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For a few minutes last week, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors interrupted the push and shove of politics to acknowledge people who strive every day to make life better for all of us.

Not many local government meetings can be described as joyful, but these few minutes became the exception. These were moments to acknowledge what community can mean.

For the annual Jefferson Awards for Public Service, three organizations and two individuals were honored for their extraordinary service.

Of course, the ceremony also served as a celebration of all of the countless organizations and individuals who make a difference every day.

Their work isn't sexy or dramatic. The people who perform these good deeds don't often make headlines. Even writing about them invites complaints about sentimentality.

But we could not get along without these people, and if we are smart, we will never forget it.

This was a week to remind us of the value of community service and of volunteers. First came the Jefferson Awards, then The Press Democrat Community Youth Service Awards.

Here are this year's Jefferson Award honorees:

Oscar Chavez, executive director of the anti-poverty Community Action Partnership. Chavez has emerged as a leader in efforts to knock down bureaucratic walls and embrace shared objectives in confronting the county's most vexing issues.

Rick Dean, for 25 years the executive director of Face to Face and a champion of services in support of people living with HIV/AIDS. From the beginning, Face to Face has been a brave and indispensable force in the fight against this disease. Today, 2,000 local residents are living with HIV/AIDS.

The Ceres Community Project, which engages teenagers in the preparation of meals for people with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses. Since 2007, 500 teenage volunteers have served more than 100,000 meals.

Chop's Teen Club. The legacy of the late Charles "Chop" DeMeo, Chop's provides a safe environment and fun programs for thousands of Santa Rosa teens every year. (Full disclosure: Chop's is a supporting organization of Community Foundation Sonoma County, where I serve on the board of directors.)

Healthy Kids Sonoma County. In collaboration with public and private agencies, Healthy Kids makes sure 18,000 low-income children receive the health care they need. What would our towns be like if 18,000 kids couldn't get regular health care?

The day after the Jefferson Awards, I was one of 30 judges in the 24th annual Press Democrat Community Youth Service Awards. For judges in 10 categories, the job involves interviewing high school seniors nominated by their schools. (The scholarship winners will be announced in May.)

What you need to know about the Youth Service Award is this: Judges come back year after year because we are always amazed and humbled by what these young people have accomplished.

These are kids who travel to Third World countries to build houses, volunteer in hospitals, coach disabled children, help neighborhoods combat gang violence, mentor grammar school students and arrange dental care for homeless youngsters. These are young people who organize canned food drives and volunteer at food kitchens in their spare time.

They are an inspiration.

When it comes to volunteerism, there is something in the DNA of Sonoma County. Year after year, the county ranks first among California counties in volunteerism.

One 2010 study said almost two in five residents volunteers, producing 19.9 million hours of volunteer labor every year. No other county comes close.

There isn't space to list here all the ways that people give back — in schools and hospitals and libraries and parks and more.

For one recent example, consider the home-grown campaigns to save Annadel, Sugarloaf, Jack London and Petaluma Adobe state parks. (We are learning that as government services contract, volunteers become more important than ever.)

Why does Sonoma County outpace other counties when it comes to volunteerism?

We could mention the love people feel for this place, the success of the Volunteer Center and other nonprofit agencies, a large pool of retirees, or this hometown newspaper's weekly special feature on volunteerism.

Whatever it is, we ought to celebrate it. We are blessed by the generosity of the people who live here.

Here's to the volunteers. Here's to us.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.