City of Santa Rosa > Departments > City Administration > Community Engagement Program

The Mighty Peacock Award

  Diane Cox  February 2014
Diane Cox Raised in Short Hills, New Jersey, Diane Cox spent the first 6 decades of her life raising a family and working on the East Coast. For 10 years, Diane worked as a food service teacher for students in continuing education who had been struggling in the academic system. With the students as her employees, she ran a restaurant and catering company similar to Santa Rosa’s Worth Our Weight program. In the 1960s, her husband was hired for a one year project by the Stanford Research Institute and they lived in Palo Alto. They enjoyed California so much that they made a pact that when they were ready to semi-retire, they would return to the area. By 1993, Diane’s husband had retired after a career working for IBM and had opened an acoustic measurements business. They began looking for a city in Northern California, but it needed to meet certain criteria; they wanted a place with open space, a relaxed environment, an active tennis club, a junior college (for cultural events), a spiritual community they connected with, and somewhere close enough to make a day trip to San Francisco. Santa Rosa was the perfect fit!

After settling in to their new home, Diane joined the outreach committee of her new church with a goal of getting more parishioners actively involved in the community. She decided to start a branch of a national non-profit organization she had been a part of in the past, Rebuilding Together. This organization repairs homes for people who cannot afford to so they can enjoy the warmth, safety and independence. With Rebuilding Together Santa Rosa, Diane was also able to help coordinate repairs for community buildings to enable non-profits to continue providing their services. Projects ranged from new roofs, flooring, and shelving to painting, gardening, and acquiring needed equipment. The work was funded through community sponsorships and local businesses donations. When a business would supply funding, they would also allow employees and their families to work on the project. It not only created a wonderful bonding experience for co-workers, but entire neighborhoods benefitted from the improvements done to deteriorating homes. Neighbors would bring cookies and refreshments to volunteers to show their appreciation. Members of Redwood Empire Remodelers Association would donate their skills and expertise, making each project a true community collaboration. For 8 years, Diane led the fundraising efforts and helped transform the lives of countless Santa Rosans.

Not content to end her activism there, Diane learned about the City’s COPE (Citizens Organized to Prepare for Emergencies) Program approximately 6 years ago from a neighbor. Diane was on the Board of her Homeowners Association and realized that organizing the 116 homes in her association was manageable. She followed the model provided by the City’s program and divided the homes into 15 clusters. Each cluster has a volunteer “Captain” and “First Mate.” She sends out forms twice per year to residents to keep updated information in case of an emergency. The whole process has helped people get to know each other; her cluster Captain had everyone over for coffee and cake before touring everyone’s homes to see where the water and gas shut off valves were located. Some Captains have hosted potlucks. Establishing their COPE Program has also naturally morphed into a Neighborhood Watch as neighbors get to know one another and keep an eye out for each other.

As if that weren’t enough, Diane also volunteers every week at the Living Room, a non-profit day service center helping homeless women and children at the Church of Incarnation. She works with fellow volunteers to prepare meals for 60-70 people each Tuesday. The food is donated by the Redwood Empire Food Bank and Harvest for the Hungry. As she describes it, service to others is her passion and she has worked throughout her life to use her abilities to help others and improve her community. Santa Rosa is lucky she chose to live here!

To learn more about Rebuilding Together, visit their website at rebuildingtogether.org. To find out how you can organize your neighborhood to prepare for emergencies, visit the Santa Rosa Fire Department’s COPE website at srcity.org/COPE. If you would like to volunteer at The Living Room, find out more at thelivingroomsc.org.

  Hilleary Izard  August 2013
Hilleary Izard Leadership comes naturally to some and, luckily, it is a quality that motivates Hilleary Izard in many facets of her life. Whether it’s volunteering for her children’s PTA as the treasurer, being active in her church, working in the Student Affairs Office of the Santa Rosa Junior College, or helping lead clean-ups in her neighborhood park, Hilleary was born to lead.

Raised in Vallejo, she completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology at San Francisco State University and moved to Santa Rosa where her husband is from. She lived in the Santa Rosa Creek Commons, a co-operative housing complex where all residents are also owners and responsible for maintaining the property. It taught her valuable lessons about community and service as she worked on the finance and grounds maintenance committees. She realized how much work is involved and the importance of doing your part. When she and her husband bought a house in Bellevue Ranch in 2009, she noticed that the neighborhood park was in need of ongoing maintenance due to cuts in the City’s park maintenance staffing. She met neighbor Jo Anne Cohn and volunteered to lead monthly park clean-ups. She became the neighborhood liaison coordinating with the Park’s Department and organized events for 18 months picking up litter, sweeping, pulling weeds, laying wood chips, and removing graffiti. She worked with neighbors and students from Elsie Allen’s Lobo Unity Club.

