PLEASANT HILL -- Pleasant Hill honored its residents and businesses for their outstanding contributions to the city at the 42nd annual Community Awards Night.
Winners were a secret until announced at the Jan. 17 event at Back Forty Texas BBQ where the Citizen of the Year went to Leanne Hamaji, who was nominated by Steve Oldenbourg and Matt Rinn.
Judges selected Hamaji from six candidates saying her "resume as a volunteer is second to none."
"There were many more people on the ballot this year than last year," said Councilman Tim Flaherty, recipient of last year's Citizen of the Year award and 2012 judge.
"The difficult part of the competition is having to pick someone over another," he said. "All are certainly worthy. I thought two definitely stood out by the number of people their contributions affected."
To qualify for the award, the candidate must have lived in the city for at least five years, made a substantial contribution to improving people's lives with a record of volunteering for civic and community groups.
"Everyone had done something of value," said Barbara Oaks, last year's Educator of the Year award winner. "I looked at which of the nominees had made the greatest impact."
"The candidate had a very long record of community service ... really made a difference," said Flaherty, one of the presenters.
Hamaji is a founding member of the Foundation for Pleasant Hill Eduction and is currently secretary and public outreach coordinator. She is the chair of the foundation's annual "Downtown and Oak Park Center Restaurant Walks."
The Green Award was first given out last year, and judges this year awarded two prizes, one to Sequoia Middle School's E.A.R.T.H. Club, and the other to the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, founded in 1959.
"The church's green efforts are so numerous that only a few can be mentioned," according to the nomination papers. Among those mentioned were the use of personal mugs instead of throwaway cups, installation of low-flow toilets, fluorescent lighting, used, reclaimed furniture from office buildings, and used water which is drained to an on-site garden, providing food, and the yard waste providing compost.
"Practically everything that can be is reused or recycled," according to nomination papers.
Sequoia Middle School's E.A.R.T.H. (Environmental Adolescents Respecting Their Home) Club provides activities related to science, ecology and the environment. Its native plant garden conserves water with drought-resistant plants.
Club members encourage students to recycle bottles, aluminum and paper. To reduce pollution, carpooling is encouraged and herbicides are not used in the garden.
The city's public information officer Martin Nelis took home the Community Plus Award for doing "just about everything!"
"I didn't know all what I do until I saw it listed," Nelis said. "That was a nice surprise for me to read."
This was the first year Nelis was eligible for nomination, having joined the city staff in 2007. Nelis writes and produces the city's bimonthly magazine "Outlook," developed and maintains the city's website and is the "go-to-guy about any event in Pleasant Hill."
Third-grade teacher Aida Attiga at Sequoia Elementary School took home Educator of the Year.
"Aida Attiga has been a one-of-a-kind teacher who engages students at levels unmatched by others," said Sequoia Elementary School Principal David Franklin in his nomination of her. "She seamlessly integrates 21st century instructional technology into her classroom alongside traditional teaching techniques."
The Teen of the Year award went to College Park High School junior Helena Encarnacion-Strand for her exemplary work with the Pleasant Hill Teen Council, as well as her work with the Interact Club, a service club of the Pleasant Hill Rotary.
"She has served on event committees and volunteered hundreds of hours over the past several years at practically every city, Chamber of Commerce and Recreation and Park District event," said her nominator Katrina Hunn of the recreation district.
Business of the Year went to the Community Focus magazine published monthly by Elena Hutslar, Becky Coburn and Jennifer Neys. The independent newspaper is distributed to more than 30,000 homes and businesses in Pleasant Hill and surrounding communities.
"In addition to managing their business, the 'Focus Ladies' are regular volunteers at chamber and community events," said Rinn, who put their names forward.
The Mayor's awards were given to the Teen Council and Teen Center staff, Lesley Stiles and Jack's Restaurant. The selection was made by John Hanecak, as he was the city's mayor for 2012.
The Cornerstone Award, given by the Pleasant Hill Community Foundation in recognition of philanthropic participation or service to the foundation, went to Aloma Levine.
The Recreation and Park Board Service Award was presented to Aegis of Pleasant Hill and the Chateaus for opening its buildings for nearly two years to a number of Senior Center classes, programs and activities while the new center was under construction.
The Recreation and Park Board Appreciation Award went to Cheryl Kolano, principal at Gregory Gardens Elementary School for working with the board on its KIDSTOP child care program operating at the school.
"We have worked with a number of different principals, but Cheryl Kolano ... has been a standout!" said the board in its nomination.
Sue Damhesel took home the Pleasant Hill Chamber's Ambassador of the Year award for jumping into the task and being ready to work.
"She led by example, volunteering her time and efforts at ribbon cuttings, mixers, Art Jazz and Wine, as well as at every Rec & Park and city event where help was needed," said chamber members.
The chamber's Board Appreciation Award went to Judith Sosnowski.
"Her integrity and selfless actions are an inspiration to all who have worked with her," said the nominating board.
This year's event was hosted by the city of Pleasant Hill, Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District and the Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce.
Citizen of the Year -- Leanne Hamaji
Business of the Year -- Community Focus
Community Plus Award -- Martin Nelis
Green Award -- Sequoia Middle School's E.A.R.T.H. Club and the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection
Educator of the Year -- Aida Attiga
Teen of the Year -- Helena Encarnacion-Strand
Mayor's Award -- Lesley Stiles, Pleasant Hill Teen Council and Teen Center staff, and Jack's Restaurant
Pleasant Hill Community Foundation's Cornerstone Award -- Aloma Levine
Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District Board Appreciation Award -- Cheryl Kolano
Community Service Award -- Aegis of Pleasant Hill and The Chateaus
Pleasant Hill Chamber Ambassador of the Year -- Sue Damhesel
Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce Appreciation Award -- Judith Sosnowski