Nominate a Peacock!

Know someone who has gone above and beyond the expectations of being a good neighbor by serving others, beautifying a neighborhood, or strengthening our community? Nominate them by contacting Jennifer Tuell, Community Engagement Coordinator.

Nominees may be individuals, businesses, or organizations.  The only requirement of recipients is that they let their tail feathers shine!

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

The Mighty Peacock AwardThe Mighty Peacock Award

The peacock has been used throughout time and across cultures, religions, and regions to represent such qualities as compassion, openness, renewal, wisdom, immortality, kindness, and acceptance. It is therefore the perfect symbol to embody the work of local volunteers and organizers. The gorgeous colors of the tail are a reflection of the beauty that comes from giving back to your community and taking on a leadership role. The Mighty Peacock Award is a recognition of residents who have gone above and beyond the expectations of being a good neighbor. Some examples include:

  • Serving others, particularly young people, seniors, and those in need
  • Beautifying our community (mural projects, community gardens, neighborhood clean-ups)
  • Strengthening our communities

  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.

  Mary Dunton & Art Cena  December 2012
Mary Dunton & Art Cena

Have you ever had a new neighbor knock on your door and invite you to a party for no particular reason? If not, you must not live near Mary Dunton and Art Cena. They moved to Santa Rosa in January 2012 from Reno and have since hosted 4 neighborhood block parties in their Contra Costa Avenue neighborhood. They had noticed that although many neighbors had lived in the area for years, they were still largely strangers to one another. What better way to create new relationships than through parties?!

It started with a Cinco de Mayo celebration with Mary and Art buying meat for carne asada to share with anyone who stopped by. They set up chairs and canopies in the cul-de-sac near their home and 40 people joined them, including many families with children. People brought food to share in a potluck-style party and found that it was a great opportunity to start new relationships.

Inspired by their initial success, they next hosted a neighborhood 4th of July bash and this time 60 people came to the gathering. Mary and Art even went online and found a jumpy house on Craigslist so they could offer it as a fun activity for children. This was an expense they took on themselves because they truly believe in the power of connections with others. As they describe it, they both feel like they have been blessed with many great things in life and want to find ways to pass on that joy to others. Next up was a Labor Day party that brought out 140 people! By this time, they had taken their outreach to the next level by creating flyers and going door-to-door inviting people in their 65-home neighborhood. Those people had begun inviting their friends from other parts of town and even started bringing out of town guests with them. Art noticed that he was running into people at the parties he had seen around town, but never had the opportunity to meet.

For their final celebration of 2012, they organized a Harvest Party with pumpkin decorating for kids. Instead of leaving flyers on people’s porches, they knocked on doors and did a scavenger hunt of items they then donated to a local non-profit. This method got people interacting even more and helped promote the party while doing something good for others.

As the parties have grown, they have seen the energy in the neighborhood change. Neighbors regularly say hello to them while out on walks, they have learned people’s personal stories and struggles, been asked to pray with neighbors, scheduled play dates with other families, and grown close enough to exchange hugs with those who have become friends. They now invite people they meet at the gym, in coffee shops, and around town. People have donated money and everyone chips in with cleaning up and keeping a watchful eye on the children. They have learned that it often takes two or more invitations before someone feels comfortable enough to join them, but they plan to continue extending the offer and arranging even bigger celebrations in 2013.

Mary and Art describe themselves as having a mother-son relationship. Mary lives with Art, his wife, and their 3 young children. For fun, they enjoy family walks around the neighborhood meeting new people. Art is very active and can often be found at the gym, riding his bike, or swimming. Mary is a retired elementary school teacher and has a passion for painting and water coloring. Their self-motivated efforts to bring their neighborhood together are truly inspiring and show that with some passion and time, anyone can help create the kind of community they want to live in.

  Rachel  Turner Williams  August 2012
Rachel Turner Williams Rachel Turner Williams grew up in the small town of Albion near the Mendocino Coast as a member of the sixth generation in her family to be raised there. Influenced strongly by the natural beauty around her as well as her parents’ core beliefs, she was instilled with a strong commitment to the environment and a passion for real food at an early age. She loved the small town lifestyle, but decided to explore city life by attending college at UC Berkeley. She completed her undergraduate work and also received a Master’s degree in Environmental Health Sciences. Her educational background led to a five year stint working for the Environmental Protection Agency. During that time, Rachel worked on various projects such as hazardous waste issues along the United States and Mexican border, pesticide programs, waste reduction plans, and environmental grants for Native American nations.