Hilleary then decided to help spearhead a project to deal with the ongoing graffiti and vandalism of the park’s ball wall and applied for a Community Improvement Grant through the City of Santa Rosa. In addition to the $1,000 she was awarded through that program, she worked with Elsie Allen’s art instructor, Paul Gandreau, and carpentry instructor, Henry Jourdain, to secure donations from local businesses and work from students. They reconstructed the ball wall with new wood and infrastructure and art students painted murals on both sides. Thousands of dollars in donated supplies were contributed to the project and countless classroom hours were spent designing and building the new wall. While graffiti had been common to see once or twice every week on the wall, it has not been vandalism since the project was installed before Thanksgiving 2012. Hilleary was able to use her organizational skills to coordinate the project and met new neighbors and families in the process. She was impressed by the local businesses that made donations and realized how much goodness exists in our community. She not only found the project to be very satisfying, but it provided another opportunity to promote the value of service she hopes to instill in her children. Instead of just complaining, she gains a sense of strength in taking action.

For fun, Hilleary enjoys spending time with her family and participating in outdoor activities such as hiking, running, and visiting regional parks with her dog. She loves that her job promotes education and the personal transformation education can bring. She brings her children to park clean-up days and has helped organize movies in the park with a past Community Improvement Grant. We will have to wait and see what leadership opportunity she jumps on next!
  Friends of Roseland Creek  June 2013
Friends of Roseland Creek Approximately 10 years ago, a group of Roseland Creek neighbors began discussing the potential development of a park along Roseland Creek. They realized they shared the common desire to see the approximately 19 acre area to be used for public recreation and become a public park and nature area. These neighbors became the core organizers of community clean-ups and improvement projects aimed at beautifying the land and nearby creek. Duane Dewitt, Patricia and Fred Krueger, Trish and Greg Tatarian, Mary and Gary Balcerak, Flora and Bill Haluzak, and Riya and John Murray became the unofficial “Friends of Roseland Creek.” The land had long had issues with illegal trash dumping and homeless encampments. But what they saw were tiny trees growing over time creating a beautiful and peaceful woodland area. They started small by participating in annual clean-ups, then they began picking up trash as it accumulated in drainage ditches. They decided to start their own clean-up and focused on Roseland Creek with dumpsters supported by the City. Eventually, they expanded into the land to help remove invasive grasses, clear paths, remove trash, and protect developing trees.

The neighbors also put their voices into action by participating in numerous community meetings once it became clear the land was not going to be developed. The City applied for and received numerous grants and supplemented them with redevelopment funds, park development fees, and a donation from Exchange Bank to purchase the 17 of the 19 acres identified for the park. Neighbors attended meetings the City organized to hear feedback from the community about what they desired in a park. Ultimately, it was decided to create a community park with both traditional and natural elements, something the Friends of Roseland Creek felt passionate about. Many of their ideas were incorporated into the park’s Master Plan. The park will be developed as additional funding becomes available, however additional funding is still needed to purchase the remaining 2.5 acres.

Each neighbor is inspired by his/her interests, whether it’s the Balcerak’s passion for trees, the Tatarian’s love of biology, or Duane’s natural organizational leadership. They have becomes friends from working together for a common goal and all believe that neighborhood beautification is important. Having a peaceful retreat nearby provides a beautiful place to unwind and regenerate. As Mary describes it, sometimes people don’t feel it is their responsibility to clean up someone else’s trash, but she hopes to inspire others as she leads by example. Larger projects require a group effort and she feels empowered by the immediate difference they are able to make for everyone to enjoy. She sometimes sees other neighbors picking up trash or leaving water bowls for the wild turkeys and deer.

In addition, the group has applied for and received two Community Improvement Grants through the Community Advisory Board’s annual grant program. They have used the funds to place large boulders along the park’s edges to prevent people from driving in and dumping trash. Their sustained efforts have helped preserve a little piece of Roseland for all to enjoy.

  Justin Mann  April 2013
Justin MannIf you live in Santa Rosa and enjoy using one of our 65 parks, you probably owe Justin Mann a debt of gratitude. He has been quietly and consistently cleaning up local parks for the past 4 ½ years. And not just one park, but more than 100 clean-ups total with an average of two clean-ups per month! And with no plans of slowing down any time soon, he may be coming to a park near you.

