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Two of Sonoma Ecology Center’s Volunteers, Faline Howard and Jonathan Ling (standing to the outermost right), with other recipients of the 3rd Annual Heart of Sonoma County Volunteer Awards.

This past June, we were honored to attend the 3rd Annual Heart of Sonoma County Award ceremony, where three of our volunteers were nominated for the Volunteer of the Year Award, both youth and adult categories. These awards recognize and honor Sonoma County’s outstanding nonprofit volunteers, leaders and organizations. Randy Cook, our long-time volunteer at Sonoma Garden Park was nominated for the Volunteer of the Year award. Two of our volunteer nominees, Faline Howard and Jonathan Ling, won Youth Volunteer of the Year Award.

Two recipients of the 3rd Annual Heart of Sonoma Youth Volunteer of the Year Award are volunteers at Sonoma Ecology Center. Left: Jonathan Ling, volunteer at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Right: Faline Howard, Sonoma Ecology Center’s Earthling and Girl Scout.

Sonoma Ecology Center’s Earthling and Girl Scout Faline Howard was previously interviewed by ABC7 News for her project in restoring the monarch butterflies’ habitat by growing and giving away more than 1,700 narrow-leaf milkweed plants.

Our volunteer coordinator, Cali Pearce, remarked on the three volunteers’ contributions to our work in sustaining Sonoma Valley’s ecological health, Faline began working with us a little over a year ago when she came to us in need of an organization that could help develop and support her Girl Scout Gold Award. What started off as a small idea with small goals turned into a much bigger project with an even greater impact. Faline ended up taking on a global issue and in doing so, involved our community to improve local habitat on a grand scale. Her initiative to develop habitat for the endangered monarch butterflies and improve wildlife throughout Sonoma Valley, Santa Rosa, and Rohnert Park led Faline to propagate and produce 1,700 narrow-leaf milkweed plants, a gift to wildlife, students, and Sonoma County residents. Her seedlings were planted in numerous key locations in our county” Cali continues.

Faline was previously honored by the City of Sonoma Mayor for her work in restoring the monarch butterflies habitat by growing Native Narrowleaf Milkweed Plants. From left to right: Cindy Lindh, Faline’s project advisor, Girl Scout Faline Howard, and City of Sonoma Mayor Jack Ding. Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

“Jonathan has been volunteering with us at Sugarloaf going on three years now, doing a little bit of anything and a whole lot of everything. Jonathan proudly proclaims that he does whatever staff either doesn’t want to or doesn’t have the time to do, for example, random odds and ends from administrative duties to filling in as a hike sweep on a chaotic morning. When people think about volunteering at a State Park, many overlook the really crucial positions within the park like the Visitor Center, and want to volunteer outdoors doing something more glamorous like leading hikes, whereas Jonathan is content helping in any capacity needed, which, albeit is mostly in the Visitor Center” says Cali.

Jonathan Ling accepting his Youth Volunteer of the Year Award at the 3rd Annual Heart of Sonoma County Award Night.

Many may not know that Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, despite being owned by the state of California, is in fact community-operated. Team Sugarloaf started in 2012 as a partnership of five non-profit organizations, led by Sonoma Ecology Center, dedicated to the natural resources of Sonoma Valley and to providing access to the natural haven of 3,900 acres provided by Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Today, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park is operated solely by Sonoma Ecology Center. Team Sugarloaf and Sonoma Ecology Center rely on community donations, user fees, and volunteers to operate and maintain the park and all amenities.

Randy Cook, a regular volunteer at Sonoma Garden Park since 2014. 

Randy has been a volunteer with us at Sonoma Garden Park since 2014 and week after week, Randy shows up bright and early, rain or shine to work closely with Steve on whatever’s on the docket for that day, whether it be pruning the fruit trees, digging up blackberry, or planting starts. In a place that has so much that needs to get done and very few people to do it, we both appreciate and rely on Randy’s consistent help. Without his hard work in the garden, I could all but guarantee that we’d struggle to maintain our current level of beauty and produce production” she says.

Thank you, Randy, Jonathan, and Faline for your vital role in sustaining Sonoma Garden Park and the ecological health of our community. Congratulations, Jonathan and Faline, on your Youth Volunteer of the Year awards!