Ultimately, Rachel decided she wanted to return to a more rural community. Her husband accepted an engineering job in Santa Rosa in 2003 and they started a family (kids now ages 6 and 8). He now owns his own engineering firm and Rachel works part-time managing the company. The need for a connection to the environment never waned and Rachel decided she wanted to get back into her field as her kids got older. She entered the Master Green Building Professional Program certified by the local USGBC Chapter and wanted her main project to focus on something that incorporated community. She started exploring the idea of a free neighborhood CSA (community supported agriculture). Many people in Sonoma County are members of CSAs and receive weekly deliveries of locally grown fruits and vegetables. Rachel’s idea was to do this at an even more local level and exchange produce within her neighborhood. She knew many of her neighbors gardened and wanted to know what the reduction in their carbon footprint would be if they shared. What surprised her most however, was the social component of her experiment.

In June 2010 Rachel started the Magowan Farm stand in front of her house. She weighed all of the produce neighbors contributed to track how much produce was traded and to calculate the environmental impact. She factored in measurements such as how many miles were not driven to stores to purchase produce, the costs and energy used to transport and store food on-site, and the chemicals used to grow conventional store bought food. She found a 1:1 ratio for carbon footprint reduction. In other words, for every pound of food traded, she calculated there was a corresponding one pound reduction in carbon production. While she was busy diligently weighing and tracking things, her neighbors were busy focusing on community. At first, they would visit briefly and gather veggies before leaving. Then one week, a neighbor brought zucchini bread to share and slowly others began bringing finger foods made from items in their gardens. Rachel now sets up two tables each week; one for food, wine, lemonade, and family recipes and the other for vegetables. 10-40 people show up every week to participate. People originally did not want to come if they didn’t have anything to contribute, but everyone is welcome to join in on the community spirit. There is always plenty of food left over and whatever isn’t taken by neighbors is donated to Worth Our Weight non-profit. Last year they donated extra food to a women’s shelter. Rachel spends about a half day each week dedicated to the farm stand and finds the payoff for the community far exceeds the time commitment. She has marveled at how all generations and types of neighbors participate. It was a close knit community before, but this is a more inclusive gathering and has created a greater sense of pride.

In addition to bringing neighbors together who had never connected before, the farm stand has helped teach Rachel’s children the importance of being connected to the natural world. They understand where food comes from and are more aware of the seasons and natural cycles. They are in charge of their own spaces in the family garden and pick what seeds to grow and take care of them. They enjoy the ritual of people coming together to share real, homegrown, quality food with one another – something so basic, yet so vital. The family has grown beans, squash, eggplant, tomatoes, herbs, artichokes, kale, micro greens, beets, radishes, and spinach. Rachel’s daughter now sets up her own small farm table.

For fun, Rachel enjoys spending time with family and friends, hiking, sharing meals, paddle boarding, and spending time at the beach. She had planned to move somewhere more rural, but now feels she has created her own rural life here. As she describes it, it is more a way of living than a geographical place. She loves her neighborhood and its proximity to parks and shops. She also appreciates how everyone looks out for each other. Getting to know one another has naturally led to a greater sense of safety. And the best part is, anyone can take on this leadership role in their own neighborhood with the right amount of motivation!

To learn more about the Magowan Farm Stand and how Rachel got it started, visit her website at magowanfarmstand.org.

  Thea Hensel  July 2012
Thea Hensel

For as connected and involved as Thea Hensel is in the Santa Rosa community, you might be surprised to know she is relatively new to town. Raised in the Bronx, Thea first came to California in 1966 to take classes at San Francisco State while completing her Master’s Degree from NYU in education. The following year she moved to California permanently and lived in San Francisco while teaching middle school for 5 years. She went on to work for Simplicity Pattern Company and traveled throughout Northern California organizing fashion shows at fabric shops and schools. She spent more than 30 years working in the apparel industry before retiring last year. And that is when her work really got started!

After living in the East Bay and Occidental, Thea moved to Santa Rosa in 2001 and has spent the past seven years living in the Yulupa Co-Housing. As she describes it, living in co-housing allows you to truly live in community because it is driven by a consensus process which requires deep communication. Everyone meets monthly and some people are also on committees that meet regularly. Thea works on behalf of co-housing issues and spends approximately 2-5 hours per week volunteering on the community’s behalf. She also enjoys preparing meals for everyone in the complex.

