Donna Arz named 2017 McCann Award winner

By: Carol Guild, Content Manager
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State of the Community Dinner
When: 6-9:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13
Where: The Ridge Golf Course and Event Center, 2020 Golf Course Road in Auburn
Info: Contact the Auburn Chamber of Commerce at 530-885-5616, 1103 High St. in Auburn, or online at
The Auburn Chamber in partnership with the Auburn Journal organizes the annual State of Community Dinner, the premier awards dinner in Auburn.  Attendees celebrate the winners of the Friend of Recreation, Health Care, Business, Culture, City of Auburn, Placer County and Educator of the Year. The highlight is the presentation of the Auburn Journal’s McCann Award.

   In a little niche near the center of town, there is a welcoming, open space — a sanctuary, with a labyrinth, fountain, art, vegetable gardens, roses, a mighty oak and even a bonsai tree.
   It is a peaceful and meditative place designed and built with the energy and kindness of many — all stemming from the vision of one. Donna Arz.
   It is the Armed Forces Pavilion and Community Garden.
Arz, an Auburn resident for 34 years, is the founder of the Forgotten Soldier Program and the 2017 winner of the Auburn Journal’s Vernon Gould McCann Award. The award is named for former Journal business manager “Mac” McCann who devoted his life to the Auburn community.
   Since 1979 the annual award has been presented to an individual whose work, volunteerism and community service is extraordinary.

   Community spirit
   For Arz, the garden project is a calling.
   “I wanted to bring something into the Auburn area that will be here forever, that people can enjoy and have a place to contemplate and find peace,” she said. “Veterans are community, right?”
   Projecting positivity, honor, dignity and respect, Arz’s vision and mission has come to fruition, and continues to grow.
   “The veterans give to our community. They have a calling and they go and serve. They leave their families behind for that period of time and they give to their country,” Arz said. “I think we need to give back to them and recognize them. People shouldn’t forget what they have given.”

   The space had been an empty lot on Lincoln Way where a building had burned down decades before. It is adjacent to Arz’s Healing Light Institute.
   With the blessing and generosity of the landowners, the Forgotten Soldier Program first leased the land for an extremely nominal amount. Now it is theirs.
   “No one had ever touched the land since (the building burned). It was weeds and trash and wasn’t being cared for,” Arz said. “It had been forgotten.”
   With the healing work they do with veterans at the Healing Light Institute, the veterans recognized that the land wasn’t being cared for.
   “As they were coming back to life within themselves, this was a good project to bring back to life,” Arz said. “The property had no soul anymore, the soul had been burned out of it. Like many veterans, their souls are displaced and they’re looking for a way to come home.”

   Treating our vets
   Arz, PhD., and her staff have treated over 22,000 veterans.
   Vets come on reference from places such as an air force base, women’s center, pain clinic, and a combat center. “They find us through referrals and other programs,”    Arz said. “And the veterans themselves refer the vets, which is the greatest honor in the world to have a veteran tell another veteran because we changed their life. It’s a very humbling experience.”

   Arz beams as she describes all the help received at the garden.
   “What’s so unique about this is, once Home Depot came in, they gave $30,500 and United Auburn Indian Community gave $5,000. Once that happened, Home Depot brought their crews and we had about 40 people come over a week. Fences were up, pavilions built. Veterans came and joined them. We had about 60 people. It was like magic. Absolutely magical.”
   Veterans always rally around.
   That includes Greg Wilbur. “Greg donated his time and brought one of his big tractor and really got us rolling,” Arz said.
River City Rental in Auburn was also instrumental in helping to build the garden. The company transported its own tractors seven or eight times for free use. Arz’s son,   Matt, ran the equipment.
   Artist Katie Fries is continuing “the river bed of life – connecting it from downtown to here to the park preserve,” Arz said.
   Sisters of Mercy, Mercy Center Auburn, facilitated the labyrinth. There are about 2300 bricks.
   “Sisters also blessed us with plants,” Arz said. “And we’re on their prayer list.”
   The elements of wood, fire, air and water, as with Chinese medicine, are all present in the garden. The color red represents the fire and water flows from the fountain.

   “I had the vision,” Arz said. “This is a God thing. Some people said I couldn’t make this happen. That I put the cart before the horse and this would never happen. But I knew in my mind, this was an absolute God thing and this would happen.”

   McCann Award winner
   Sitting on a bench near the back of the garden, Arz said, “It’s an honor. It’s humbling.”
   She said the project isn’t about her, it’s about the bigger picture. “I’m just the vehicle,” she said. “The garden is a byproduct of the Forgotten Soldier Program. It’s soul matches … synergy. I really don’t have word for it. I didn’t do it for recognition. It’s something that needed to be done. I’m capable of that so I just did it.
   “What’s amazing is, if God gives you an idea and you act on it, it builds the energy around it, and everything else comes together.”