Annual event showcases men, women, students, businesses, nonprofits who make a difference

By Staff Report

Gilroy’s everyday heroes enrich the fabric of the community in ways big and small. Their inspirational stories took center stage at the 2023 Spice of Life Awards Dinner hosted the evening of Aug. 26, at Fortino Winery.

The Gilroy Chamber of Commerce’s annual celebratory event puts a spotlight on the behind-the-scenes work of community contributors. About 300 guests will raise a glass to toast individuals, businesses, and nonprofit organizations, including those contributing to lift up youth, advocating for those in need, spearheading economic development, or simply brightening lives with acts of kindness.

The recipients are selected from nominations submitted by individuals, Chamber members and staff, Gilroyans who see things happening “behind the scenes” that might not be publicized, said Chamber CEO Victoria Valencia.

“People and businesses are doing good in our community every single day and not all of them get recognized for that,” she said. “So this event really gives the community an opportunity to recognize those who are making Gilroy a better place to live, work and play.”

Here are the 2023 Spice of Life recipients:

Susan Valenta Youth Leadership Award — Alexandra Beyret

A recent graduate of Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy, Alexandra Beyret served as the GECA Gilroy Unified School District’s board representative and honors tribunal member, advocating for students’ needs. She served as the only GECA officer in Gavilan College’s Associate Student Body, ensuring accessibility and representation. Alexandra was also a commissioner on the Santa Clara Mental Health in Schools Youth Advocacy Commission, directly impacting students county-wide. After graduating, Alexandra plans to pursue economics, mathematics, and advocacy in university. Her passion is using economics to strengthen communities. Alexandra advises students to work hard, follow their passions, be dependable, and act for the greater good.

Educator of the Year Award — Michelle Anderson

A first grade teacher at Glen View Elementary for more than 19 years, Michelle Anderson did not initially pursue a career in education. She found her calling while teaching abroad with the Peace Corps. Since joining GUSD, she has inspired students to become passionate learners and responsible citizens. Michelle builds strong connections with students, going above and beyond with tutoring, reading groups, and professional development. She takes pride in teaching English language learners and helping all students grow. Michelle’s impact extends beyond her classroom through her volunteering and her sons’ achievements in Gilroy schools. With unwavering dedication and passion for teaching, Michelle enhances the learning experience in Gilroy. She is a role model for educators who give their all to make a difference.

Large Business of the Year — Nissan of Gilroy and the Groppetti Automotive Family

Guided by their vision to build relationships, Nissan of Gilroy opened a state-of-the-art dealership during the pandemic. Through challenges, they stayed committed to serving customers and community. The Groppetti Foundation provides grants to aid at-risk youth and less fortunate children. Beyond donations, Nissan builds connections supporting Rebekah Children’s Services, Gilroy Chamber, Rotary, Gilroy Rodeo, Veterans Hall, YMCA, and more. They lead community service projects like Hometown Heroes Banners, Veterans Day Parade, House of Toys, and Wreaths Across America. With unwavering dedication, innovation, and community spirit, Nissan of Gilroy enhances Gilroy’s business climate and inspires entrepreneurship.

Small Business of the Year — One Life Prints

For 17 years, One Life Prints has provided excellent branding services while giving back generously. They raised more than $36,000 benefiting victims of the 2019 Garlic Festival shooting. Their annual charity golf tournament supports local nonprofits including Latino Family Fund, Kneaded Bakery, and Unravel Pediatric Cancer. One Life Prints offers discounted services to all county nonprofits and supports Gilroy Little League, Rebekah Children’s Services, and more. With unwavering community dedication and spirit, One Life Prints enhances Gilroy’s business climate and inspires entrepreneurship.

Non-Profit of the Year — Latino Family Fund

Established in 2006, the Latino Family Fund commits to uplifting and empowering the Latino community. It has granted more than $71,000 to organizations and grown their endowment to $230,000. Their cornerstone Youth in Philanthropy program engages 90 middle school students annually in researching community needs, interacting with nonprofits, and determining grant recipients. LFF supports Latino culture in schools, provides college access, aids farmworkers, recognizes community leaders, and more. LFF advances racial equity, listens to community needs, builds coalitions, and sustains Latino representation in the philanthropic sector.

Young Professional of the Year — Mark Jacobsen

Mark Jacobsen is dedicated to giving Gilroy residents outstanding leadership and service. Inspired by his mother’s example, Mark volunteered with the Gilroy Chamber and Garlic Festival since childhood. Though not seeking accolades, Mark works tirelessly behind the scenes for community benefit. As a local restaurant owner, he mentors staff in business operations and community involvement. Mark encourages young leaders to actively serve, support others, and build community over self-interest. With lifelong commitment, he models youth engagement, selfless contribution, and growth through service.

Woman of the Year — Jane Howard

Jane Howard has provided decades of selfless service to Gilroy. As Visit Gilroy’s executive director for 17 years, Jane spearheaded tourism initiatives including city wayfinding signs, securing promotional funding, rebranding, and achieving California Welcome Center designation. She co-founded the Gilroy Economic Development Partnership for regional growth. Jane has held leadership roles with the chamber, Gilroy Garlic Festival, Rotary, GUSD board, and more. Her collaborative spirit and dedication have enhanced Gilroy’s welfare and betterment. Jane embodies community devotion, accomplishment, and empowerment of others.

Man of the Year — Mark Turner

Now mayor of Morgan Hill, Mark Turner has focused his time on Gilroy’s welfare and betterment. As a pastor, he launched sports programs and food assistance benefiting underserved residents. As Chamber CEO, he helped establish the Gilroy Economic Development Partnership and workforce development initiatives. He helped launch Gilroy Police Foundation, Wreaths Across America, Rock-the-Mock, and more. His involvement after local tragedies, and uplifting of youth exhibit the positive spirit and unwavering dedication that improves life in Gilroy. He embodies partnership, advocacy, and empowerment for the greater good.

Firman B. Voorhies Volunteer of the Year — Mike Brownfield

Mike Brownfield is well respected for his outstanding service to the Gilroy Chamber. A 45-year Gilroy resident and former small business owner, he has volunteered for decades to support downtown events and the local community. He has helped grow the downtown car show for 18 years, chairing the event committee and bringing national TV exposure. Mike pours his time into chamber activities because he values neighborliness and believes volunteering helps the entire community prosper. His years of dedication, leadership, and passion for Gilroy make Mike a model Chamber volunteer.