The idea for a southeast greenway had been around for years, but members of the Yulupa Co-Housing formed an organization to advocate for it in 2009. Thea was one of the founding members with Linda Proulx, Michael Black, Julie Combs, Michael Friedenberg, and Jonathan Glass. The objective was to create a connector from Spring Lake to downtown Santa Rosa and beyond. By using vacant land next to the co-housing owned by CalTrans once designated for a freeway, they hope to preserve this open space and transform it into a pathway for bicycling, walking, community gardens, education, services to residents, and a safe path to schools. They envision it becoming a legacy gem in Santa Rosa that makes it a destination for people across the country to see the beauty and bounty of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. And it will provide a convenient route from the west side of town to get access to the parklands on the east side. The possibilities are truly endless for the Southeast Greenway Campaign’s long-term vision. With 40 active members and more than 1200 supporters, Thea enjoys contributing 10-25 hours per week advocating and organizing for the Greenway.

Thea has also volunteered for the past 4 years with the Santa Rosa Neighbors Summit which helps produce an annual community event that supports neighborhood engagement and activism. For 6 months out of the year, Thea works with other volunteers to help provide people with the tools and forum to communicate, educate, and create relationships. It has taught her that there are many different ways to have a neighborhood identity and they are not always defined simply by geography. Residents can be powerful allies with the City as services have been cut and community groups can step up to fill in the gaps. She saw the ongoing maintenance of parks as a natural tie in to her passion for preserving open space. As Thea describes it, try getting out to meet your neighbors. They can be amazing and resourceful people and there is strength in the unity of voices. Thea is often running from one project meeting to another, but she describes volunteerism as a part of her ongoing lifestyle. It provides her with new experiences and opened her up to a wealth of friendships, opportunities, and knowledge about local government that she never would have gained otherwise. She has been overwhelmed with how many wonderful people live in this community and want to help in some way. With her personal values of outdoor living and sustainability, her work has helped give her life new meaning.

When not busy with volunteerism, Thea can be found walking and hiking in Annadel and around Spring Lake. She enjoys attending concerts, kayaking, camping, wine tasting, and eating Sonoma County food. She spends a lot of time traveling with her daughter, having visited Cuba, Belize, and Canada in the past year. For anyone who knows Thea, she is always on the go!

  Arlie Haig  June 2012
Arlie Haig Arlie Haig does not like being the center of attention. But she is willing to do it in order to draw attention to local gardening and nutrition. Raised in Michigan, Arlie moved to Santa Rosa in 1980. She received her degree in Business Management from Sonoma State University. A job at Hewlett-Packard brought her here with her background in CAD (computer aided design). She has since retired and enjoys having two of her three siblings living locally.

Arlie always had a garden growing up and her grandfather owned an apple orchard in Michigan. In 2001, a friend of hers named Joanna Becker started a garden in South Park on land owned by Community Baptist Church. Joanna lived nearby and used water from a hose on her property that she hauled over to the garden. She asked Arlie to help with coordination by tracking payments, keeping records, and assigning the 25 plots and tasks. Arlie found the job so enjoyable that she founded the Kawana Garden in 2005 using the same organizational principles. The new garden was open to people who lived in the neighborhood including the Cypress Ridge Apartments, the Kawana Springs development, and the pocket of County land to the north. The City of Santa Rosa owns the land and the garden includes 33 plots where community members commonly grow tomatoes, corn, chilis, cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce, and carrots. Arlie likes to try planting new things and has learned new gardening skills by osmosis from others and by researching best practices on the internet. In 2010, she was asked by the City to coordinate the Juilliard Park Garden based on her success. She now coordinates all three community gardens and donates more than 40 hours per week to her volunteerism. Extra food from the gardens is donated to church members, neighbors, and food banks.

Last fall Arlie helped organize a garden summit intended to bring community gardeners from all over the County together. They were able to gather 64 leaders together to focus on how to exchange information, share resources, help new gardens get started, receive training, and follow best practices. From that meeting, they formed the Sonoma County Community Garden Network. They received funding from the Sonoma County Health Department to hire an overall coordinator to run the network and set up/promote events.

Arlie’s gardening is part of a larger philosophy of life. She is motivated by the belief that the slow decline of the world economy is forcing people to produce food locally. She wants kids to see that you can grow your own food and it is a lot healthier to eat than processed food. Two of the gardens she works at have kids programs that education young people about gardening. She has partnered with Community Action Partnership and Head Start in South Park to reach more people. She recently solicited 10 local businesses for donations for additional fencing at one of the gardens to prevent theft. They are always looking for more people to contribute time and would love to find a volunteer children’s garden coordinator.

Arlie preserves food through dehydrating and canning. She has 5 chickens that she raises for eggs. It has helped her save a significant amount of money and she credits her health with her lifestyle choices. She enjoys the contact with neighbors her gardening has created. It allows people to come together to share knowledge and time. She describes the gardens as great places to build a sense of community. They can also help reduce crime by creating a space where people are often present and keeping a watchful eye on the neighborhood.

