2017 SONC Volunteers of the Year

Every year, there are thousands of volunteers who dedicate their time and resources to the athletes of Special Olympics Northern California (SONC). Selecting just a few to recognize is a very difficult task.

Each of these individuals has stood out in their areas of contribution and has been nominated by their peers for their dedication, service and selfless attitudes to support our athletes. Thank you to everyone who submitted nominations and congratulations to our 2017 honorees!

Coach Volunteer of the Year

Name: Melanie Kakalec
Area: Santa Clara County
Role: Head Coach for Basketball, Track & Field, Softball and Flag Football; Fundraising Volunteer

From Her Nominations:

“Melanie goes above and beyond to help athletes both on and off the field. She is a reliable coach in that she not only is always at the practice on time, but she is also always very kind to the athletes and volunteers. She does a great job including all the athletes and encouraging them to thrive at their own pace. I cannot think of someone who deserves this award more!”

“Melanie really cares about her athletes. She would arranged transportation for athletes in need. She would throw birthday party for underprivileged athletes and help homeless athletes get off the streets. She scheduled her personal life around these athletes. She really goes above and beyond as a coach.

“Coach Melanie goes above and beyond because she is really smart, kind and funny and can be serious when she needs to be.  She makes me and my teammates always feel safe when we play and practice.  I was really nervous to play because it was my first time playing basketball, but Coach Melanie supported me and helped me feel less nervous.”

*Nominees included Adriana Smith, Dan Fox, Dirk Dino, Judy Waller, Kathi Barber, Melinda Susan, Rob Butler, Steve and Jennifer Highland

Sports Volunteer of the Year

Name: Mike Howland
Area: Sacramento County
Role: Games Management Team, Polar Plunge Committee

From His Nominations:

“Mike has been the Sacramento Polar Plunge Committee Chairperson for the last five years, since we started the Sacramento Plunge. He has organized not only other committee members, but has also gone out to speak to various sponsors and plunge participants to share the Special Olympics story. Mike also serves as a Games Management Team member for Regional Basketball, Regional Softball, Regional Bowling, Regional Soccer and has overseen/ran the tennis venue at the Rocklin Spring Games the last two years. He also has served on Summer Games Swimming GMT for the past decade. Recently, Mike agreed to be the coach to an athlete for the Global Messenger Program.”

*Nominees included Kayla Strelo, Robert Buckman, Sterling Bobbitt, Ron Melvin, Kayla Nakamoto                

Philanthropy Volunteer of the Year

Name: Steve Wymer
Area: Santa Clara County
Role: VP of Communications & Policy, Nextdoor

From His Nominations:

“Steve is passionate about the mission of SONC and genuinely cares about the athletes. Along with personally donating to the organization, he serves as master of ceremonies at the annual Silicon Valley Bocce Bash – helping the event generate more than $50,000 each year. Steve has connected SONC to numerous high-level individuals and corporations; including Canyon Snow Consulting, which helped secure $100,000 in funding from Santa Clara County in 2017. When he worked at TiVo, Steve also helped leverage a $100,000 grant for SONC. He continues to be a true champion in supporting children and adults with intellectual disabilities!”

Schools Program Volunteer of the Year

Name: Troy Brown
Area: Fresno County
Role: Adaptive Physical Education Teacher

From His Nominations:

“Mr. Brown has been instrumental in starting Unified Sports leagues at the high school level within the Fresno Unified School District (FUSD). He has been involved with Special Olympics in some capacity over the last 20 years and last year was gracious enough to lead FUSD in starting their Unified Sports leagues. Mr. Brown worked with every high school in Fresno to ensure that everyone had a positive start with Unified Sports. SONC is beyond fortunate to have someone of Mr. Brown's abilities leading Unified Sports within the most populous school district that we serve.”

*Nominees included Roman Gonzalez, Morris Tuazon, Rebecca Tock, Verna Castro, Gil Lemmon, Ed Zander, Lee Taylor, Nate Severin

LETR Volunteer of the Year

Name: Todd Shulman
Area: Napa County
Role: Police Sergeant

From His Nominations:

“Todd is a sergeant with the City of Napa and has been volunteering as a part of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics (LETR) for more than a decade. He organized the very first Torch Run in Napa County and has developed significant fundraising events through the years, including “An Evening with the Stars” wine and bocce fundraiser. Todd serves as the Napa County LETR Coordinator, LETR Region VII Coordinator, and is on the Northern California LETR Executive Committee.”

*Nominees included Christa Trinchera, Sabrina Harris, Cristal Sanchez

Rookie Volunteer of the Year

Name: Grace Garzini
Area: Sonoma County
Role: Student Leader, Coach, Fundraising Volunteer

From Her Nominations:

“Even though she was new, Grace immediately made an impact with our athletes and coached multiple sports. She dedicated most of her weekends to Special Olympics and would help out during multiple practices in a day. As a student at Cardinal Newman High School, a portion of Grace’s school was burned in the October 2017 wildfires. Even though she was displaced with her education, Grace was committed to supporting the athletes and is a big part of our Special Olympics family. She is an amazing young lady with a beautiful heart.”

*Nominees included Rick Stoops, Helina Nadew

Youth Volunteers of the Year

Names: Amy Young and Peyton Garner
Area: Madera County
Roles: Seniors at Yosemite High School

From Their Nominations:

“Amy and Peyton noticed that they had a big problem on their campus: students with special needs were not being included. In August, they reached out to SONC to see how they could form a Special Olympics team. Amy and Peyton put together a Unified Soccer Team in which they competed in a Schools Competition in October and fundraised on their own to buy uniforms. Later in the school year, Amy and Peyton put together an R-Word rally in which 600 of their classmates attended, and they both gave amazing speeches. Because of these two girls, Yosemite High School is now a Special Olympics Unified Champion School. I have never seen two high school students with such an amazing work ethic and dedication to a cause. Amy and Peyton are changing the culture on their campus every day.”

*Nominees included Harvey Rouleau, Kaitlyn Johnson, Arianna Tomasello, Maxwell Green

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