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The Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce will honor its annual 2023 Celebrate Award winners at a March 12 dinner and reception at Guglielmo Winery. The theme of the evening is “Sip & Celebrate: A Vintage Garden Party.”

Each year, the chamber recognizes individuals, nonprofits and businesses for the annual Celebrate awards. The winners were nominated by the community and selected by a voting committee made up of past winners, according to the chamber. The awardees are typically “selected for their continued efforts in going above and beyond for Morgan Hill,” says the chamber’s website. 

For more information and to purchase tickets to the March 12 fundraiser and celebration, visit tinyurl.com/43mae7ps

Listed below are the 2023 Chamber Celebrate Award winners.

Woman of the Year

Mary Cortani, Founder and Executive Director of Operation Freedom Paws, is the chamber’s 2023 Woman of the Year. The San Martin nonprofit OFP was founded in 2010 to help veterans by partnering and training them with their own service dogs. Cortani is an Army veteran, Master Instructor of Canine Education and American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Evaluator who “saw a need in her community and built an organization and team that could serve that need,” according to information provided by the chamber. 

Through her work with OFP, Cortani empowers veterans, first responders, children and individuals with disabilities by pairing them with rescued dogs and teaching them to train those dogs to support their disabilities in order to regain their independence and engage in their communities. Over the years, Cortani and her team have helped more than 500 clients, at no cost to the clients. 

Man of the Year

Charles Weston, co-owner of Weston Miles Architects, is the 2023 Man of the Year. Weston started volunteering as a Boy Scout and an Eagle Scout. 

When he was 18, he was drafted into the Army and served in Vietnam as a combat engineer and medic, according to the chamber. He became a hero when he rescued a USO building filled with people from conflagration with his forklift, earning the Soldier’s Medal for bravery. Years later, he received the Carnegie Medal for bravery for yet another fire, in this case the rescue of a man from a burning car on Uvas Road. 

Upon his return from Vietnam, Weston attended Cal Poly SLO, where he studied architecture, and began a lifelong running hobby. In Morgan Hill, he has volunteered as a planning commissioner, served on multiple city committees and did a stint as President of the Freedom Fest—for which he still directs the Freedom Fest 5K and 1 mile run. Weston also organizes the annual Morgan Hill Veterans Day Run. 

Student of the Year

Emily Celallos, a senior at Ann Sobrato High School, is the chamber’s 2023 Student of the Year. Celallos “has a passion for life and is unafraid to take on what she needs to in order to accomplish her goals,” according to the chamber. “As a student, Emily has a desire to connect her learning to her own world and has strong collaboration, critical thinking and writing skills. She is confident and curious without being presumptuous; always humble in her pursuit of knowledge.”

Celallos is also a “dedicated leader” at her school, where she has served in the ASB all four years of high school, according to the chamber. She is currently in her second year as a representative of Sobrato’s School Site Council, a body of teachers, students and parents that meet monthly and serve as a governing body of the school. She is also a student representative on Sobrato’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) team, the Student Voices team, the LatinX Student Union, Bring Change to Mind Club, FFA and Operation Smile. 

Volunteer of the Year

Kathy Chaves Napoli is the chamber’s 2023 Volunteer of the Year. Born and raised in San Jose before moving to Morgan Hill in 1985, Chaves Napoli taught elementary school after graduating from college. Over the last 40 years, she and her high school sweetheart-turned-husband built a successful business together that created jobs for the community and built lasting relationships with their customers, according to the chamber. 

In her efforts to give back, Chaves Napoli writes grants for the Morgan Hill Historical Society; helps organize the AAUW’s annual Wildflower Run; is a member of the Morgan Hill Kiwanis Club; and serves on the Gavilan Community College Board of Trustees. 

Nonprofit of the Year

The 2023 Nonprofit of the Year is the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Morgan Hill branch. The local branch formed in 1981 as part of the national organization that is dedicated to advancing gender equality and economic security for girls and women. 

This past year, the Morgan Hill branch of AAUW was recognized as a “National Five-Star Branch” for its “outstanding display of alignment with the AAUW mission,” according to the chamber. 

Educator of the Year

Janelle Rotman, a Chemistry Teacher at Ann Sobrato High School—where she is known by her students for her innate ability to make science come to life and by her peers for her love of collaboration and passion for the job—is the chamber’s 2023 Educator of the Year. 

“Her work ethic is rooted in compassion and care for others, always prioritizing class culture and community,” according to the chamber. “She is passionate about supporting each and every student to ensure they have access to academic materials. She values collaboration and dynamic learning and will often reach out to other staff members to work together in improving the student experience on campus.”

Large Business of the Year

Specialized Bikes, founded by Mike Sinyard and operating in Morgan Hill since 1984, is the chamber’s Large Business of the Year for 2023. “They are a company with global reach, employing nearing 1,500 people world wide, but their home is Morgan Hill, where they employ around 350 local residents,” according to the chamber. 

The company is always striving to promote health and exercise through bike advocacy programs like Outride and People4Bikes. Specialized also partners with the Morgan Hill Police Department, Boy Scouts of America and Pony Baseball to teach local youth about bike safety. 

Small Business of the Year

Rosy’s at the Beach, a popular downtown Morgan Hill restaurant founded in 1998 by Rosy and Rich Bergin, is the chamber’s Small Business of the Year. 

“Over the 23 years that Rosy’s has been serving up fresh fish and seafood in downtown Morgan Hill, it has become a local hot spot full every day of regulars who love the food, atmosphere and people,” says the chamber. “Rosy’s is ingrained in the community. Rosy never turns down an ask for gift cards to give away at local events or dinners to auction off in order to help raise funds for nonprofits.”

The restaurant itself functions as a community space as well, opening its doors early to serve as a meeting space for local groups and nonprofits, providing free advertising space for community events and allowing local artists to display and sell their art. 

Legacy Award

The winner of the chamber’s first Legacy Award is Cecelia Ponzini, Executive Director of Cecelia’s Closet and Food Pantry and the Edward Boss Prado Foundation. 

“Even though we live in a wealthy area, many local families struggle with the issues of poverty and homelessness and it was Cecelia’s vision to create a local honest charity dedicated to serving children, adults and families in need with dignity,” says a post about the 2023 Legacy Awardee on the chamber’s Facebook page. 

To date, the Prado Foundation has served well over 30,000 families in Morgan Hill and surrounding communities, and given out more than $200,000 in scholarships. Ponzini manages more than 15 programs that serve local and area residents by providing food, clothing and other necessities. 

Special Merit Award

The Morgan Hill Police Department is the recipient of the chamber’s Special Merit Award. 

“The Morgan Hill Community is proud of its police department who proactively prevent and solve crimes and build community partnerships that enhance quality of life for all our residents,” says a social media post on the chamber’s Facebook page. “Their honor, courage, commitment, leadership and teamwork while always conducting themselves with the highest ethical standards does not go unnoticed and we want everyone to know how deserving the Department is of the Special Merit Award.”

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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

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