A beautiful Peacock Award twist has helped Arlie with her efforts. March’s Mighty Peacock winner, Joanna Rojas, organized a clean-up in the South Park Garden. Her dad has since volunteered to be the assistant coordinator there and is organizing monthly clean-ups. It is a great example of how one good act in a neighborhood can inspire many more.

To find out more about how to create a community garden or to participate in one that is already established, visit http://igrowsonoma.org/. You can find out about how to volunteer and participate in local gardening events.

  Mark Jenkins  May 2012
Mark Jenkins

This month’s Mighty Peacock Award recipient has been busy getting his hands dirty in the work of neighborhood involvement…literally! Mark Jenkins is not only Co-chair of the Historic Ridgway Neighborhood Association, but he has also started a community garden benefiting the entire downtown core.

Mark was born at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and grew up in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. His heart remained in California so he moved to San Diego to receive his Bachelor’s Degree in International Business (Latin American emphasis) from San Diego State. He moved to Los Angeles where he met his wife and they moved to Santa Rosa in 2005. He has lived in the Ridgway Neighborhood nearly seven years and decided to attend his first meeting of the association a year and a half ago. When no one else stepped up to fill a vacancy on the board, he volunteered that very day. He has been the co-chair ever since!

Mark’s wife, Christine, had the original idea of a community garden which was brainstormed out of the fact that their neighborhood didn’t have a park or existing garden. After narrowing it down to 2 possible locations, the couple decided to turn that dream into a reality. Mark approached staff at Memorial Hospice and asked who owned the empty lot next door at the corner of Benton and Mendocino. He learned that the Ellingson family, who had roots in Santa Rosa going back 70+ years, owned the land and were excited to see it used for something positive. Not only would a garden be a way to give back to the community, but it would help keep the site maintained so it became a win-win solution. The garden was designed by Christine, a landscape designer. The Hospice agreed to provide the water free of charge and in June 2011, the Mendocino Garden began. It now contains nineteen individual plots, three shared rows, and one shared bed. Nearby St. Luke’s School uses a plot to help students learn about nutrition and gardening. This was an important link for Mark; he believes the garden should be used by everyone in the area and that extra food be donated to food banks. With no real gardening experience beyond his own backyard, Mark went to a seminar at the Harvest for the Hungry Garden on Yulupa Avenue and met Tom Glen, an iGrow member and Master Gardener, who helped teach him how to get the garden started. “Start small” was the best advice Tom gave him since things can seem overwhelming at first. Now he spends most of his time working in the shared areas instead of his own small plot. He has learned through trial and error and watched the first crops of cauliflower, Romanesco broccoli, and lettuce take off.

The most amazing part of this process has had less to do with the actual gardening and more to do with the community atmosphere it has created. Mark saw a neighborhood boy digging in his backyard to mimic what he was seeing in the garden and the boy’s family now has a plot. Mark’s own 5 year old daughter was scared of bugs, but the garden has helped her explore nature more openly. They have potlucks in the garden where people can come together, talk, and hear what is going on locally. Employees from Hospice enjoy their lunch in the garden and Mark describes it as his personal escape to unwind and “recharge” his batteries. It has become a place for people to come together who might otherwise never have met. It is now one of approximately sixty community gardens throughout Sonoma County!

When not in the garden, Mark can be found spending time with his wife and two young children, playing golf, snowboarding, going to the beach, swimming, or working on his 1904 home. He loves the variety and personality of homes in the Ridgway Neighborhood and its close proximity to the downtown hub. He owns his own insurance agency, is fluent in Spanish, and loves staying active. Feel free to join his neighborhood at their annual BBQ and garage sale. You can visit their website at ridgwayhistoricna.org to find out what is happening!

  Don Sharp  April 2012
Don SharpDon Sharp is the de-facto president of the Rincon Valley West Neighborhood Association.  He earned that distinction by being the first person in his neighborhood to volunteer to create a neighborhood map and roster after being inspired by a COPE (Citizens Organized to Prepare for Emergencies) presentation by Ed Buonaccorsi. What started as a simple task grew as Don’s passion for neighborhood organizing developed. Not content to simply stop at one emergency preparedness meeting, Don has gone on to organize CPR training and certification for his neighbors, a crime prevention presentation called “Safeguarding Your Home,” and an emergency gas shut-off class. What is so amazing about Don is that these are not skills he had already acquired; he took the initiative and contacted neighbors, friends, and non-profits who could help instruct these classes. He has spent his own time going door to door to introduce himself, gather safety information, and invite neighbors to meetings. He is a fantastic example of how one person can make a difference by committing the time and being dedicated to problem solving.

