Hunter Valencia

Outgoing Local Who Makes a Difference Elizabeth Smith officially presents the award from the city to the next Locals Who Make a Difference honoree, her son Hunter Valencia.

When Sebastopol city Councilmembers Diana Rich and Neysa Hinton first chose the newest honoree for the Locals Who Make a Difference program, they didn’t realize he was the son of the current honoree. His last name is different so they didn’t make the connection. All they saw was a promising young man who spent a lot of time helping his community.

When the familial relationship came to light, Rich and Hinton briefly contemplated whether that should make a difference. The answer: nope. They decided they would have made the same choice, even if they’d been hip to the family connection. The full city council was happy to put its seal of approval on their choice.

The official proclamation naming Hunter Valencia the next Locals Who Make a Difference honoree happened at the beginning of Tuesday night’s city council meeting.

“Hunter Valencia has a community service mindset,” Rich said, as she read the city’s proclamation at the virtual city council meeting on April 6. “He exemplifies what it means to be a young person in leadership and dreams of one day being in politics … Hunter Valencia actively participates in volunteer service, serving as regional representative and on the chapter council for De Molay, preparing Peacetown activity bags for families during the pandemic, fundraising for Soroptimist International of West Sonoma County and mentoring people in the community.”

Rich noted that in addition to his volunteering, Valencia carries a full load of college prep classes and works at the Toyworks as well.

He and his partner on the Analy Speech and Debate team will also be heading to the state finals this month — the first time in six years that Analy has made it that far.

Valencia and several family members were also on the Zoom call, but what he didn’t realize is that the city had secretly delivered the heart-shaped award to his mom, who presented it to him on camera.

After the official presentation, Hunter got a chance to speak, as did several of his relatives.

“I haven’t been in this community for too long,” Hunter said, noting that he moved here the summer of his eighth grade year. “I remember coming to the town, and it was definitely a life-changing experience for me … Peacetown especially has made a big impact on my life.”

Valencia said he’s tried to bring the values of Peacetown to Analy High School, where he is currently a junior. “I’ve had an absolute blast doing it,” he said.

“This community has given me much more than I will ever be able to, but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get closer,” he said, noting that the people he’s been able to meet during the course of his volunteering “have all been absolutely wonderful, and I look forward to the change that I’ll be able to make in the future.”

Then his mom, outgoing Local Who Makes a Difference, Elizabeth Smith spoke: “You’ve always been so bright and an old soul … From a young age, you had a heart for people and a heart for community,” she said. “Anytime I’d volunteer, you always wanted to be there and you fully immerse yourself, and now as a young adult, you’ve managed to find your own experiences so that you can give back.”

“When we decided to make the move, you could feel it too–the heartbeat of Sebastopol calling you. I was so scared to uproot you from a community that you had been in all your life, with your friends, family and support. But you insisted that academically and emotionally Sebastopol was calling you, like it was me. You assured me this was a move that we had to make. You dove right in to giving your time and your heart to community. It somehow comes second nature to you. I’m so proud to be your mama. I’m so happy that you’re being acknowledged, and I hope that this continues to inspire you to always give back.”

In early May, the city will be taking down Smith’s banners around town and replacing them with Valencia’s.

Townsy Sebastopol is a recently-launched community web app, offering local news, online shopping at local stores, a local event guide, local volunteer and job boards and more. Find it at

Sonoma West Publishers is partnering with Townsy to make our news more accessible to the Sebastopol community. 

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