GreenWharf Project: 
                        Ross Clark, Michael Isaacson, John Vesecky, and Tiffany Wise-West
                        The GreenWharf Project incorporates visionary City planning and cutting edge University technology to educate the public about sustainable energy, and to develop renewable energy sources to power the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. Ross Clark of the City of Santa Cruz, and Michael Isaacson, John Vesecky, and Tiffany Wise-West of UC Santa Cruz partnered with UCSC School of Engineering students and Wharf manager Jon Bombachi to design and implement an energy system to make the Wharf more self-sufficient. Once researched and designed, a wind turbine and solar panels were installed on the roof of the Wharf Headquarters, from which energy is currently produced to fuel the electric vehicle used for wharf maintenance. The GreenWharf Project is an excellent model of how local government and academic institutions can collaborate to increase our use of alternative energy.
In Public Safety
                        Goal: By the year 2015, more youth will be involved in prevention and positive social activities and fewer youth will enter the juvenile delinquency system.
                        Fernando Giraldo
                        Fernando Giraldo has taken his role as Assistant Chief of Probation Officer above and beyond the usual high expectations. He has created partnerships and worked alongside several vital community agencies and organizations to design and support a wide range of programs, including court-based alternatives to detention and incarceration, adult re-entry, and many other evidence-based practices. In response to the community’s concern regarding incidents of violence, the Criminal Justice Council formed the Youth Violence Prevention Taskforce. Fernando was selected to chair this dynamic group and has helped shape a comprehensive plan to utilize data and evidence-based practices to improve policies, challenges and barriers that impede efforts to respond effectively to violence. Fernando is a vital part of the innovative community-wide efforts to increase our community safety and we all benefit from his commitment to socially just, evidence-based practices.

                        Lori Butterworth, Jonathan Fry and Joaquin Nelson of the Watsonville and Santa Cruz  Youth Councils
Lori Butterworth was integral in the recent creation of the Youth Councils in Watsonville and Santa Cruz, which Jonathan Fry and Joaquin Nelson are representing today. The Youth Councils are modeled after City Councils, with youth serving in roles of Mayor, City Manager, and so on. Along with then-mayor Eduardo Montesino, Lori identified the value of youth impact on local policies as well as the leadership benefits this kind of participation provides the youth. With this vision in mind, she and her team of adult mentors helped start the Watsonville Youth Council, where Jonathan helped lead the youth efforts to reduce violence among his constituents. After the successful establishment of the Youth Council in Watsonville, this impactful model was introduced to Santa Cruz, where Joaquin is an example of the essential leadership skills gained through his role as the Youth City Manager. The visionary efforts of Lori and other key leaders have brought an outstanding program to our county that is already growing exceptional leaders among our youth.
Goal: By the year 2015, adult and juvenile violence, including family violence and gang violence, will decrease, as will the impact of violence in the community.
                        Will O’Sullivan
Will O’Sullivan has served as the Director of Community Recovery Services at Encompass Community Services, formerly known as Santa Cruz Community Counseling Center, for the last 11 years, bringing his compassion and dedication to numerous effective alcohol and drug recovery programs. Under his leadership, programs such as Si Se Puede, Santa Cruz Residential Recovery, Primeros Pasos, have significantly improved individual and family outcomes regarding substance abuse. These programs are directly involved in breaking cycles of gang violence by presenting alternative lifestyle choices, offering job placement and community engagement. Will has worked collaboratively to increase public awareness regarding best practices in treating and preventing substance abuse, including serving as a leader with the Human Care Alliance and Smart on Crime efforts. Having retired from Encompass in September, Will’s community participation will surely shift and expand as he brings his extensive expertise and commitment to new arenas of influence.
In Social Environment
                        Goal: By the year 2015, more Santa Cruz County residents will have access to housing, both rental and home ownership, that they can afford.
                        John Dietz
                        When he heard about the 180/180 Campaign to house 180 of our county’s most vulnerable homeless individuals,John Dietz jumped in feet first as a devoted volunteer. Retired from his career in engineering and business, John did not begin this work as an expert in the field of homelessness, but instead as a resident committed to utilizing his skills to uplift those individuals most likely to die out on the streets. He learned the detailed steps of the housing subsidy programs as well as the barriers affecting homeless people and created a role for himself as the Volunteer Housing Navigator. He successfully worked alongside 180/180 program participants to guide them through the complex processes required to gain housing. Now, he helps recruit and train new Volunteer Housing Navigators and has vastly expanded the impact of this groundbreaking program.
Goal: By the year 2015, more Santa Cruz County residents will be actively engaged in improving their community through public participation.