Justin’s passion was first sparked while he and his then toddler son were playing together at Pioneer Park off of Piner Road. As he sat down to catch up with his little one, he noticed a large amount of glass from broken beer bottles. For almost an hour, he scoured the ground wanting it to be safe not only for his child, but for everyone else who uses the park. The following day he returned to the park with a broom so he could fully rid the area of glass and ended up cleaning the entire area around it. He again went back the following week and cleaned the whole park! He realized that it felt really good to be doing something that was benefiting families around him so he moved on to another park and from that, an enthusiasm began to grow. As Justin describes it, “When I am cleaning a park, I feel a connection to the kids and the parents there and the community in whole…When I give back to my community, it gives me a sense of ownership that I would otherwise not have.”

It is that ownership and loyalty to his community that has led Justin to create Santa Rosa Utopia which is his group dedicated to park maintenance. He started his own Facebook page (facebook.com/SantaRosaUtopia) to keep others up to date on which parks he is targeting next so anyone who is interested can join him. He organized two large-scale events as well. In January 2012, he led a group of 35 volunteers as they cleaned up 5 parks. For Earth Day, he worked with 54 people and they were able to clean 7 parks. With 8o Facebook followers, Justin is close to reaching his goal of 100.

Justin moved to Santa Rosa in 1999 and was raised in Dos Palos, CA which is a small farming town. When he is not chasing around his 5 year old son, he can be found hiking, reading, or having coffee and dinner dates with friends. He describes his park cleaning as one of his fun activities as well because it provides a therapeutic outlet. He has long-term visions for local parks as well and would love to see his work expand beyond maintenance to include fundraiser for playground equipment, bathrooms, community gardens, benches, and tables. It still amazes him that people often mistake him for someone who must be doing community service out of requirement. He appreciates the hellos and thank yous he receives from passersby and hopes people will feel free to join him. Justin is truly dedicated to making Santa Rosa parks safe, fun, and enjoyable for everyone. Check out his website and find out how you can join his cause! And please, if you see a park in need of attention, feel free to contact him on his website and he will respond.
  Bennett Valley Vision  February 2013
Bennett Valley Vision For those of you who live in Bennett Valley, you undoubtedly have benefitted from the beautification projects spearheaded by Bennett Valley Vision. What makes this neighborhood group unique is that they have no formal leadership- everyone is equally valued and no one gets singled out for special attention. They are also solely focused on making physical improvements to the area and pride themselves on having as few meetings as possible. This is an action-oriented association with a large, loyal membership including 165 people on their e-mail distribution list.

Neighbors first started noticing the cascade effect of deteriorating neighborhoods and saw that when seemingly insignificant issues such as trash, graffiti, and overgrown medians were left to fester, other issues started to pop up as well. Their neighborhood park didn’t feel as safe to people and the impact of these quality of life issues was detrimental to the community. A group of concerned neighbors got together and decided to set reasonable goals that they could achieve by making small changes that would have a large impact. They targeted the main visual corridors of their neighborhoods including Summerfield Road, Bethards Avenue, Yulupa Avenue, and Creekside Park. As others started to notice the changes, they too stepped up to maintain their own properties more. They started organizing two large-scale projects a year and invited everyone in the neighborhood to help, as well as local Cub Scout packs, creek steward volunteers, local churches, and Sonoma State University students. Pretty soon, the small informal group who started the movement was attracting more people who wanted to know how they could get involved. They applied for and received numerous Community Improvement Grants through the City’s Community Advisory Board, got supplies donated from the City’s Parks Department (tools, dumpsters, graffiti removal supplies, etc.), and set up a debit account at local businesses for neighbors to purchase and donate supplies.

With so much work getting done, members also began enjoying the social benefits of their group. They join together after each clean-up for lunch, started Neighborhood Watch groups, and began having block parties. As they met more great neighbors, they experienced a more friendly community overall. People started volunteering to do ongoing maintenance tasks and the parks felt safer for people to use with the trees and brush cut back and trash picked up. Once the ball got rolling, other people were inspired by the example and wanted the same sense of community.

Bennett Valley Vision now has its own website, blog, and logo. They have been an inspiration to other neighborhoods around Santa Rosa as an example of what can grow out of a small seed of caring neighbors. You don’t need to have meetings every week or a hierarchy in order to work together to make positive changes. Just look at the beautiful bird houses along Summerfield Road or enjoy the benches in Creekside Park so see what a difference people can make when they work together.