Honoring Napa's heroes

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(Editor's note: This column from the Napa Chamber of Commerce will be a regular feature of Napa News.)

Building a better community is key to the Chamber of Commerce’s success in fostering the growth of local businesses. One way we focus on our local community each year is by honoring the local heroes who make the Napa Valley an extraordinary place to call home.

For the seventh year, we invited the public to nominate individuals and nonprofit organizations demonstrating outstanding commitment, creativity and leadership to the valley. And their stories remind us why Napa Valley is such an incredible place to live and work.

The historic hotel manager – a third generation Napan with more than 100 relatives living in the Valley – who relishes the opportunity to welcome newcomers here every day. The doctor who helped secure health care for 1,300 local low-income children, and then documented how it improves their performance in school and their parents’ performance on the job.  The event coordinator for children’s charities who grew up in 30 different foster families and has since taken more than 100 foster boys into her own home.

These are among the caring citizens who make the Napa Valley not merely a geographical spot but a genuine community. We are proud to honor these everyday heroes at our annual Napa Valley Community Awards this month.

 This year’s winners include:

-- Outstanding Hospitality Tourism winner Sara Brooks, president of the Downtown Association, who has for the past seven years been general manager of the Historic Napa Mill and Napa River Inn. A former single mom who put herself through college while working her way up, she is known for her joie de vivre and says she loves going to work every morning because “it never gets boring.”

-- Outstanding Community Booster Doris Gentry, a tireless trumpeter of civic engagement who coordinates endeavors including the Napa Fourth of July Parade and the annual Chocolate and Wine Event, a fundraiser for foster families and children that features 30 wine makers and 30 chocolatiers. She also hosts the twice-monthly community-focused TV show “On the Edge With Doris” and lives by her grandmother’s motto: “It’s better to burn out than to rust.”

-- Outstanding Nonprofit Employee Craig Smith, executive director of the Downtown Napa Association and a leader of the town’s riverfront renaissance. No longer the wine country downtown that tourism forgot, downtown Napa has become a hub of sophistication due in part to Smith’s ability to collaborate with anyone. The result, he has said, is the river that was once considered a liability has instead become “our biggest asset.”

-- Outstanding Napa Valley Community College Students Leila Carmel Norris and Nicholas Glaccio, whom the judges determined were both stellar students deserving of the honor. In addition to classes, Glaccio works as a server on the Napa Valley Wine Train and volunteers photographing community events, while Norris moved to Napa to enroll in the college’s Associate’s Program in Hospitality and Tourism Management and plans to eventually open a bed-and-breakfast inn here.

-- Outstanding Healthcare Professional Dr. James Cotter, a Kaiser Permanente physician who serves on the board of Children’s Health Initiative Napa County -- a nonprofit channeling public and private funding toward ensuring that children have access to comprehensive, quality healthcare. An advocate who stresses that children’s health care is in everyone’s best interest, he also has researched how to increase the probability that low-income children receive recommended vaccinations.

-- Outstanding Public Safety Person John Robertson, Napa County’s new sheriff-coroner. A 22-year veteran of the sheriff’s department who had been its second-in-command, he is a longtime member of the International Association of Bomb Technicians, has been active on the Napa County Mental Health Board and Napa County Gang and Youth Violence Commission, and is a big proponent of face-to-face community policing.

We’ll reveal this year’s Outstanding Teacher and Outstanding Nonprofit Organization at the awards ceremony. Nominations for nonprofit include:

-- Girls on the Run Napa Valley is an organization that encouraged girls to “run, skip, leap, sprint, hope, sail, glide, roll or cartwheel all the way to the finish line.” A local branch of a nationwide organization, it meets with girls from grades three to eight twice weekly for 10 weeks during the fall and spring, preparing them to complete a community service project and a 5K “fun run.”

-- Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center takes its name from the Spanish for “Open Doors” and is a collaboration of nonprofits addressing the needs of more than 500 Latino families and others every year. That includes on-site education programs, referrals, English as a second language classes, a tax clinic, and its Middle School Connections program for students and their parents.

-- Queen of the Valley Medical Center was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange in 1958 and has become the largest, most comprehensive health care facility in the region. The nonprofit hospital was the first Napa County facility to offer MRIs (magnetic resonance imagining), first to purchase a linear accelerator, and the only area facility to offer robotic surgery options via the Da Vinci Surgical System....

Chris Messina is the president and CEO of the Napa Chamber of Commerce, 707-226-7455,

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