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Meet your five heroes of Sonoma County

Thanks to your input, we’ve honored five community heroes who have dedicated their lives to making our little slice of the world happier, healthier, more compassionate and more holistic. Each hero was nominated by YOU and chosen for the footprints they leave in our community, wherever they walk.Thank you to everyone who contributed to this project!

Larkin O’Leary is the founder of Common Ground Society. Photo by Amy Cathcart.
Larkin O’Leary is the founder of Common Ground Society. Photo by Amy Cathcart.

Meet Larkin O’Leary

About Larkin: Larkin believes in the importance of inclusion for all people and is on a mission to change the narrative. Her tagline is, “you don’t know what you don’t know, until you know. Larkin and her husband Peter are Sonoma County natives, and have both been teachers in the Rincon Valley Union School District since 2004. Larkin has taught various grades from preschool to middle school. She’s currently serving as the Vice Chair for the Sonoma CAC, and the President and Social Media Director of Common Ground Society.

James, their son, was born on St. Patrick’s day in 2014, is Larkin’s inspiration to create change. He is a goofy, fun-loving, friendly, sassy little guy who happens to have Down syndrome. He has a little sister, JuneBelle who we all adore. Larkin believes in the importance of inclusion for all people and is on a mission to change the narrative. Her tagline is, “you don’t know what you don’t know, until you know. So let’s learn!”

How Larkin has made a difference in our community: She started Common Ground Society to connect families who have children with disabilities and to help educate others & spread the word of acceptance & inclusion. CGS provides school assemblies and presentations to all who want to learn to Be the One!

Shirley Zindler is a founding board member of Dogwood Animal Rescue Project. Photo courtesy Dogwood Animal Project.
Shirley Zindler is a founding board member of Dogwood Animal Rescue Project. Photo courtesy Dogwood Animal Project.

Meet Shirley Zindler

About Shirley: Shirley is a founding board member of Dogwood Animal Rescue Project. She is the heart and soul of the organization and spends her day (and many nights) as a volunteer rescuing, feeding, medicating, bathing, bottle feeding and on and on - in her home. She is a true miracle worker. She is the main creator of the phenomenal Facebook page that has 43,000 followers.

How Shirley has made a difference in our community: She and her army of volunteers have raised enough money to medically treat really sick and injured animals. Dogwood funds spay and neuter programs here and in other CA communities to reduce the overpopulation of unwanted animals. They have funded more than 4,000 spay/neuters this year alone. They also help homeless people with their pets. Prior to Dogwood Shirley was an animal control officer for Sonoma County and often went above and beyond in her service to animals.

Rosa Reynoza serves on the Windsor Town Council. Pocho Photos photo.
Rosa Reynoza serves on the Windsor Town Council. Pocho Photos photo.

Meet Rosa Reynoza

About Rosa: Rosa has been a community volunteer and helper for decades. She works with many diverse groups of people. Rosa has been dedicated to the community since the first time I heard her name. She is constantly helping people, personally, while working through charitable organizations and in times of need. Most recently she found 3 locations to open as cooling centers during our 115F heatwave. Everything she does is because she loves to help and give back, not to get noticed or for recognition. She is a true local hero.

How Rosa has made a difference in our community: She helps the poor, the hungry, the graduating, and the elderly. She does taxes for seniors. She passes out food at the food pantry. There is so much that she does, it's just too much to list. Rosa personally arrange for two cooling centers to be open in Windsor on Labor Day when the regular cooling centers were closed for the holiday. She used her personal time to work with Churches to be open to the public with activities so people could come and cool off. She offered rides to and from the cooling centers. She helps the community in so many ways, big and small. Her impact is so important to the people who are the recipient of her assistance.

Bob Cannard of Green String Farm in Petaluma (ERIN SCOTT/ Farmsteads of the California Coast 2016)
Bob Cannard of Green String Farm in Petaluma (ERIN SCOTT/ Farmsteads of the California Coast 2016)

Meet Bob Cannard

About Bob: Bob Cannard is a living legend in Sonoma County, a farmer, a teacher, a grape grower and a quiet environmental activist who has lobbied for organic agriculture for most of his life. The son of farmer Bob Cannard, senior, and the father of farmer Ross Cannard, Bob has been a pioneer in sustainable, resilient agriculture for the past four decades. He taught at the Santa Rosa Junior College and educated several generations of farmers in Sonoma County, including people like Paul Wirtz, himself a legend farmer. Bob Cannard, Jr. founded Green String Farm, a landmark in the world of Sonoma County ag. Hundreds of student have interned there and worked in the fields, learning by doing

How Bob has made a difference in our community: Big big impact on farmers, ranchers, consumers, students, citizens in all walks of life. I have know Bob for decades and have written about him for publication. I don't know anyone who is more decent and honest and hard working than he. He has touched the lives of many generations. Students who have learned from him at the SRJC and at Green String Farm on the edge of Petaluma have gone one to be master farmers and gardeners all across northern California and the nation, too. Also for decades Bob supplied Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley with organic fruits and vegetables and has helped to popularize what's known as California cuisine which is based to a large extent on the seasonal and the local. He grows organic grapes for Fred Cline. He is a superb environmentalist. Bob is the living breathing incarnation of the local farmer with a national and a global reputation. He is thoroughly deserving and has been too little appreciated. He doesn't toot his own horn.

Elizabeth Smith was recently named Sebastopol’s Volunteer of the Year. Photo courtesy City of Sebastopol.
Elizabeth Smith was recently named Sebastopol’s Volunteer of the Year. Photo courtesy City of Sebastopol.

Meet Elizabeth Smith

About Elizabeth: Serving as a Trustee for Sebastopol Union School District, Board Member of Peacetown and Founder of the Peacetown Family Village, Founding President of Soroptimist International of West Sonoma County, Parent Leader for Parent Voices Sonoma County, liaison for Gravenstein Health Action Coalition, and the Community Manager of Sonoma County PACEs Connection. In 2021 she was recognized by the Sebastopol City Council as a "Local Who Makes a Difference" for her work around strengthening families/community and promoting Positive Childhood Experiences to buffer Adverse. Elizabeth has two kids one is in SUSD and the other a graduate of the only class of West County High School and now a college student at UC Berkeley. Elizabeth's motto in life is "Kuumba,“ Swahili for creatively leaving your community better than you found it.

How Elizabeth has made a difference in the community: Elizabeth is a volunteer extraordinary! She teaches yoga and mindfulness at our preschool , summer school and after school programs. She is offering a parent education night on October 20th as part of a grant and her work with PACES Connection (Positive and Adverse Childhood Experiences) and Resiliency. As a Board Trustee for the Sebastopol Union School District she is on our governance team and setting direction for the district. She selflessly gives her time to the community via Peacetown, Soroptimist, and the Gravenstein Health Action Coalition. Thanks Elizabeth for all you do!

Editor’s note: Each piece was written by the community member who nominated the hero. Being chosen as a community hero does not serve as a political endorsement by the Sonoma County Gazette; it simply means you’re a good person and we’re glad you exist in our community.

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