The idea to honor the seniors was the brainchild of Alamo resident Chia-Chia Chien, head of the Culture to Culture Foundation, and Danville senior activist Linda Stolow.
"These awards are to recognize seniors providing voluntary service to our community in the hope that it will inspire others to serve," said Chien. "Our focus is on what the older generation can do, not what they can't do."
About six months ago they began to spread the word among senior organizations throughout the county, asking people to nominate volunteers who go above and beyond.
At the awards ceremony they introduced all the nominees, then announced the eight finalists and those who nominated them. Next, with dramatic music filling the hall, they announced the four award-winning volunteers chosen to receive cash prizes of $250 and a plaque: Pat Dupont, Nora LaPointe, Tina Olton and Ray Zenoni.
Pat DuPont volunteers at Pinole Senior Center.
"Pat is an active Pinole Senior Center volunteer who averages over 100 hours per month," read her nomination. "Pat serves on our Board of Directors as Assistant Treasurer ... is the Club Membership Chair ... volunteers at the front desk three days a week; orders snack bar items ... works special event fundraisers ... helps oversee the senior exercise program."
"Pat is so actively involved that seniors often believe she is a paid staff member," the nomination stated. "People love Pat and often those who call will want to only talk to Pat."
LaVerne Gordon, who is almost 90, coordinates the AARP Tax-Aide for the Area Agency on Aging, as well as the Homeowner and Renter Assistance Programs for Seniors. She is also a board member of the Widowed Person Support Group, and develops its newsletters and brochures.
"She's always smiling, always helpful, has a sense of humor about most things, and never complains about anything (not even all of the intricacies involved with tax preparation!)," read her nomination.
Tina Olton volunteers in the county's Senior Peer Counseling Program.
"Tina has been with our program for over six years and has distinguished herself by accepting the most difficult challenges, visiting the most chaotic households, and providing help to the most impaired elders in the community," read her nomination. "Her interest in the human condition brings her to the doorstep of folks facing serious challenges ... She makes countless calls to county programs, senior housing facilities, community agencies, social workers, and transportation resources to set up services to improve the lives of her clients."
Ray Zenoni was nominated by the RSVP Team at the Volunteer Center for the East Bay, where he is a "valued volunteer" in its Senior Outreach Services, participating in Meals on Wheels and Friendly Visitors, and lending his talents in graphic design.
"He leads, supports and inspires others through kindness, intelligence, and, of course, humor/big big smile," said his nomination. "Ray has been driving two senior citizens with Parkinson's disease to their exercise class in Orinda and they not only are grateful for the rides but equally as thrilled with his company."
The other four in the final eight were LaVerne Gordon, Harry Jayasingha, Earle Ormiston and Sandra Smith. All the top eight received certificates from the offices of Assemblyman Guy Houston, Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier and state Sen. Tom Torlakson, plus they and their nominators were presented with plants.
The awards ceremony was followed by entertainment and a buffet for the 200 or so attendees.
Judges were John Cottrell, director of Aging and Adult Services for Contra Costa County; Mei Sun Li, coordinator for Lafayette Senior Services; Kenra Luke, director of the Pleasant Hill Senior Center; Barbara Smith, head of the county's Area on Aging; and Dolores Fox Ciardelli, editor of the Danville Weekly.
Donors were Dee Dee Li-Kha and Lori Murphy from Bank of the West, C.C. Yin from APAPA and Yin's McDonald's, Saul Yeung from Central Computer, Angela Chiang, Andrew Wong and Safeway.