Santa Ynez Valley's Man of the Year, the Rev. Randall Day, immediately deflects any congratulations, special recognition or hint of public honor. To this pastor of St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church, who serves on a variety of boards and foundations, the award represents the people who, for generations, have positioned the Valley for the success it enjoys today.
“Through the years, in lots of different places, it has become plain to me that massive amounts of work is done through community services, through volunteerism," Day said. "People have no idea how much of the character of any area is affected by the level of community service and volunteerism going on here.”
If he had any say in the matter, Day would name any number of Valley volunteers in his stead. Top of the list would be Pam Gnekow and the late Jim Lindsey.
“Jim did so much for the hospital and a lot of other organizations in the Valley. I’m really dedicating this award and seeing this as an honor for Jim because he got me moving in the way I wanted to be moving in the wider community,” Day said.
Gnekow, executive director of Buellton Senior Center and a longtime Valley volunteer, was honored in 2015 for her service to seniors.
“She’s my favorite person in the Valley. She’s a person who, you show up and have a need, she’s going to make sure it’s met. She’s my hero. I would make her woman of the year every year,” Day said.
There’s the Santa Ynez Valley Food Rescue Team, Los Guerreros, countless PTA and parent organizations, not to mention the unsung heroes in Santa Ynez Valley youth volunteers.
“If you start looking, you start realizing that people say they love living here, but what they love is the way this community has been shaped by the people who have been volunteering uncountable hours of community service,” Day said. “There’s any number of youth organizations, school-related organizations serving everything from seniors to community health, from different backgrounds, speaking different languages, who serve this community.”
But this year’s honor is, in fact, all about Day, whose service to community extends far beyond the obligations of the pulpit that drew he and his family here in 2008.
His major volunteer roles outside the church have included board membership with Los Olivos Chamber of Commerce, board member and executive board member with Santa Barbara Foundation and its various committees, board member for Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital Foundations and board member of Santa Ynez Valley Youth Coalition, as well as Los Olivos Rotary Foundation.
“People may think volunteering means delivering food for Meals on Wheels, but even in huge foundations, there are volunteers involved in the governance and support that makes those programs possible,” Day explained.
Throughout the years, service through his church as well as personal service projects has included membership in Los Olivos Rotary, facilitating Inclusion Santa Ynez Valley and coordinating St. Mark’s meeting space for free use by more than 100 local clubs and nonprofits.
Together with his husband and partner of 28 years, Bill Harbaugh, Day also serves on the committee for the Pacific Pride Coalition Royal Ball.
“It sounds crazy, but I love to work. I work a lot. Sometimes too much, which I realize, but I do love connecting with people," Day said. "Community service and volunteerism is a great context for connecting with people from all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives.”
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He also finds volunteer engagement particularly creative.
“People are either trying to create something or serve a group of people who are creatively thinking about how to meet a need because they realize whatever they’re doing or addressing really needs a best effort,” Day said.
As pastor to a congregation dating back to the 1920s, Day feels beholden to continue a St. Mark’s tradition of providing service to the community at large.
“The parish has always been inclined toward serving the community, generally speaking, caring for how the community overall functions, not so much just the church itself,” he explained.
In that vein, St. Mark’s has taken to opening its doors on any given day to the public at large, to welcome people of all religious affiliations, or none at all, to enter the sanctuary to find some peace, say a prayer or simply escape from the heat and sun.
Even the restrooms are made available to the public as a service to the community that attracts tourists, but offers no public facilities for them.
“Churches really are public organizations. Their whole reason for being is based on the needs of the community around them. When I go by a church and see the doors closed and locked, I think that’s obscene. It so runs against the grain for me,” Day said.
In that spirit, St. Mark’s is in the midst of transforming its kitchen to a commercial-grade, public-use kitchen that will be made available to a host of educational and practical efforts identified in last year’s Santa Barbara County Food Action Plan.
“Programs like these, and the volunteers who make them happen, are utterly crucial," Day said. "There’s nothing extra. What we know as the Santa Ynez Valley is created largely by community service and volunteerism, and it’s happening on every level, and many more people are involved than most people think.”
To people who don’t know if they have anything to offer, Day says step up.
“There’s a constant need for more people to be involved and to be engaged," he said. "It might just be that the solution someone is seeking to a problem is in your head. You might have the key, the experience, the level of creativity, the insight that’s needed.”
It’s not about being another warm body, or providing menial labor.
“Volunteering, serving your community, it’s not just a job you don’t really care about," Day said. "It’s everything someone brings. It’s an opportunity to be really expressive and let yourself go in terms of using all your gifts really well.”
“If you start looking, you start realizing that people say they love living here, but what they love is the way this community has been shaped by the people who have been volunteering uncountable hours of community service.” - Rev. Randall Day