Jane Schwickerath
Jane Schwickerath has served as the volunteer Program Coordinator for the Diversity Center’s 60-plus Senior Program for eight years. This program has created drastic positive change for individuals, couples and senior service agencies, and has empowered seniors and senior care providers. Through this groundbreaking program, Jane coordinates social and advocacy events for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer seniors at risk of social isolation, abuse and discrimination. In addition to Senior Women’s and Men’s Socials, she organizes Senior Luncheons which feature educational sessions on pertinent issues such as financial planning for senior same-sex couples. Increasing her influence ten-fold, Jane offers innovative and effective trainings for local health care and senior care providers to improve their ability to support these vulnerable seniors optimally. Jane offers her time, energy and expertise free of charge, and hundreds of our county’s seniors are living improved lives because of her selfless dedication.
Saskia Lucas
                        Inspired by San Francisco’s Sunday Streets, Saskia Lucas worked diligently for a year to organize Santa Cruz’s first annual Open Streets in 2012 and just enjoyed a second annual event last month. She developed networks of supporting organizations, individuals, funders and volunteers in order to throw these huge community celebrations that foster community and healthy lifestyles. Thousands of residents flocked to West Cliff to enjoy music, dancing, physical activity, information on health and sustainability, and an irresistible sense of communal fun. Saskia has enjoyed an outpouring of public support for her collaborative event and plans on working alongside Capitola and Watsonville agencies to bring Open Streets to all of our streets.    
                        Goal: By the year 2015, County residents with disabilities will be able to obtain services needed to support increasing options, pursue goals and participate in community life at levels consistent with their ability.
                        Tracey Marquart
                        Tracey Marquart founded Community Life Services, a non-profit which serves adults with disabilities by providing independent living skills, employment preparation, supported employment, and supported living. Tracey offers a vision of our community where people with disabilities are an integral part of our lives and businesses and treated with respect and valued as contributing citizens. Under her leadership, Community Life Services breaks down barriers that stand in the way of full community participation and inclusion and has improved the lives of many adults with disabilities and their families. In addition, Tracey recognizes outstanding businesses that provide employment opportunities for adults with disabilities through the Disability Employer of the Year Annual Awards.
Lifetime Achievement Award
                        Chris Johnson-Lyons
                        Chris Johnson-Lyons has long served as the executive director of the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County and after 27 years of dedication is retiring this Friday. Over this time, Chris has built a strong and incredibly impactful organization with competent, visionary staff driving its many successful programs, including Davenport Resource Service Center, Community Restoration Project, Gemma (pronounced Jemma), R.I.S.E., Santa Cruz Immigration Project, and the Day Worker Center of Santa Cruz County.
Under Chris’ excellent leadership, CAB has assisted tens of thousands of families in our county in areas of financial security, re-entry education, citizenship assistance, homelessness prevention, and other areas of self-sufficiency. CAB serves as an irreplaceable safety net, providing emergency and vital services to residents with the lowest income.
In addition, Chris has been integral in shaping public awareness around issues of ending poverty and also advocating for the natural environment. She has shared her expertise with numerous community collaborations, including the Workforce Investment Board, Human Care Alliance, Children’s Network, Watsonville Wetlands Watch’s Planning and Conservation Committee and other action-oriented associations. Chris is committed to a Santa Cruz County the offers dignity for all its residents and can hand the Community Action Board’s reins over knowing that she has done an exemplary job building a vital service agency in our community.
CAP Community Champion Award
                        Dominican Hospital
                        In 1993, Sister Michaella Siplak of Dominican Hospital approached the United Way of Santa Cruz County with the idea that other communities in the United States were measuring the health of their residents and that together we should do this in Santa Cruz County. United Way was intrigued with the possibility of a shared countywide assessment of the needs and aspirations of our population.
                        The leadership of Dominican Hospital embraced the idea and established the design team that examined community report cards and progress reports across the nation and developed the content and approach of the CAP. From this the first Community Assessment Project community survey and report was released in 1994.
For the next thirteen years Dominican Hospital’s Carol Adams chaired the CAP Steering Committee and the Public Relations Department of Dominican Hospital continues to design, write and publish the annual CAP Summary Report and delivers it to every household in the county. In addition, under the leadership of CEO Nan Mickiewicz and Director of Community Engagement Martina O’Sullivan, Dominican has been a major financial sponsor of the Community Assessment Project for all nineteen years of the project. Dominican Hospital’s leadership has made the Community Assessment Project the recognized model for hospitals’ community health assessments across California and the nation. For this sustained leadership and major contributions of the hospital’s human and financial resources I am honored to present Dominican Hospital with the first ever CAP Community Champion Award. Accepting the award on behalf of Dominican Hospital is Martina O’Sullivan.