Hands Across the Valley Awards recognize outstanding Fresno-area volunteers

More than a dozen central San Joaquin Valley volunteers were recognized for their outstanding community service at an awards ceremony Tuesday evening at Fresno City Hall, where Mayor Ashley Swearengin also issued a new call for 2 million volunteer hours over the next year in Fresno.

“If it weren’t for you (volunteers), our communities would definitely suffer,” Swearengin told the crowd of about 40 people gathered in the Fresno City Council chambers.

Swearengin pointed back to the city’s “Serve Fresno” campaign, which was announced in 2010. That call for volunteer help — especially with cleaning up local parks — exceeded its goal of 1 million volunteer hours by 30% or 40%, Swearengin said.

“We would have had to shut parks down in the city of Fresno if not for the volunteers,” Swearengin said.

The mayor’s most recent call for service doubled this goal to 2 million hours over the next year.

Josh Madfis, the executive director of HandsOn Central California, which hosted the event, said that the “Serve Fresno 2.0” campaign will seek to funnel volunteer hours into several key areas of need: better education, less hunger, the beautification of Fresno’s parks and recreation system and other strong community priorities.

Madfis also recognized the award winners, who were nominated by various local businesses and community groups.

The event was the 47th community service award ceremony hosted by HandsOn Central California, which has coordinated local volunteer efforts since 1962. Madfis said that 128 people were nominated for this year’s honor. This number is up from the 20 volunteers nominated in 2013, Madfis said.

The awards ceremony ended with the presentation of lifetime achievement awards to Marion and the Rev. Sab Masada by HandOn Central California Board President Scott Uyesaka.

Both Sab, 85, and Marion, 82, are survivors of the internment camps used to house Japanese-Americans during World War II. They have shared their stories with local schools, universities and youth groups for several decades and compiled more than 65 such speaking engagements in 2014.

“Our country has kept quiet about this (Japanese internment) for too many decades,” Sab said. “More than 120,000 loyal Americans and legal aliens were uprooted and placed in concentration camps.”

Sab told the crowd that his friend, Fresno WWII veteran George Aki, explained the feeling of internment best.

“When they slammed the gates behind me in that camp, my faith in God died,” Sab recited. “My faith in America died. I died.”

Sab credited a 1965 documentary on internment by famed journalist Walter Cronkite with planting the seeds for decades of volunteer work.

“I had been told that my time in the camps was ‘a blessing in disguise’ and other hogwash like this,” Sab said. “But when I was looking at the camps again in 1965, it really made my blood boil. How did this happen?”

The award winners were:

• Roberto Couto, College Student Volunteer of the Year;

• Sandy Brown, School Volunteer of the Year;

• Pelco by Schneider Electric, Community Partnership Program Corporate/Business Volunteer of the Year;

• Patricia Nolen, Senior Volunteer of the Year;

• From Quanta to Quasars, Service Club/Organization Volunteer of the Year;

• Sab and Marion Masada, Lifetime Achievement Award;

• Zachary Shaath, Youth Volunteer of the Year;

• Tiffany Cooper, AmeriCorps Volunteer of the Year;

• Michael Adam, Love of Children Volunteer;

• Juanita Jackson, Parent Volunteer of the Year;

• Lindsay Callahan, Adult Volunteer of the Year.