.A Guide to the 2018 NEXTies

[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ow does one describe the NEXTies?

“It’s kind of like if Event Santa Cruz and the Oscars had a baby,” explains Event Santa Cruz founder Matthew Swinnerton. Now in its ninth year, the NEXTies, presented by Event Santa Cruz, honor some of this area’s best and brightest. Out of 1,700 nominations this year, the NEXTies will honors 16 individuals, businesses and nonprofits that focus on progressive, community-building work. Last year’s hosts—actress and singer Danielle Crook and local comedian DNA—return to the Rio Theatre for the 2018 awards, with catering by Santa Cruz Food Lounge vendors and drinks provided by New Bohemia Brewing and Venus Spirits. Here’s a look at this year’s winners:


Entrepreneur of the Year

Jennalee Dahlen                                                                                    

As an esthetician and owner of Yoso Wellness Spa, Dahlen’s work focuses on holistic, healing treatment in a peaceful setting. Along with offering acupuncture, deep tissue massages, manicures, facials and more, Yoso uses eco-friendly products so clients don’t have to worry about leaving an environmental footprint. Beyond Yoso, Swinnerton says she was chosen because of all the active work she does in Santa Cruz County, like throwing fundraising benefits for various causes and organizations. “She’s just a good do-gooder in our community,” he says with a laugh.


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Musician of the Year

Jesse Daniel               

See our cover story.


Artist of the Year

Ann Hazels  

As the director of the Radius Gallery at the Tannery Arts Center, Hazels provides a space for some of the county’s most interesting artists. Swinnerton tells GT she was chosen not only for her work at the gallery, but because she is a catalyst for other artists to gain the courage to continue to create and display.


Writer of the Year

Santa Cruz Heritage Food Project  

Wait, the Santa Cruz Heritage Food Project won for Writer of the Year? That’s right. For three years, Sierra Ryan, Liz Birnbaum, Jody Biergiel Colclough and Katie Hansen pored over local archives researching how certain foods came to Santa Cruz, who used them, how or where they were grown and what recipes they were used in. Last year, they released a cookbook tracking the agricultural history of Santa Cruz County along with 25 historical recipes.                                                                                      

Give Back Person of the Year

Just Chip

As the executive director of Downtown Association of Santa Cruz and the co-director of First Friday events, Chip is immersed in the city of Santa Cruz. “Along with all the amazing work he does with the Downtown Association and helping out local businesses, he was also chosen because he was a big proponent and organizer of the Downtown Streets Team,” says Swinnerton. Indeed, Chip was fundamental in raising the $48,000 initially needed to fund the program.


Foodie of the Year

Burn Hot Sauce                                                                                                  

Owned and operated by chef Amanda Pargh and her partner, farmer Chase Atkins, Burn is an organic and fermented hot sauce fortified with probiotics. Made from locally grown peppers, flavors vary upon seasons and range in a wide variety from Habanero to Bulgarian Carrot and even Agave Spirit Habanero.


New Business of the Year


YaDoggie’s nutritious, grain-free food comes in duck, lamb and turkey flavors with YaDoggie’s own delivery system that will bring the food right to pet owners’ doors. Their welcome kit even comes with biodegradable poop bags and a tennis ball for fetch, plus a Bluetooth-capable scoop that keeps track of usage and orders a new bag to your doorstep before you run out.


Athlete of the Year

Mike Holt

“He’s a world-class sailor, although you would never know it because he’s not a boaster,” Swinnerton says of Holt. “However, he’s won several international sailing competitions. It’s interesting to us because he’s not celebrated like other athletes—and sailing, in general, is not talked about enough as a sport in town. So we decided to honor a world-class athlete who highlights Santa Cruz.”


Under 18 Person of the Year

Kim Garcia

Volunteering at multiple various organizations throughout the county, Garcia has given hundreds of hours volunteering to many organizations, particularly Salud Y Cariño, a program that focuses on physical activity, harm prevention and education for kids and middle schoolers. “She’s overwhelmingly involved in the community and incredibly dedicated to her volunteer service,” Swinnerton says.


Nonprofit of the Year

Gravity Water                                                                                   

Founded in 2016 by Danny Wright, this nonprofit’s mission is to provide safe, clean drinking water to communities around the world. Their special three-tiered tanks capture rain before  99.9 percent of contamination can occur. Gravity then filters the water through the tanks, providing a pure life source for some of the world’s hardest-hit areas. They’ve already provided clean water to 5,000 people in 10 different communities spread through Nepal and Vietnam, and have been featured in National Geographic. “It’s a 100 percent new idea and I’m shocked, honored and grateful to have my hometown community behind this global work,” Wright says.


Mentor of the Year

Rachel Mitchell                                                                                         

Mitchell is an Anthropology Instructor at Cabrillo College with a B.A. from UCSC and her Master’s from the University of Kentucky. Swinnerton tells GT that she was the most nominated person this year, and she had no idea. “Usually people or businesses know they are being nominated. However, all of her students, past and present, got together and said she had such an impact on their lives, both in and outside the classroom, that they submitted her name.”


Innovative Business of the Year

Steeped Coffee                                                                          

Launched to the public through a Kickstarter campaign, the brainchild of Josh Wilbur is a single-use coffee in a biodegradable steeping bag, much like tea. While it may sound simple, it actually took Wilbur years to develop a coffee steeping bag. The packaging is all recycled paper, and the coffee is ethically sourced—providing the purest and most Santa Cruz way of getting that warm cup of joe.


Innovator of the year

John Felts                                                                                               

See story.


TECHie of the Year

Jeremy Almond                                                                                                

As CEO of Paystand, Almond is changing the way local companies do business. Paystand is a new way for companies to pay and receive money in a digital, business-to-business model. This allows companies to improve their bottom line by saving money with a flat rate for the service instead of a percentage for each transaction.


Green Business of the Year

Upcycled Skate Art                                                                   

What’s more Santa Cruz than skateboards and art? What about art made out of skateboards? When Alexander Michael Wong moved to town in 2015 to attend UCSC, he combined his love of skateboarding and art to relieve the stress of studying. He now creates everything from picture frames to keychains and coasters out of old skateboards. With nearly three million boards dumped in landfills yearly, Wong is able to give the wood a new life.



Ryan Foley

“So many people don’t fit into the NEXTie categories, so the ‘Wildcard’ is a catch-all for everything else,” says Swinnerton. If that’s the guideline, then Ryan Foley falls perfectly into this category even if his work is out of this world. The assistant professor in Astrophysics at UCSC won the prestigious Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering in 2016 for his work in the mysterious realm of dark energy. First discovered in 1998, dark energy is the force causing the expansion of the universe to speed up, yet very little is known about it. Foley is currently leading two separate teams to more closely observe supernovae in an effort to better understand this force that makes up for 70 percent of our known universe.



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