To honor outstanding volunteers of the year, The Sun this year introduced the Spirit of the Valley Award to celebrate the unsung heroes, the people who are making a difference in our community. The award celebrates the volunteer who has provided extraordinary, unpaid service over a significant period of time to a community cause in the Sonoma Valley.
She volunteers with the Master Gardeners, the Soroptimist Club and her church, but what keeps her busiest is her affiliation with Sonoma Valley Teen Services. She started with the group when she was working at the Sonoma Valley Bank, and has continued lending her financial expertise since retiring in 2002.
She was attracted to the group’s mission because of her bilingual training and travel, and interest in the Latino community.
Now she takes pride in the sense of empowerment the center can give to kids regardless of race or gender. Its many hands-on programs give teens real world experience, and real life accountability.
The result is a sense of pride and ownership.
“It’s nice to see kids gaining confidence and self-respect,” she said. Given responsibility and treated like adults, the teens “succeed and they fail and they grow. That’s how you discover who you are.”
Making mistakes, Hopeman says, “is how you learn. And this is a safe place to learn.”
Nomination essay by Cristin Lawrence, executive director of Sonoma Valley Teen Services
What began as a company assignment in 1999 evolved into a personal mission to improve the lives of kids in the Sonoma Valley.
Jean Hopeman was a banker at Sonoma Valley Bank and was urged by the President to join the Board of the Valley of the Moon Teen Center. She had all the right credentials; Spanish fluency, a facility with finances and writing, and the spirit of a team player.
When Jean retired from the bank in 2002, rather than pull away, her loyalty to the teens became personal. She wanted them to have a place of their own where kids’ activities included job training as well as recreation. So Jean joined the building committee for a new center. For three years, she examined financial feasibility, secured money, applied for permits: $1.4 million in grants, meetings with architects and construction crews, city and county inspections, and community sizzle through press releases to area newspapers,
The Teen Center opened in 2008. Not to rest, Jean was involved with personnel changes, fund development and program design. An opportunity arose in 2010 to merge the Teen Center with Operation Youth, which ran the teen-operated No Name Café in the high school. Jean’s optimism for the success of the merger motivated her to plunge again into the challenge of more change. Jean knew that a way to create a solid organization was to create joint programs with solid plans. So she did.
A year later Jean, in collaboration with others, wrote another significant proposal to establish a “Skills for Life Program” for the newly-merged Sonoma Valley Teen Services. She wrote the grant to Impact 100. The rest is history.
“Giving kids hands-on experience to learn life lessons is huge to me”, Jean told me. Teaching kids cooking and catering skills, having them attend job interview rehearsals, and explaining the expectations of employers floats Jean’s boat, so to speak. “I feel proud of the kids I’ve met these fifteen years – watching them grow confident and with our help find jobs and attend college, or start a business. I had no idea when I accepted a professional role in the governance of a small teen center back in 1999 that my own life would have grown as well.”
Jean has shared her talent and commitment to the teens of Sonoma Valley far more than sitting at Board meetings thinking strategic thoughts. She and her husband, David Chambers, are generous donors. Jean has raised nearly two million for us by writing proposals, finding in-kind resources, talking to her friends who now contribute, bragging about our achievements to the community, and giving thousands of hours so we could become the teen-specific resource for our kids in Sonoma Valley.
We are honored to nominate Jean Hopeman as Sonoma’s Volunteer Hero.
The award selection committee was: Dr. B.J. Bischoff, chair; Sonoma City Councilmember Laurie Gallian; Jennifer Gray, district aid to Supervisor Susan Gorin; Sun Editor Val Robichaud; and Cynthia Kramer, Sonoma Volunteer Center board member representing Sonoma Valley.