A selection of other Pandemic Heroes

A participant poses with her guitar and wearing a mask. (Photo courtesy of Girls Rock Sacramento)

Our readers nominated educators, business owners and community groups

Julie Szukalski, teacher, Visions In Education charter school, Carmichael: My son’s teacher at his alma mater, Visions school. She really is the most vibrant teacher he’s ever had! She got him to graduation with honors in the middle of a global pandemic. Thank you immensely. I don’t have enough thank you’s for what she gave to our lil’ family! My son graduated with honors in math science and creative writing. We couldn’t have done it without her. She rocks!

Nkosazana Esperanza Shihada

Mary Wright and Pepper Von, founders, Step 1 Dance & Fitness, Sacramento: Step 1 has been the heart of dance in Sacramento for more than 30 years. Mary and Pepper have welcomed people of all ages and backgrounds, supporting and cultivating all styles of dance, fitness, education, history, culture and community. During the pandemic closures, Step 1 has adapted by hosting classes online, providing students and teachers the opportunities to continue maintaining their physical and mental health, fueling the life and passion of performing arts and preserving the sense of normalcy in times of unpredictable change.

For 30-plus years, they have built Step 1 into a loving family and a legacy. Due to an out-of-their-control leasing situation, their original Midtown location unfortunately must close, but Mary and Pepper are taking it in stride. They are now in process of relocating Step 1 to a new expanded space, always ready to welcome the community back home.

Stephanie Giang


Jesse Jones, owner of STAB! Comedy Theater.
(Photo courtesy of STAB! Comedy Theater)

Jesse P. Jones, owner, STAB! Comedy Theater, Sacramento: He streams shows seven days a week and is helping to keep art alive, not only for the artists who are displaced currently because of the novel coronavirus, but also providing content for people who are stuck at home and bored. Jesse Jones is the hero you’re looking for.

David Shapiro


John Eick, principal of Westlake Charter School in Natomas.
(Photo courtesy of Westlake Charter School)

John Eick, principal, Westlake Charter School, Natomas: Returning to school in the middle of a global pandemic and COVID is daunting. Thousands of parents wanting what’s best for their children and situation. In-person learning? Distance learning? Independent studies? A hybrid? Every child learns differently and it’s hard to know what the right answer is.

John Eick is the executive director of Westlake Charter School in Natomas, and he doesn’t purport to know all the answers. What he does know is that when the time comes for the 1,000 students to return, it will be done safely. Together with his team of administrators, teachers and staff, they’ve compiled a 29-page handbook so that families know what to expect and the protocols in place to manage each situation as it comes. While other school districts and schools are scrambling to figure it out, John’s been collaborating and communicating with our community. John is invaluable.

Nancy Kong-Vasquez

Tiffany Gretton, vice president, Woodland Swim Team: Tiffany has taken the lead to support the social, emotional and mental health needs of the Woodland Swim Team by serving as our COVID monitor and developing protocols and procedures that keep our community safe. She has given tirelessly of herself to do this work while trying to figure out how to teach her first grade class in distance learning. There aren’t enough words or deeds to thank her.

Hope Gawlick


Kevin Jones, medical director at Sutter Davis Hospital emergency department.
(Photo courtesy of Sierra Sacramento Medical Society)

Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society: SSVMS is a nonprofit medical society that represents more than 6,000 physicians in the Sacramento region and has served the medical community for 152 years. Recognizing the extreme shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers on the front lines, SSVMS partnered with the 3D printing community to design, manufacture and distribute face shields though Operation ShieldsUp program. Since March, Operation ShieldsUp has donated nearly 25,000 face shields, as well as thousands of N95 and fabric masks, to all Sacramento region hospitals, community clinics, nursing homes, hospices and senior living facilities. SSVMS stepped up when the traditional methods of procuring PPE were nonexistent due to the pandemic. The pandemic heroes are our health care workers. Thank you to SSVMS for keeping them safe.

John Wiesenfarth


Customers sit outside and socially distanced for Inside Jokes, Outside Laughs.
(Photo courtesy of Laughs Unlimited)

Jennifer Canfield, owner, Laughs Unlimited, Sacramento: She has worked tirelessly to find ways to provide paid work for us local comedians and keep customers safe and happy by making a whole new set-up outside in Old Sacramento!

Wendy Lewis

David Maestas, owner, West Coast Events, El Dorado Hills: With funding through El Dorado Hills Rotary Club, West Coast Events catering has fed more than 2,000 meals to families in need at The Upper Room shelter in Placerville.

Bill Tobin

Girls Rock Sacramento: In a year with everything canceled, disappointment is rampant among us all. For kids, summer vacation is especially hard to lose out on. Girls Rock Sacramento converted their summer camps to virtual/online sessions and proceeded to rock with their campers, creating community, empowerment and a reprieve from shelter-in-place. Run completely by volunteers who got creative and made it work, the campers in two sessions of camp were able to experience that special feeling of being a part of something bigger than themselves. This is the stuff of heroes!

Jenny Manzer

Parkside Pharmacy: A local business, which has the ability to make pharmaceuticals for their customers—when certain medicines were unavailable—Parkside was able to fill prescriptions and features items from other local vendors who truly live the “Support Local” ideal.

Joe Flores

Grant High School drum line: Besides all of the community involvement they have during normal conditions, these kids have risen above the depressing conditions of lockdown and isolation to show school and community spirit through music and message, and bring a vision of hope to people their own age who may not see that they have a role to play in reducing the spread of coronavirus. Most recently they created a mask promoting music video and bought and distributed masks to homeless people. Those are major contributions from teenagers who experience challenges everyday, besides having a large portion of last school year and a real summer vacation stolen from them.

Michael Cook



Grant High School Drum Line members pose in masks. (Photo courtesy of Grant High School Drum Line)

Editor’s note: These were selected from non-anonymous nominations and edited for style and grammar.

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