Honoring San Jose’s Unsung Heroes

In a sight to behold, Obed Rivera stood in front of a crowd of 300 volunteers, city of San Jose staff, elected officials, family and neighbors, as he accepted the Anti-Litter Program Volunteer of the Year Award. The award was one of several presented at the annual volunteer appreciation event hosted earlier this month by Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services (PRNS).

This event is always a fun day for me, because it is a celebration of hard work done by volunteers. I get to emcee and share in the pride of celebrating some of the city’s least known but most important citizens. Some of these volunteers work solo, some as couples, some in family groups and still others in larger neighborhood groups, taking on tasks large and small.

These people clear trails of all kinds of debris, trash and weeds. They clean parks by picking up litter, erasing and painting over graffiti and the pathetically banal vandalism of taggers. These volunteers range in age from teens to retirees and sometimes include children as part of family efforts. These people are an amazing group of giving souls who really do care about their community in a big way.

Every minute of hosting the event is a pleasure. I believe strongly in the volunteer efforts of parks, trails and the community in general. With limited budgets, there is no question that the future of our parks and trails will rely on private sector donations from individuals, small businesses, community groups and corporations.

Rick Bernard is a great example of this selfless work ethic. A relatively new volunteer, he is co-recipient of the Adopt-A-Park Volunteer of the Year Award, for his dedication to Lenzen Park. He has trimmed, weeded and pruned much of the park, regularly rakes leaves out of the gutters, and he has raised funds and donated time to plant drought-resistant plants. He’d like to make Lenzen a significant gathering spot for the neighborhood.

Vince Navarra shared the honors with Rick Bernard. I previously wrote about Vince’s efforts to rid Hamman Park of some unsavory people through a great partnership with the San Jose Police Department. Hamman Park remains the wonderful community treasure it has always been, even as budget cuts have reduced the city’s ability to do the job. Vince has led the neighborhood in completing the task of protecting the park.

The Anti-Graffiti Volunteer of the Year Award went to Carl Huffman, who lives in the downtown area and spends hours each month abating graffiti. Carl not only does the work of erasing the vandalism, but he photographs “before” and “after” to document the work, which helps reduce the overall problem and improve the efforts of all anti-graffiti work.

I’m only citing a few of the hundreds of volunteers here. There are so many more to thank.

James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at [email protected]  or 408.893.PARK.

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