Cherisse White, Cecelia Ponzini will join six other award recipients at a March 2 celebration gala
Morgan Hill is blessed with an abundance of nonprofit organizations and residents making the quality of life better for everyone in our community. As part of its Celebrate awards surprise announcements, the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce honored the Edward Boss Prado Foundation as the 2019 Nonprofit of the Year and hair salon owner Cherisse White as the 2019 Volunteer of the Year.
A team of chamber ambassadors and local citizens gathered outside the Prado Foundation’s Cecelia’s Closet on a Nov. 20 grey morning and marched across the gravel parking lot into the office.
“I don’t have all my makeup on,” said Cecelia Ponzini, as she saw chamber CEO/President John Horner, carrying flowers and a framed certificate, step through the door into the front room. A stream of other people followed him in.
“Too bad,” Horner said. “You look perfect.” He presented the bouquet to her and told her the Prado Foundation she established five years ago had been selected as the 2019 Nonprofit of the Year.
The foundation manages about 15 programs that serve the South Valley region’s families and others in need. Among them are the No Child Goes Unfed program, which provides funding for students in financial need to receive a lunch at school; Cecelia’s Closet and Food Pantry, which helps families in real need through referrals from local service agencies; an anti-bullying program; Walking with Dignity, which provides shoes for kids in need through local schools; Share the Runway, which serves Sobrato and Live Oak High schools by providing students in need with prom dresses and accessories; and Fit 4 Fall, which provides youngsters in need with good-quality clothes and other accessories as they start the school year in August. The foundation supports other organizations including the El Toro Youth Center, the Learning and Loving Center, Community Solutions, and Gilroy-based Rebekah’s Children’s Services
Ponzini was the chamber’s 2014 Woman of the Year.
Prado Foundation volunteer Laura Gonzalez-Escoto spends time at Cecelia’s Closet most Tuesday mornings helping families.
“I really can’t think of any movement like this that has got so many people involved all at the same time for all the right reasons,” she said. “This foundation — and particularly Cecelia — has really created such a big, wide, loving tent. At this time in our nation, we need more Cecelias.”
Prado Foundation board member Michelle McKay agreed that Ponzini is a driving force for good in the South Valley community and recalled her amazement at how far the foundation has come since it was established in 2013.
“She was as energetic then as she is today,” McKay said. “One of the most amazing things that I’ve heard about the foundation and Cecelia’s Closet is that it gives others like us the opportunity to give back. And that’s huge. And it’s not just donating money and not just donating goods, but to physically give of yourself.”
Horner serves as a foundation board member as well.
“We have a thing we all say about why we work so hard with you,” he told Ponzini at the surprise announcement. “And it’s a combination of a whole lot of affection and a little bit of fear. You have a formula that works and we’re all proud of you.”
Later that day at her salon in a shopping center on Third Street in downtown, longtime Morgan Hill resident Cherise White was busying styling Jackson Academy of Math and Music kindergartner Annabella’s hair when she saw chamber ambassador Leonette Stafford step in carrying flowers, followed by then-Mayor Steve Tate carrying a bouquet of flowers and about 10 other people
“What’s going on. I’m freaking out right now,” White said.
She received the bouquet and a hug from Tate who told her she was selected as the 2019 Volunteer of the Year by the Chamber’s staff.
“No way!” she said and started screaming in delight, immediately apologizing “Sorry Annabella” to her young client in the salon chair.
White helps out the community with various activities including giving senior citizens free haircuts once a month at the Senior Center, her involvement with the South Valley Wine Auction, her support of local animal organizations through an annual pet wash, her fundraising for soccer clubs as well as other school boosters involvement.
“On behalf the chamber, I’m really delighted to present this award. I’m really sorry it didn’t happen sooner,” Horner said. “It must have been our oversight because you’ve deserved this for a long time. You’re spirit of supporting the community, the chamber, the students, every Rock the Mock since prehistoric times. You really embody the spirit of doing well for the community.”
Stafford added: “You make a difference in our community. We are so thrilled that you’re the volunteer of the year.”
The Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce will celebrate all eight honorees at its 2019 Celebrate awards dinner gala at Guglielmo Winery March 2. They are: Man of Year Rich Firato, Woman of the Year Karen Crane, Volunteer of the Year Cherisse White, Nonprofit of the Year Edward Boss Prado Foundation, Educator of the Year Dr. Kathleen Rose (superintendent/president of Gavilan Community College), Student of the Year Alexis Munson (senior at Live Oak High School), Large Business of the Year Pinnacle Bank, and Small Business of the Year Morgan Hill Life newspaper.