“Everybody needs a spark,” observed Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, as he kicked off the seventh annual James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards luncheon ceremony in Sacramento. For a capacity crowd of over 200 guests, in the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel ballroom, there was plenty of inspiration to go around, as we honored the five 2012 award recipients, whose path-breaking solutions are addressing problems in the fields of health care, education, youth development and agriculture. As Steinberg noted, the annual award ceremony offers lawmakers and policy experts “a chance…to get together and reflect on all that is good in California.”
The day of celebration for our five honorees began in the state Capitol, where state Assemblymembers Paul Fong, David Valadao and Sandré Swanson presented each award recipient with a framed Assembly resolution honoring his or her work. (Assembly Speaker John Perez and Assemblymember Bill Monning authored two of the resolutions but were unable to attend the morning presentation.) During the event, Assemblymember Fong told Christa Gannon, head of Fresh Lifelines for Youth and one of this year’s awardees, “Thank you for saving the state a bunch of money by doing the work that you do!”
More commendations came at the luncheon, in remarks from a distinguished group of public officials:
- State Senator Bill Emmerson, Vice Chair of the Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, presented the award to Patricia Dennehy, of Glide Health Services. Her work, Emmerson said, is demonstrating that nurse-run health clinics “can expand access to health care while also reducing costs.”
- Matthew Cate secretary of the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation, presented the award to Christa Gannon, of Fresh Lifelines for Youth, praising her for showing Californians that “it’s possible to think differently about juvenile justice.”
- A.G. Kawamura, former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, presented the award to Craig McNamara, founder of the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, saying he had accomplished the “miracle” of encouraging the thousands of yearly visitors to his farm to “understand, accept and look forward to doing something with soil.”
- State Senator Curren Price, Chair of the Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee, presented the award to Olis Simmons of Youth UpRising in Oakland. He called her talent at collaborating with different public agencies, from police to public education officials “a lesson for the whole state in a world of do more with less.”
- Tom Torlakson, the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, presented the award to Carolyn Laub, executive director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, noting that her organization “helps all of our students understand and value all students.”
Each awardee received a standing ovation from an audience of legislators, policymakers, advocates and family members. Following the luncheon, the group was introduced and praised on the floor of the state Senate, a recognition organized by State Senator Lois Wolk.
Leading a panel discussion after the award presentations, Irvine President and CEO Jim Canales picked up on a common theme this year. In the midst of a polarized and budget-stressed environment, Canales told the awardees, “each of you, in different ways, has helped to reframe the conversation” about a critical state issue.
Awardees, for their part, said they had much to be optimistic about. “In every crisis, there’s an opportunity,” Simmons said. “When the economy bottomed out, people became more eager to come forward to work together.”
The Leadership Awards are given each year to Californians who are implementing innovative, effective solutions to major state issues. Nominees may come from the public, private or nonprofit sector. The Foundation provides each award recipient with $125,000. At least $100,000 of that is meant to provide support for the leader’s organization or project, while up to $25,000 may be used for professional or organizational development. Recipients also receive guidance and support in sharing their approaches with policymakers and colleagues.
This year’s luncheon also marked the start of the nomination process for 2013. We encourage you to think of someone you know who is breaking through on a significant issue for California and nominate him or her for next year’s group of inspirational leaders. The deadline for nominations is March 30.