30 for our 30th

30 people who embody SN&R’s mission

THE ACTIVIST: Ebony Harper

THE ACTIVIST: Ebony Harper

Photo by devin armstrong

Skeptics might call them do-gooders. But in today’s world—when we could surely use as much good as possible—what’s wrong with that?

To highlight the 30th anniversary of SN&R, we want to recognize 30 people who embody our mission: To have a positive impact on our communities and make them better places to live.

On purpose, the vast majority on this list are not high-profile politicians, the rich and powerful or other bold names. Many come from the nonprofit world, not well-known to the general public but working every day to help the less fortunate and to make public policy smarter and more humane. Some have been in the trenches for many years, while others are just emerging as leaders.

Like any list like this, it’s rather subjective. There are many others in the Sacramento region who are doing yeoman’s work and also deserving of praise.

Skeptics might call them do-gooders. But in today’s world—when we could surely use as much good as possible—what’s wrong with that?

Ebony Harper

In her day job, she works at the California Endowment to expand health care access in underserved communities. Harper is also among the most visible local activists for transgender rights, especially after her arrest during a Stephon Clark protest landed her in the men’s side of the Sacramento County jail.

THE CHEF: Patrick Mulvaney

Photo by Wes Davis

Patrick Mulvaney

He’s one of the original leaders of the Farm-to-Fork movement that put Sacramento on the culinary map. He’s also spoken out on homelessness and domestic violence, and now he’s taking on mental health after several suicides in Sacramento’s close-knit restaurant community. In February, the Sacramento Metro Chamber named him and his wife Bobbin as Sacramentans of the Year.

Gina Knepp

As manager of Sacramento’s Front Street Animal Shelter, she has spearheaded the local effort to euthanize fewer cats and dogs. The shelter has won national grants and has started creative programs, including one that lets people adopt a dog for a day and another to offer shelter and veterinary care to the pets of the homeless.

Les Simmons

He has worked since 1999 at South Sacramento Christian Center, first as youth leader and now as senior pastor. He has worked on programs to reduce youth violence and loosen the grip of gangs. The first chairman of the Sacramento Community Police Commission, he resigned in protest in October 2016 after Sacramento officers killed Joseph Mann, who was mentally ill.

Jay Lund

As director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis, he is a high-profile expert on water policy. With climate change making the issues of drought and water supply more urgent and with billions of dollars being spent, his team’s research will help shape the debate.


Photo by Luis Gael Jimenez

Beth Hassett

She is on the front lines of the effort to raise awareness and fight against domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. Since 2006, she has been CEO of WEAVE, the region’s primary provider of crisis services for survivors of domestic and sexual abuse.

Flojaune Cofer

An epidemiologist by training, she became an expert in women’s and girls’ well-being at at the state Department of Public Health. After moving over to Public Health Advocates in 2017 as its research and state policy manager, she has become a key player in the efforts to reduce death rates among African-American children.

Chris Hoene

Since 2012, he has been executive director of the California Budget & Policy Center, an influential voice for the poor in the state’s public policy debate. The center’s research was often cited in the push to raise the state minimum wage to $15 in 2022 and to start the state’s own version of the earned income tax credit.

Kim Alexander

President of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation, she’s a strong advocate for more informed voters having a bigger say, and for voters across the state having equal access to participate. Her group is particularly focused on making sure that technology helps—not harms—our democracy.

THE PASTOR: Les Simmons

Photo by Foon Rhee

Metwalli Amer

As founder of the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims in 1987, he has promoted interfaith fellowship between the Muslim community and others. That paid huge dividends after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and is crucial again in the Trump era.

Doni Blumenstock

A former member of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and now on its friends board, she’s also co-founder of the Nehemiah Emerging Leaders Program, which this year will graduate its 10th class of diverse young professionals.

Joan Burke

She retired last year after 35 years as director of advocacy for Loaves & Fishes. Her quiet persistence and compassion forced elected leaders and the public to face the reality of homelessness in Sacramento.

Buck Busfield

A fixture on the local theater scene for three decades, Busfield has mentored dozens of actors and introduced hundreds of children to live theater. B Street Theatre, which he founded in 1986 as the Theatre for Children, now has a sparkling home on Capitol Avenue.


Photo courtesy of Jay Lund

Linda Beech Cutler

As CEO of the Sacramento Region Community Foundation since 2013, she helps lead the annual Big Day of Giving—on May 2 this year—that is raising millions of dollars for local nonprofits and is shrinking the “generosity gap” between Sacramento and other cities.

