Congratulations. You did it again, Sonoma County! You ranked first statewide in volunteerism for the second year in a row.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service report, 36.1 percent of local residents volunteer on a regular basis, over 10 percent more than most other California communities. That's 145,000 people who volunteer regularly throughout our county for hundreds of local nonprofit agencies.

The Volunteer Center just celebrated its annual volunteer recognition event where local nonprofits nominate worthy volunteers. It is always an overwhelming process to choose the best of the best from the hundreds of nominations we receive from agencies throughout the county.

Fortunately, we task our corporate partners with making the final decisions and they work hard to review many inspiring applications to determine the worthiest of the worthy.

The dedication, commitment and passion exhibited by volunteers in our community is not a story than can be told just by the numbers. It's more than the quantity of hours expended by caring neighbors or the sheer number of volunteers we place each year.

To give you an idea of how special Sonoma County volunteers are, please allow me to introduce a few of this year's award winners.

Merrie Krisl, our volunteer of the year, has been the librarian at Los Guilicos Juvenile Hall for 18 years and manages the collection of more than 8,000 books. She started the library at Los Guilicos in 1999 and continues to maintain it with outstanding books added to the collection on a regular basis. In addition, she has applied for and received many grants that have benefited the library.

Because of her, many kids who come to Los Guilicos without reading skills have learned to read. Teens have often said that they have read their first book while at Los Guilicos.

The award for outstanding board volunteer went to retired businessman Bill Nordskog. He has served in many capacities over the years as a volunteer for the United Way, serving on the United Way's Focused Funding Team, as leader of the Youth Team, as a member of the Strategic Task Force, chair of the Education Committee, and a member of the Board Development Committee. This past June, however, he stepped in as the interim CEO during a time of great need. As described by those who nominated him: "He exemplifies a zest for life, a love of community, and passion for service. Bill describes himself as the &‘busiest retired guy' and the United Way is all the better for it."

Nordskog and Krisl are just two of the many people who received awards for their volunteerism, but they represent the spirit of community we are so fortunate to enjoy in Sonoma County.

Ranking first statewide in volunteerism is a great birthday gift as we celebrate our 40th year of connecting volunteers for a vibrant community. It is heartwarming to know that volunteers such as Krisl and Nordskog are but a few of the thousands of citizens who care enough to make our community a place where we care enough about each other to contribute our time and talents for the betterment of all.

<i>Eunice Valentine is the executive director of the Volunteer Center of Sonoma County.</i>