‘Worked from the heart’: Sonoma County mourns loss of Vince Harper
Vince Harper, a longtime employee of a Santa Rosa nonprofit who dedicated his life to uplifting local at-risk youth and improving the lives of the community around him, has died at age 55.
The news was shared Tuesday afternoon via the Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County, where Harper has worked for the past three decades, most recently as the nonprofit’s community engagement director.
Many who knew Harper said he embodied the nonprofit’s mission, which aims to build economic and social stability for low-income families and advocate for social and economic justice.
He took the mission a step further by inspiring those he worked with to get involved in the community they lived in, said Susan Cooper, the nonprofit’s executive director.
“It was community members who learned from him about giving back to the community,” Cooper said. “I think that was a precious gift.”
For Laura Arreguin, a Healdsburg resident who previously worked with Harper for a decade on the nonprofit’s parent support group Padres Unidos, Harper’s genuine commitment to the families and youth he worked with was his biggest strength, she said.
The two specifically worked with teens of parents who participated in the program, she said.
“He was a person who worked from the heart,” Arreguin said. “He gave his life to his job and to the people that he would come in contact with, especially the youth. He had a big heart for youth and families in need and was always very respectful.”
Though the exact cause and date of his death was not immediately available, several people who knew Harper said he faced ongoing health issues in the months leading up to his death.
Some of those issues were chronicled on his personal Facebook page, which included posts about a recent leg amputation.
Information about Harper’s health could not be confirmed with his sister, who did not respond to a request for an interview Wednesday. Cooper declined to comment on Harper’s health issues, citing employee confidentiality.
Harper’s passing was a shock to many who knew him, including Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Lynda Hopkins, who said some in the community believed Harper was on the road to recovery. Hopkins first met Harper during her initial run for a seat on the county board in 2016, when Harper was leading community meetings in the Moorland neighborhood located southwest of Santa Rosa.
She reconnected with Harper again through the Community Building Initiative group Harper ran out of Roseland, which was designed to empower the area’s residents to improve the conditions of their neighborhood and engage with local leaders about the community’s needs.
“I really think community defined Vince Harper,” Hopkins said. “It was his mission in life, his passion and his vocation. He made such an impression with each community in Sonoma County that he touched.”
Earlier this year, Windsor Councilwoman Esther Lemus helped raise funds to cover some of the cost of Harper’s medical expenses, though she declined to speak about the nature of his health issues, citing a desire to respect Harper and his family’s privacy, she said.
The two first met around the time she began working for the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office in 2007. Harper would invite her to speak to parents in the Padres Unidos program about issues ranging from domestic violence to the juvenile justice system and cybercrimes.
“Vince was there to serve and to give to the community, and uplift and transform it for the better,” Lemus said. “His passing is such a huge loss. I’m absolutely saddened.”
Harper first landed in Sonoma County in 1986 to attend Sonoma State University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in management, according to the Community Action Partnership website.
He came by way of the central California town of Atwater, where he attended high school and junior college, a post on the City of Santa Rosa website said.
He got his first taste of working with youth as a volunteer at the South Park Youth Center in 1991 and was hired by Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County, which ran the center, a year later, according to the nonprofit.
It was there that Harper created a “safe haven” for kids in the South Park neighborhood who attended the after-school hub, said Argentina Martinez, a 35-year-old Santa Rosa resident who first attended the center with her older siblings about 25 years ago.
Harper then created a youth leadership program, which exposed local teens to volunteer opportunities in their community, said Martinez. She participated in the program for about two years until she left for Mexico at 14, Martinez said.
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