Edna Nesky wasted no time volunteering in her new community after moving cross country more than two decades ago. Now she is being honored by the Santa Ynez Valley Foundation and Santa Ynez Valley News as the valley’s 2018 Health and Human Services Volunteer of the Year.

“I like to be with people. I like being around people. I didn’t know many people out here my age when I moved, so I got involved,” she said.

Nesky will be among a handful of Santa Ynez Valley standouts who will be honored at the 22nd Annual Awards Gala slated for March 24 at Santa Ynez Valley Marriott. The public is invited to attend the event, which begins at 6 p.m. with a reception followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $100 per person, and may be reserved at www.syvalleyfoundation.org.

Today, Nesky volunteers at New to You Thrift Store, 1689 Oak St. in Solvang, and Friendship House, a dementia support network. She has also served on the Santa Barbara County Advisory Board on Alcohol and Other Drug Problems, now called the Santa Barbara County Behavioral Wellness Commission.

This matter-of-fact octogenarian with an infectious laugh was raised in Queens, New York. She studied sociology at Hofstra University, and worked as a features reporter for a daily newspaper on Long Island before spending 45 years in the hospitality industry and another 20 as an insurance billing specialist.

While maintaining her career, Nesky raised three children: Debbie Mock, former director of human resources at Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort; Pam Islein; and Paul J. Keil, III.

In late 1996, she moved to Santa Ynez Valley where she worked for Marriott in, she said, every department except housekeeping.

Then came retirement.

She knew another woman involved in the Santa Ynez Cottage Hospital Auxiliary, and inquired about the thrift store.

“I was retired. I needed something to do. I was too old to get a real job, so I got volunteer jobs,” Nesky said.

While the valley is loaded with nonprofits, Nesky immediately ruled out any animal-related volunteer opportunities.

“I can’t do animals. I had to stick with humans because I’d take home all the animals,” she said.

Instead, she focuses on moving stock at New to You Thrift Store operated by Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital Auxiliary since 1963. Donated items are organized in the tidy shop which offers clothes and shoes for men, women and children, has a large kitchen goods section, plus CDs and books, among other items. Proceeds have helped the hospital purchase equipment such as ultrasound and mammography machines and CT scanners.

She’s accumulated well over 7,000 volunteer hours at the thrift store where she spends about six hours each week these days.

“We need more volunteers. Most of us are getting older. We need younger people,” Nesky said.

As a working mother of three, she completely understands the lack of volunteers among those in the midst of parenting.

“But once you retire, what are you going to do with all those hours? You volunteer,” she said.

She is also proud of her growing family including four grandchildren and seven great grandchildren, and spends her free time reading murder mysteries.

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