Bill Kurnizki, CHAT
Bill Kurnizki is a tireless “triumph of joy” in his volunteer role as board president of Chico Housing Action Team (CHAT). His lifelong skills as a retired contractor are put to use most days—be it fixing a porch [or] a roof, moving furniture, or making repairs indoors. I rode along with Bill on a Saturday morning in September and witnessed the rapport he has with volunteers and house residents as he non-stop engages and problem-solves with his wit and keen sense of getting things done. He gets excited helping people, like the time he showed me an RV donation with his Cheshire Cat smile tempered with the quiet tone he used to describe how life-changing this will be for the lucky recipient.
Bill forms a dynamic duo with fellow CHAT board member Robert Trausch, who gives Bill a run for his money as the most energetic senior volunteer in Chico. Trausch has told me several times that he loves Bill like a brother. It’s easy to see why.
—Bill “Guillermo” Mash, KZFR radio host; Without a Roof
Mindy Larkin, Meals on Wheels
For the last 15 years, Mindy Larkin has dedicated her life to the Meals on Wheels program. She is the backbone of the program. She works tirelessly …. and her work load has tripled since the pandemic began.
Her day usually starts at 4 a.m. when the calls from the Enloe kitchen come in. Just a couple of years ago, we were delivering 80 meals per day. Now we are topping 200. She takes care of hundreds of clients and makes sure the drivers reach their intended targets. She deserves a little recognition for her tireless efforts.
—Martine Stillwell, Meals on Wheels driver
Gina Catallo, Chico Animal Shelter
I would like to submit a nomination for the most deserving person I know, Gina Catallo, who works at the Chico Animal Shelter (CAS) as an animal services technician.
They take the best care of the saddest animals in Chico, and Gina is a big reason why. She has worked at CAS since they started operations in February 2012. As a volunteer there since the same time, I have seen how much care Gina puts into every animal that comes into the shelter. She not only employed there (essential worker, for sure!), but she has also taken many animals home to foster. She is currently fostering a little old dog named Alien Grandpa, and he is just one example of how much she loves the animals in her care.
She has dealt with the absolutely saddest, most heartbreaking animals in Chico, and she never gives up. She has stories that will turn your hair gray and stories that will make you cry with happiness.
—Shelly Rogers, Chico Animal Shelter volunteer
Hospital COVID frontliners
I’d like to nominate the staff at Enloe and other local hospitals who have volunteered—on top of their scheduled turns—to care for COVID patients.
When we had our surge back in August/September (and now ramping up again in December), the staff were often were pulled from their home units every shift to care for people who were very, very ill with a very infectious virus. They did so despite their own fears, despite [personal protective equipment] shortages, to care for people who were scared, sick, and sometimes dying.
They are my heroes for putting sick patients first.
—Amy Greenfield, assistant nurse manager, Surgical Care Unit, Enloe Hospital
Barbara Vlamis, AquAlliance
The Northern Sacramento Valley is the home of the Tuscan Aquifer, which provides the groundwater to sustain the trees, creeks and groundwater dependent farms of Butte County. Barbara Vlamis, executive director of AquAlliance, has worked tirelessly for the last 10 years to protect this invaluable resource.
Most of us are not watching the undercurrent of forces that are after North State water. With her extensive knowledge of federal and state environmental laws and regulations she has kept our aquifer safer. She has used the courts to keep the water barons of Westlands Water District on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley—with their federal and state bureaucratic enablers—from draining the aquifer.
Without her undefeatable energy and her dedication to the North Valley, our area would be without the running creeks and the trees they support. Our lives would be the poorer if not for Barbara’s skillful work.
This feature is part of our Local Heroes 2020 special issue. Read about more heroes here: People of the year.