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San Fernando
Saturday, Jul 13, 2024

Bringing Youth Into the Program

By THOM SENZEE Contributing Reporter At 50, the Fernando Award is well into middle age, and most of its recipients are at least at that stage of life. But Fernando Award officials want to infuse some younger blood into the Valley’s most prominent tribute to volunteer service. “One of the most interesting things we want to do is to bring younger businesspeople into the process,” Brad Rosenheim, Fernando Award Foundation board member and past president said. Rosenheim and current president Bruce Ackerman said there is room for people in their forties and younger to receive recognition as Fernando nominees, finalists and even award recipients, even though the award is, officially, a lifetime-achievement award. “Of course the idea is not without controversy,” Rosenheim said. “Some people will say ‘how can you give a lifetime achievement award to someone who’s only, say, 35 or 40?'” Nevertheless, Fernando officials are convinced that in order for the award they hold in such high esteem to survive for another 50 years, its near-term future must offer more accessibility to younger professionals, as long as they are very civically active. Still, for many under-50 San Fernando businesspeople, basic awareness of the Fernando Award is lacking. “I’ve heard of it,” said Charity Alliance Realty founder and broker Ray Calnan of Northridge. “But I’m not sure what it is exactly. Is it a business-achievement award?” As a 32-year-old real-estate broker, Calnan can be forgiven for not being aware that the Fernando is not a prestigious business-achievement honor, but the most prestigious volunteer-service award for Valley businesspeople with a lifetime of such service under their belts. Upon learning exactly what the Fernando Foundation is and what its namesake award represents, Calnan instantly became an enthusiastic fan. “Obviously I’m a big fan of supporting charity,” he said. “The way our real estate company is designed, we actually give a percentage of our sales and leases to various charities, depending on what group the buyer or customer says they want to have benefit.” While Calnan’s actual business model is based on the appeal of giving back to the community, he gives of his time and resources outside of business as an individual as well. Organizations he has served include Habitat for Humanity, Valley Interfaith Council’s food banks, urban tree-planting efforts and neighborhood cleanups. “I think in the past, businesses put all their charitable donations into one big gift,” he said. “They did a press release and that was it for a while. Now I think we give in our personal lives and in business whenever and wherever we can. Service has become a core value for more people today.” He believes people give and volunteer for personal satisfaction and for a genuine drive to help others, not because they want to network, get recognition or win awards. “However, I think recognition is important because it promotes the idea of service,” he said. “When you have a high-profile event like this Fernando Award, you tell the community that that kind of activity is highly valued by society. You get young people interested in doing something too.” But Laura Gallardo, spokesperson for Kaiser Permanente who was also unaware of the Fernando Award, recognition for volunteer service is essential to building good communities, and not only because it can encourage more people to be involved. “I think awards like that can also help a community know itself,” Gallardo, 39, said. “And I think reaching out to younger volunteers and recognizing them for their lifetime so far is a way to recognize also what an amazing and wonderful place this really is.” Impact of volunteerism From her perspective facilitating communications between the public and one of the country’s largest healthcare networks, Gallardo said she sees the impact of volunteerism on the lives of individuals and their families. Marrying business and service makes sense to her. “It’s probably just as good an idea today for businesspeople to be at the forefront of the volunteer efforts of a community as it was 50 years ago,” she said. “I think the business community in the San Fernando Valley has always been phenomenal at organizing to help people.” Gallardo believes anything the Fernando Award Foundation can do to promote the award among her generation will go a long way toward keeping the award alive and well for years to come. She sees no conflict inherent in focusing a lifetime achievement award for volunteer service on younger people. “I think it’s a good idea just as long as you don’t neglect the older people as a result,” she said. Marnie Nemcoff, vice president of marketing at Chatsworth-based Matadors Community Credit Union, has been an admirer of the Fernando Award recipients for years. “It’s important for me to show the younger generation how important it is to be involved and a part of the community,” said Nemcoff, 37. “I think if we’re a good role model for them, just as the older executives and businesspeople have been to us, the business community and the community as a whole is better off.” Setting an example She believes nothing works better than being an example to others as a means to encourage volunteerism. “But I think awards do just about as much good, because they do bring attention to the organizations being served by the award winners,” she said. “Getting younger people involved is easier when they see people just a little bit older, sort of older siblings rather than parental figures, because it may be easier for someone in their twenties to relate to someone in their thirties or forties a little more than someone in their fifties or sixties.” That, she said, is why she was glad to learn about the Fernando Award Foundation’s stated desire to reach out to people in her age bracket. Marnie Nemcoff herself is involved in numerous charitable endeavors, including cancer causes and youth financial literacy in public schools. At 40, Steven Mehta believes lifetime achievement is a relative term. “I don’t know if being young is opposite of having a lifetime of experience,” said the principal of the Mediation Offices of Steve G. Mehta. “Your lifetime is governed by your age, and America is about merit not age or any other classification.” Mehta volunteers his time to help mediate in the courts as well as his general labor for charitable organizations and arts groups such as the Santa Clarita Symphony. He is also a coach and a referee for AYSO Soccer. Importance of awards Awards, he says, are important in business, sports and volunteer service. “I may not have known about the Fernando Award until now,” he said. “But everyone has heard of the Emmys and the Oscars. Just as those awards promote the entertainment industry, I think volunteer-service awards help promote volunteerism.” Mehta said giving back is beneficial for businesspeople because it makes them part of a community. “And there is a saying: Give and ye shall receive,” he said. “But first you need to give. If you don’t give often you don’t receive. I think sometimes people want to receive before they give.” Mehta said he still benefits from the education he received as a child, and feels a strong desire to give back to the society that gave it to him. Nonprofits and charities make it easy for him to fulfill that desire. “Imagine if we didn’t have a lot of the types of nonprofits we kind of take for granted,” he said. “We couldn’t have the quality of life we enjoy in America today.” Mehta hopes the name “Fernando Award” will become a household term eventually. “I think making younger people aware of something that makes people covet the ideal of volunteer service is something that should be promoted any way it can be,” he said. According to Bruce Ackerman, Fernando Award Foundation president, a concerted effort is now underway to do just that. “We have some ideas that we’re working on,” he said. “I think you should see some new organizations submitting some younger nominees as the next selection process starts to begin.”

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