Libby Fernandez

Known as Sister Libby, she stepped down as executive director of Loaves & Fishes in 2017—and hopped on a bicycle to work more directly with the homeless through her Mercy Pedalers ministry.

Chet Hewitt

The self-described “social worker with legal training” has led the Sierra Health Foundation since 2007. He has married philanthropy and policy in pursuit of social justice by awarding grants to food banks, jobs programs and public health efforts and by encouraging discussion on these issues.

Lial Jones

The longtime local arts leader and director at the Crocker Art Museum shepherded the $100 million, 125,000-square-foot expansion that opened in 2010. Now, the museum is striving to be more inclusive in its programs. In March, it announced a new endowment that will support LGBQT and emerging artists.

THE ADVOCATE: Beth Hassett

Photo by Nicole Fowler

Pat Fong Kushida

As president and CEO of the California Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce, she has been a vocal advocate for local small businesses, especially those owned by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Since Chinese and Japanese families are more established in Sacramento, the chamber is now focused on helping more recent immigrants from Southeast Asia.

Paula Lee

A longtime leader of the League of Women Voters chapter in Sacramento County, she has done the unsung work of organizing candidate forums. With the league, she helped push the city to create independent redistricting and ethics commissions. She has also championed electoral changes and last year received a lifetime achievement award in local reform from FairVote.

Dennis Mangers

During three decades in the state Capitol as a legislator and lobbyist, he built a sterling reputation. He also came out when that could have been career-threatening, but kept his influence, even earning the moniker the “gay godfather.” Now, he’s a strategic adviser to Mayor Darrell Steinberg on the arts.

Doris Matsui

When Robert Matsui died in 2005 during his 13th term in the U.S. House, many did not know what to expect when his widow replaced him in a special election. It turns out that Doris Matsui fits Sacramento: unassuming, hard-working and effective, bringing home millions for flood control levees and other important projects.


Photo courtesy of Public Health Advocates

Mike McKeever

If you’re happy that Sacramento doesn’t have the sprawl and traffic of Southern California, he’s one of the primary people to thank. At the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, McKeever fought for “smart growth” and shepherded the Blueprint, a regional plan that has won national acclaim.

Kathryn Phillips

She’s director of Sierra Club California, one of the state’s most powerful voices for the environment. Just one example: Last year, it led the opposition to Proposition 3, a $8.9 billion water bond issue, calling it “pay to play” because the some of the biggest beneficiaries funded the campaign. The measure failed.

Jackie Rose

An advocate for children in South Sacramento, she runs the Rose Family Creative Empowerment Center. This year, she received the Mort Friedman legacy award, given by the city to recognize those who are committed to Sacramento and whose positive impact will be felt by generations to come.

Melinda Ruger

She’s executive director of Harm Reduction Services, a small nonprofit that provides essential supplies to people living on the streets, including vitamins, tampons and mosquito repellant. It also offers HIV tests and trains and distributes naloxone, the emergency, life-saving drug for overdoses.

THE ANALYST: Chris Hoene

Photo courtesy of California Budget & Policy Center

Rivkah Sass

When she became director of the Sacramento Public Library in 2009, it faced financial problems and an embezzlement scandal. She not only moved it past the troubles, she helped move it into the 21st century and build it into the fourth largest library system in California. Voters showed their support in 2016, renewing a 10-year parcel tax extension by 79 percent to 21 percent.

Amber K. Stott

She started as a local food blogger, but by founding the Food Literacy Center she has had a much bigger impact on teaching local children to eat healthier. She has also encouraged urban farming and was named a “Food Revolution Hero” by the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation.

William T. Vollman

The local award-winning author literally wrote the book on how to cover Sacramento’s homelessness crisis. He turned from novels to nonfiction on the poor and in 2011, he wrote a first-person, 18-page piece for Harper’s magazine on the homeless in Sacramento.

Blake Young

He’s president of Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services, best known for the Run to Feed the Hungry, an annual fundraiser that has grown into the largest Thanksgiving Day run in America. The nonprofit provides food aid, adult education and other programs year-round.

Ali Youssefi

The rare developer who found ways to build eye-catching projects—and affordable housing, he died last year. Last month, the City Council renamed St. Rose at Lima Park at 7th and K streets to honor him.