Christina Gray, a photographer, business owner and author who volunteers her time and skills to a variety of causes throughout the year, has received the 2019 Pleasanton Mayor's Award.
A longtime Pleasanton resident and owner of Bella Luna Studios, Gray was lauded for her dedication to local nonprofits such as Kids Against Hunger, Axis Community Health, Open Heart Kitchen and CASA -- in addition to her volunteerism with school and youth organizations as a parent.
"Receiving the Mayor's Award has renewed my dedication to service," Gray told the Weekly in an interview after accepting the award last month.
"I spread my time over many organizations, volunteering an hour here and an hour there. I have always hoped that time would amount to something meaningful for the people and places I support," she added. "What an honor to be recognized in this way."
In presenting the award, Mayor Jerry Thorne commended Gray as someone who "embodies selfless service and captures the true essence of community volunteerism."
"Tonight we recognize an individual who exemplifies volunteerism in its truest form," Thorne added. "Her commitment and dedication to her family and her community has helped make Pleasanton the very best version of itself."
Some 250 city officials, current and former elected representatives, community leaders, previous Mayor's Award recipients and other residents were on hand in the Palm Event Center in the Vineyard for the evening dinner and award presentation organized by the city of Pleasanton on Nov. 14.
With a theme of "Pleasanton Means Home," the 48th annual Mayor's Award Celebration event also served as an opportunity for the Pleasanton community to recognize and highlight the work done during the past year by city commissions, committees and leaders -- many of whom were in attendance.
"Every one of you here this evening has contributed in some way to making Pleasanton the greatest place to live, and what other communities wish to be," Thorne told the audience.
And like many of the winners before her, Gray said she was shocked to hear the mayor soon spotlight her as the night's main honoree -- the winner's name is kept a secret until the ceremony.
"I went to the Mayor's Dinner as a guest of my friend (Councilwoman) Kathy Narum who said
her husband was out of town and she wanted me to join her. Turns out it was all just a ruse to get me there," Gray said.
"It was the surprise of a lifetime when I heard Mayor Thorne announce my name," she added. "The event organizers had even arranged to have my family attend. That was so incredible because everything I do is possible because of their support. The shock and thrill of it all still hasn't passed."
Gray is an accomplished professional photographer whose Bella Luna Studios, based in Pleasanton, is a favorite among residents in the area, including as 10-time winner of the annual Pleasanton Weekly Readers' Choice competition and a Readers' Choice Hall of Fame recipient. She is also a published author; her allergen-conscious cookbook, "Be Free Cooking: The Allergen-Aware Cook," was released in 2015.
Gray often pairs her photography skills with her commitment to volunteerism, taking pictures for free for nonprofit organizations such as CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Sandra J. Wing Healing Therapies Foundation, First Tee of the Tri-Valley, Axis Community Health, the Ed Kinney Foundation, Make a Difference for Pleasanton, Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce and Kids Against Hunger.
Thorne also commended Gray for other volunteer work, such as supporting Open Heart Kitchen's Feed the Need bag lunch program, helping to send food to victims of hurricanes, judging the photography category for the Reflections program, leading a classroom workshop at Mohr Elementary School and launching a Rising Start Program to inspire students to write and publish original books for their library.
As a working mother, Gray is also actively involved her daughter's Girl Scouts troop, serves on the Pleasanton Unified School District's Public Safety Committee, and coaches sixth-grade volleyball at Harvest Park Middle School and Phantom League under-13 softball teams.
"Time and time again, (she) has demonstrated how limitless a person's compassion to serve others above self can be," the mayor added.