Themes of basketball, building and community service were woven through Menlo Park's 41st Golden Acorn Awards ceremony, hosted by the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 28 at the Stanford Park Hotel.
The awards, given to recognize community service and professional excellence, went to: Shay Patel, 14, who helps kids get involved in sports; Rebuilding Together Peninsula, which mobilizes volunteers to repair and renovate community facilities and homes; Juanita Croft, a volunteer who has helped kids and seniors learn computer skills; Rex Ianson, a longtime firefighter and board member of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District; Arlinda Heineck, who oversees the city's building and planning divisions; and the Menlo Park Rotary Club, which provides college scholarship for local high school students.
Stanford Women's Basketball Coach and Menlo Park resident Tara VanDerveer gave the keynote address at the event, sharing stories and lessons she's learned from the women she's coached.
Apropos of basketball, award-winner Shay Patel, an eighth-grader at Menlo School in Atherton, was recognized for starting, when he was in the fifth grade, "Alley Oop Kids," an effort to help kids from lower-income families learn basketball skills.
While not a formal nonprofit, Alley Oop Kids has raised funds to purchase sports supply packages for students in the Ravenswood City School District and tickets to sporting event for children in foster families in San Mateo County.
This past summer, he, his friends and his coaches volunteered to run a summer coaching camp for fifth-graders in the Ravenswood district.
The building theme was reflected in two of the awards.
Rebuilding Together Peninsula, a local nonprofit, was recognized for mobilizing more than 1,500 volunteers to repair and renovate community facilities and the homes of vulnerable people, such as seniors, veterans and people with disabilities.
Arlinda Heineck, Menlo Park's community development director, was honored for her professional excellence in overseeing Menlo Park's building and planning divisions at a time when many development projects are on the city's plate.
"I have a true passion for the work that I do, and it's important to me," she said in accepting the award. "I'm proud to have served and built Menlo Park into a great community, but I also firmly believe that I am only a member of a larger community that works together to get things done."
After Juanita Croft retired in 2003 as a computer lab supervisor at Foothill College, she got involved in volunteering on Menlo Park advisory committees and teaching a soul line dancing class at the Onetta Harris Community Center.
A resident of the Belle Haven area of Menlo Park, she also found a way to combine her computer skills with her passion for the community by starting a program to help kids gain computer literacy. Called the "Mouse Squad," the program has since shifted focus to helping older adults develop computer skills.
She told the Almanac she's seen her efforts impact local lives: one young student she taught just graduated from high school with a college scholarship.
Award-winner Rex Ianson, a veteran firefighter, recently resigned from the governing board of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District and moved to Sisters, Oregon, with his wife.
He devoted 48 years of service to the district, including 12 years as a board member.
The most challenging local fire he responded to, according to Menlo Park Mayor Kirsten Keith (the event's emcee), was a house fire that was ruled an arson on Fordham Street in East Palo Alto in 1997. Nine people died, five of whom were children.
Mr. Ianson, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War, was a founding member of the district's urban search and rescue task force and had responded to disasters across the U.S., including 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.
"I did my job because I loved it," he said. "I accept this humbly on behalf of first responders, especially the ones in this district that serve the community."
The other winner, the Rotary Club of Menlo Park, gives more than $100,000 a year in college scholarships to local high school students, conducts the annual Tour de Menlo bike ride that raises money for scholarships and local nonprofits, and makes grants to organizations that support youth education and health.