Common Ground Society

Extraordinary individuals and organizations recipients of Merit Awards

Santa Rosa, Calif.- The city of Santa Rosa has selected 16 extraordinary individuals and organizations to receive 2021 Merit Awards, which acknowledge outstanding volunteerism in serving the community and improving the quality of life in Santa Rosa. This year marks the 39th Merit Awards presentation and this year’s awards are especially poignant in that they recognize the many selfless acts of volunteerism performed amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year, as we head into Thanksgiving, I am more grateful than ever to honor our Merit Award recipients for their contributions during such a difficult time in our community,” said Mayor Chris Rogers. “These are the people and organizations who make Santa Rosa strong, and who have provided sparks of hope and selfless support – even amid unprecedented hardship. On behalf of the city of Santa Rosa and our community, I am grateful and humbled to recognize and honor them.”

Merit Award recipients are nominated by community members and selected by the Merit Awards Committee. Those recognized in five categories this year include:


  • Bayside Church for supporting small businesses and creating outdoor dining spaces for families during the pandemic.
  • Common Ground Society for making Santa Rosa a more inclusive and accepting place for people with disabilities.
  • Katie Sanchez for leadership and policy advocacy on behalf of children and serving with the Court Appointed Special Advocate program.
  • Memphis Roetter for outstanding fundraising in support of Redwood Empire Food Bank.
  • Sonoma County Acts of Kindness for advocating on behalf of community members experiencing homelessness and providing them with necessities and resources.


  • Efrain Nava for bringing joy to his neighbors through free musical performances during the shelter-in-place order.
  • Rebekah Thomas for preserving, maintaining, and protecting the historic Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery through educational tours and events.


  • Paulina Lopez for serving as a youth community leader to solve human rights and climate change issues.
  • The Bird Rescue Center volunteers for medical care and feeding of wild birds, and stopping the spread of the deadly salmonella infection within the local wild bird population.


  • Elisha’s Pantry volunteers for providing food, including fresh vegetables to feed the hungry.
  • Marilyn Lane for uplifting Santa Rosa’s senior citizens through dance performances.
  • Riya Ramakrishnan for leadership in educating and protecting youth on the dangers of tobacco.
  • Shawn Hanna for mentoring youth, teaching self-sufficiency, teamwork, and leadership skills.
  • Sonoma County Vet Connect, Inc for providing outreach and assistance to current and former military service members and their families.


  • Brayden Hall for showing youth leadership and diligently maintaining the Santa Rosa Pump Track for the community’s enjoyment.
  • United Womens Group / Grupo de Mujeres Unidas for strengthening, uplifting, and supporting the Roseland community.

In following with COVID-19 safety guidance, the Merit Awards presentation was postponed in 2020 and a hybrid Merit Awards celebration was held this year. In lieu of a public ceremony, this year’s award recipients were honored in exclusive, meet and greet opportunities with the mayor and city council members.

Read more about each of this year’s Merit Awards recipients at

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