Meet the 7 Bay Area Vanguard Award Finalists Making Our Community Better


Earlier this year, we introduced you to seven local leaders who are shaking things up in the fields of education, sustainability, and community development. Inspired by their contributions, we collaborated with the University of Oregon to launch the Vanguard Award, dedicated to shedding light on community members who are revolutionizing the status quo.

In early March, you nominated hundreds of gamechanging locals who are working to make the Bay Area a better place and deserve to win the Vanguard Award. We've narrowed down the field to seven finalists, and now it's time to determine the winner.

Read through the seven finalists' profiles below, then go to our Facebook page to VOTE. The winning Bay Area leader will be featured in a profile on and receive $5,000 to further his or her organization's work in our community. Voting ends on April 13. 

Kimberly Aceves, Executive Director of RYSE Youth Center

RYSE Youth Center was born out of a youth organizing movement in response to a string of homicides amongst youth in Richmond that galvanized students to take action. Through her work as the executive director at RYSE, Kimberly Aceves leads a team working to create safe spaces grounded in social justice that build youth power for young people to love, learn, educate, heal, and transform the lives and communities.

Aubrey Bergauer, Executive Director at The California Symphony

Aside from presenting high-caliber orchestra concerts from top musicians, who often perform with the SF Symphony, Opera, and Ballet, the California Symphony uses music as a tool for social change through their Sound Minds education program. In its third year, Sound Minds provides musical performance instruction, musical theory education, and academic program enhancement to first-graders across the Bay Area. Part of Bergauer’s efforts as executive director focus on keeping classical music culturally relevant in our modern society and engaging in the Bay Area community. Whether it’s collaborating with local rock bands or holding a concert on a rooftop in Oakland, Bergauer’s work ensures that our communities stay connected to classical music.

Alec Lee, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Aim High

Aim High manages fifteen programs in five Bay Area regions that serve 1,800 students per year. Based out of the Mission, Alec Lee launched Aim High in 1987 to reduce the achievement and opportunity gaps among low-income middle school students by providing a free five-week summer learning program. The program includes academics, enrichment, professional development, and mentoring. Since 1986, over 8,000 students have graduated from the program.

Doniece Sandoval, Founder of Lava Mae

Lava Mae, whose name derives from the Spanish phrase "wash me," has been making waves across the Bay Area since last June, when it rolled out its first MUNI bus turned bathroom on wheels to provide showers and toilets to the thousands of San Franciscans living on our streets. As the founder of Lava Mae, Doniece Sandoval's work is driven by a fierce belief that everyone has a right to dignity and by the knowledge that access to showers and sanitation is in serious short supply for the homeless.

Purvi Shah, Founder and Executive Director of Kids & Art

At Kids & Art, Shah leads an organization that teams up children who are touched by cancer with local artists. The foundation stemmed from Shah’s personal experience and focuses on supporting both the child who has been diagnosed as well as the family, who rarely receives sufficient support during an illness. The monthly workshops have benefitted over 200 children and are held at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital and Family House in San Francisco. Past workshops have included upcycling old clothing and creating art with potatoes and packing materials that would have otherwise been thrown away.

Sarah Weiner, Founder and Director of Seedling Projects & Good Food Awards

As founder and director of Seedling Projects, Sarah Weiner builds upon SF’s innovative food culture to bring together and support local talented farmers, chefs, and food creators in their development of responsible food. After launching the Good Merchants Guild, Weiner helped unite 300 sustainable food crafters nationwide, creating jobs and a sense of community throughout the Bay Area and across the country. Between the Seedling Projects and Good Food Awards, Weiner is making major strides in developing the Bay Area sustainable, responsible food community and laying a path for future small business owners to flourish.

Mike Willmarth, 7th Grade Math Teacher at Redwood Middle School

Although Mike Willmarth is primarily an educator, his goal every day is to go “beyond education” to help his students develop a sense of empathy. To achieve this goal, he looks at both short- and long-term tactics, such as encouraging his students to take part in a fundraising effort to help purchase goats for Haitian villagers and understands the power of a group of like-minded people working together to address a need. As Willmarth explains, “The power of an education comes to its full potential when it is employed to better both one's own life and the lives of others.” His students may be learning math, but their education goes far deeper.

Don't forget to VOTE for the finalist you want to win!


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