Volunteer heroes

Jeff vonKaenel

Sitting on a bench outside the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors’ building, I was chillin’ with the Orangevale Chamber of Commerce Junior Honorary Mayor Clay Gaunt, who was thoroughly enjoying his well-deserved doughnut and cookie. The 12-year-old Woodside Junior High student had just received a Hero of Human Service award presented by the Human Service Coordinating Council.

A half-century younger than the median age of the other 15 hero recipients, Clay told me that he started volunteering for the Fluff Buddies at the age of 8. This group takes care of kittens while they’re waiting to be adopted. But this was merely the beginning of Gaunt’s volunteering efforts. He has worked for the Multiple Dystrophy Association, and now he is launching his own nonprofit. After presenting me with his junior honorary mayor business card, Gaunt told me about his Fill a Heart for Kids project. He intends to collect toys, books and other items to be distributed to hospital patients. Like the other hero recipients, Gaunt spoke eloquently about the joy of volunteering.

Created in 1994 as an advisory body to the board of supervisors on matters relating to health and human services planning and policy, the HSCC has presented hero awards annually for the last five years.

The event was really cool. No fanfare, just remarkable people and their fans gathered in the board of supervisors’ chambers. The supervisors asked each hero to describe why they were receiving the award. Each incredible, dedicated, hard-working, generous, loving hero then said a few words.

Tolstoy said: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Even though these award recipients came from dramatically different backgrounds, their words tended to be pretty similar. “I am so touched by the award. … I get more than I receive. … I want to thank my spouse. … I love every minute of giving. … I would like to thank my cheering section.”

All the heroes were so wonderful. So full of life, so full of love.

Meeting heroes like Clay Gaunt and Hilda Curry was inspiring. Ms. Curry is involved in the Foster Grandparent Program and has put in countless hours volunteering at the Joseph Sims Elementary School in Elk Grove. She started volunteering at the school because her granddaughter was there. Naturally her granddaughter calls her Grandma. So all the other kids started calling her Grandma. I asked her what she does when one of the hundreds of children call her Grandma Curry?

Her face immediately lit up thinking of her youthful fan club. I just say, “Hi, Baby.”

Ada Fong,
Al Baldwin,
Anita Barnes,
Betty Reuben,
Chris Faria,
Clay Gaunt,
Hilda Curry,
James Donoghue,
Laura Walker,
Leoma Lee,
Leonard Lew,
LeRoy Kuykendall,
Officer Manuel Saenz,
Michelle Pearson,
Dr. Orie Alfred Brown Sr.,
Shelia Boxley.

Our content is free, but not free to produce

If you value our local news, arts and entertainment coverage, become an SN&R supporter with a one-time or recurring donation. Help us keep our reporters at work, bringing you the stories that need to be told.


Stay Updated

For the latest local news, arts and entertainment, sign up for our newsletter.
We'll tell you the story behind the story.

About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.