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Inaugural Spirit of Santa Maria Award Honors Three Types of Community Volunteers

First recipients are Pastor Carl Nielsen, founder of Serve Santa Maria; Peter Burgett, who volunteers hundreds of hours annually; and Altrusa International

Pastor Carl Nielsen of Bethel Lutheran Church, founder of Serve Santa Maria, accepts the Spirit of Santa Maria Award, one of three handed out by the All-America City Committee.
Pastor Carl Nielsen of Bethel Lutheran Church, founder of Serve Santa Maria, accepts the Spirit of Santa Maria Award, one of three handed out by the All-America City Committee. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A pastor who leads a community cleanup, a man who volunteers thousands of hours annually and a service group that supports various projects were recognized with the inaugural Spirit of Santa Maria Award on Tuesday night.

Spirit of SM
Peter Burgett, who volunteers for various causes, talks to the Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday while looking at his Spirit of Santa Maria Award. Burgett was one of three recipients. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Honored during the City Council meeting were Pastor Carl Nielsen, who spearheads Serve Santa Maria; Peter Burgett, who volunteers for various causes; and Altrusa International of Santa Maria, which has supported multiple projects in the community.

“We tried to recognize three different types of volunteerism in this initial award,” Recreation and Parks Director Alex Posada said.

The award came from the All-America City Committee to spotlight collaboration, community building and community problem-solving. Santa Maria was named an All-America City in 1998 by the National Civic League.

While three winners representing three types of volunteers were named for the first Spirit of Santa Maria Award, city officials expect just one recipient will be named in the future. 

Nielsen, from Bethel Lutheran Church in Santa Maria, started Serve Santa Maria to spruce up the city with as many as 400 volunteers completing projects at city parks, school sites and private property.

“For the past five years, Pastor Carl Nielsen has provided the leadership and organizational skills to transform the serve Santa Maria event into a powerful catalyst. It has become our community’s largest community volunteer event,” Posada said. “Pastor Carl’s leadership and civic contribution epitomizes the spirit of Santa Maria and of the All-America City Award.”

The 10th Serve Santa Maria event is set for Aug. 29.

“It’s a collaboration of a lot, a lot of people. I’m just grateful to be part of it,” Nielsen said.

Burgett, a Marine Corps veteran from the Vietnam War era, was nominated by Big Brothers Big Sisters for his role in mentoring children through the years.

He also volunteered for the Santa Maria Police Department, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, the Santa Maria Library and Civil Air Patrol, Marian Regional Medical Center and the animal shelter.

Spirit of SM
Isa Ponce-Jimenez from Altrusa International of Santa Maria receives the organization's Spirit of Santa Maria Award on Tuesday night. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

In 2014, he logged 5,000 hours volunteering for various causes.

He noted the reward he gets from seeing a boy in the hospital playing with a toy Burgett  gave him. Or hearing a sick girl’s mother share that the youth carries a purple turtle stuffed animal to every medical appointment for three years — “and that has seen her through more than you can even begin to imagine.”

“You just can’t get paid for that,” Burgett said. “Awards like this, they make you want to do more.”

Altrusa International of Santa Maria has supported assorted projects since 1959, including those involving transportation, senior citizens and the YMCA.

During the building of the new Santa Maria Library, Altrusa donated $72,000 for the children’s theater. Later, the group helped fund the Santa Maria Valley Human Society Adoption Office. 

More members would mean more projects, club president Isa Ponce-Jimenez said Tuesday.

“There’s a lot of need in Santa Maria," she said. "We do need your support so we can continue to do the wonderful things that we do.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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