The Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County, along with presenting sponsor Santa Cruz Community Credit Union, will celebrate the 2020 Be the Difference Awards honoring individuals, groups and businesses that transform Santa Cruz County through volunteerism. The top honorees are:
Individuals: Penny Cotter, Foster Andersen
Business: UPS Santa Cruz
Nonprofit: Youth N.O.W.
Group: UCSC Molecular Diagnostic Lab
This year the awards gala happened online via a pre-recorded watch party celebration Oct. 21 on the Volunteer Center website, Facebook page and YouTube channel.
KION-TV 5/46 provided video highlights of the winners and all 55 nominees have been recognized throughout the show.
“While this year will look like never before in our 14-year history of the awards, we promise an incredible hour of lunchtime inspiration and entertainment — social distance style,” said Volunteer Center Director of Communications Christine Loewe, noting that special guests include local singer-guitarist James Durbin of American Idol fame.
“Given the incredible challenges we have faced in 2020, these awards serve as our opportunity to take a break from the news cycle and shine a light on the incredible resilience of Santa Cruz County,” Loewe said. “We could all use a bit of good news and we think hearing about those who do good in our community will serve as a much needed moment of joy as we close out October.”
2020 Be The Difference Award
Foster Andersen is a true legend in Santa Cruz County. Through his work and volunteer activities he encourages community members of all abilities to participate in outdoor recreation activities, face new challenges, and widen the circle of community advocacy.
He is most known as the founder and Executive Director of Shared Adventures, a nonprofit devoted to increasing recreational opportunities for disabled individuals. Starting in 1992 with the first Day on the Beach event, Shared Adventures has grown to an operation that hosts 80+ events and serves 2000+ participants each year.
Additionally, he has served as a member of the Santa Cruz County Commission on Disabilities for 16 years, has been on the advisory board of the Santa Cruz County In-Home Support Services program for 10 years, serves as the ADA advisory member of the Rail to Trail Commission and as the ADA advisory member of the SC County State Parks Commission.
Santa Cruz County is a more accessible and inclusive community due to his dedication.
When the pandemic hit Santa Cruz County, Penny saw a very clear need to get masks into the hands of those who needed them and therefore she decided to establish the FB group SC Mask Sewers. At the outset, there were five sewers and that group has now grown to more than 415.
In the last six months, this collective of talented volunteers has delivered more than 16,000 masks to the community. Penny has been the key organizer and facilitator of this important process.
Folks from all over the county show up at her door to access supplies and drop of masks. She has coordinated the distribution to Santa Cruz County law enforcement, first responders, the Metro, doctors, nurses, health care providers (for-profit and nonprofit), family organizations, mental health, nursing home and the list goes on.
Her enthusiasm for the group’s efforts has united a group of men, women, and children in meeting a need for the community while instilling pride in their ability to contribute. She is a beacon of community volunteerism.
UPS Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz UPS staff, led by Manager Joe Medina, have volunteered thousands of hours over years. Approximately 40 of their staff regularly volunteer with community projects with their biggest volunteer activity being the Stuff the Bus campaign put on by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education.
UPS staff volunteer their time to transport donations of school supplies where they need to go throughout the county. During this year’s wildfire emergency in Santa Cruz County, UPS Santa Cruz teamed up with the Volunteer Center and 15 members of their team volunteered on their day off to help at the Fire Recovery Donation Warehouse in Santa Cruz.
UPS Santa Cruz has chosen to make the community a part of their bottom line.
With a stalwart crew of volunteers, Youth N.O.W. delivers an after school program in Watsonville that provides a safe welcoming place for youth to thrive academically and socially. Volunteers support student’s academic success by providing homework help, 1:1 tutoring, and more.
Youth N.O.W. has served 100+ students annually, providing them safety and guidance to make positive choices. Volunteers and staff partner together to create new experiences for youth such as an overnight backpacking trip, slacklining, guitar lessons, ice skating field trips, and a variety of art lessons, cooking, and enrichment activities.
Youth N.O.W.’s outcomes show that 80% of students maintain or improve their grades, all students graduate high school, and 85% go on to further education (2- or 4-year, or career tech).
Their current collaborations extend to 20+ organizations to provide additional interventions, classes, activities and volunteer opportunities.
University of California, Santa Cruz Molecular Diagnostic Lab
In only four months they initiated the process for licensing, received approval from federal and state agencies, and developed the capacity to test 400 people per day in a lab they built from scratch.
Once established, the lab received a grant from the Santa Cruz Community Foundation to partner up with health-care nonprofits Salud Para La Gente and Santa Cruz Community Health Centers to provide testing for low-income and vulnerable residents.
Thanks to an additional partnership with the County of Santa Cruz to purchase more lab equipment, they are now capable of processioning 800 tests per day.
This team created this lab outside of their normal work responsibilities and burned the midnight oil to offer more testing to our community.