 This is not Don’s first experience with volunteer work. He previously worked on the Salvation Army’s Season of Sharing Program which helped seniors, disabled, and/or low income residents receive grants. He also tutored students from Lawrence Cook Middle School and was a mentor for students at Lewis Opportunity School through the ACTION Program. In addition, he has been volunteering for the City’s Graffiti Abatement Program for years and enjoys the immediate gratification it gives him and sense of accomplishment.

Working with youth and giving back to the community are part of Don’s lifestyle. He spent 25 years as a math and physical education teacher working for the Alameda Unified School District and Belmont School District. After moving to Santa Rosa in 1987, he went on to work at Merryhill School and has been a local substitute teacher after retiring. He and his wife, Georgia, have two grown children and two grandchildren. Don enjoys exercising, reading, and keeping up his yard. He is a huge fan of classic old films on the Turner Classic Movie channel. He is a member of the USTA tennis league, enjoys his annual trip to the San Francisco Opera, and loves the San Francisco 49ers and Giants.

After growing up in Oakland and San Francisco and working throughout the Bay Area, Don considers Santa Rosa his favorite and permanent home. As he describes it, living in Rincon Valley for the past 25 years has allowed him to get to know his neighbors better than ever before. He knows that if he really needed help, he could count on them and that they, in turn, could rely on him as well. Don sees the importance of knowing your neighbors since in the event of an emergency they are more likely to be nearby since police and fire cannot be everywhere at once. That belief, and the community of neighbors he has helped foster, are what keep Don a proud Santa Rosan!

  Joanna Rojas  March 2012
Joanna Rojas

Joanna Rojas is the perfect person to be the first Mighty Peacock Award winner because her neighborhood activities in South Park inspired the work of others and ignited interest in reorganizing the dormant neighborhood association.

Joanna is a junior at Montgomery High School and president of the school’s Progressive Club. The group participation had dwindled and she decided to work with the club’s faculty sponsor, Mr. Greenwood, to start it up again. Although her family never had a plot at the South Park Community Garden, she noticed how messy it had gotten and wanted it to look better. She joined forces with her school’s Green Club, borrowed tools, and used Mr. Greenwood’s truck to organize a garden clean-up day. She created and distributed a flyer throughout the neighborhood inviting others to join. Although she had never known them personally, she knocked on the door of long-time South Park residents, Rachel and Joe Hart, because she saw that they were excellent gardeners and had been involved in neighborhood activities in the past. This connection would prove to be pivotal in the efforts that followed. Approximately 10-15 people came out to participate in the clean-up. They cut down branches from low hanging trees, cut back plants that had grown over the sidewalk, pulled weeds, brought in mulch to stop future weeds from growing, and removed debris such as mattresses and carpets. In a matter of hours, the once overgrown garden was visible from the street and much more attractive for everyone to enjoy.

Joanna moved to South Park six years ago after living on W 9th St. in Santa Rosa. She lived in Mexico until she was eight years old and started second grade not speaking English. Since middle school, she has had a series of inspirational teachers who have helped her get outside of her immediate experiences to view the world from a larger perspective. She credits them with influencing her values, stimulating her thinking, and deepening her interested in education and community service. These mentors include Mr. Zalunardo, Mrs. Murray, Mr. Norris, and Mr. Greenwood. Her summer days spent playing at the South Park Youth Center and hanging out in Martin Luther King, Jr. Park also connected her to her neighborhood. Joanna views her neighborhood differently than the reputation she feels it has within the larger City. The stereotype of it being a violent and dangerous gang neighborhood is not accurate to her. She has never been scared living there and believes most of the residents are nice, but private. The bigger issue to her is cleanliness and the quality of the roads. The Newhall Bike Path is viewed more as an alleyway for illegal dumping of garbage and household goods that get strewn around as children play with it and neighbors comb through it. Inspired by Joanna’s clean-up, Rachel and Joe Hart joined forces with resident Chance Massaro to re-start the Friends of South Park Neighborhood Association. The first meeting brought out about thirty neighbors with concerns such as trash and safety. With their third meeting already scheduled, the group has created subgroups to tackle identified neighborhood issues and Joanna is a member. She feels satisfied that her contribution accomplished something and that more is being done. Her initial idea to clean up the garden has led to neighbors getting together to make things even better.

With such a good head on her shoulders, her future seems bright. Joanna would like to stay in the area, attend the Santa Rosa Junior College to study business, and open up her own local market. For now, she can enjoy being Santa Rosa’s first official Mighty Peacock!