Bob Sonnenberg of Santa Rosa’s Earle Baum Center wins a North Bay Business Journal Nonprofit Leadership Award

Bob Sonnenberg


Earle Baum Center of the Blind

4539 Occidental Road, Santa Rosa 95401


Professional background: I have more than 30 years of experience in finance, development, and investments, including operating my own brokerage and insurance business and manufacturing business. Prior to joining Earle Baum Center, I served for more than 10 years as Associate Director of Planned Giving and Major Donor Officer for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Education: Graduate: Golden Gate University, San Francisco, CA: MBA finance; Undergraduate: Colorado University, Boulder, CO: BSBA finance/marketing

Number of staff: 17

Describe your organization: Earle Baum Center is a Santa Rosa nonprofit celebrating 21 years serving people with sight loss and people who are blind in Sonoma, Napa, Lake, and Mendocino counties by improving their personal, social, and economic lives.

Earle Baum Center is an innovative community learning hub and support resource for people who are living with sight loss or are newly experiencing sight loss. People served by EBC and their families regain confidence, master new skills, and engage with technology and others to make vital, lifelong connections to lead happy, safe, productive lives.

Tell us a little bit about yourself: I’m a native of Marin County and a ninth generation Californian.

I’m devoted to my community and am an advocate for quality of life for older adults and people living with disabilities.

Currently, I serve on Marin County Estate Planning Council. I am a past board member of Vivalon (formerly Whistlestop), Mill Valley Rotary member and I served on the board of the Community Institute of Psychotherapy (CIP) for more than 10 years.

I lead an active and independent lifestyle and enjoy hiking, gardening and tandem bike riding. I live with my wife Cindy and guide dog, Langley, in San Rafael, CA.

What is your role in the organization?


How has your organization been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Since mid-March, EBC had to close our campus, with 100% of our instructors currently working remotely. We moved from an in-person service platform to a predominantly remote training platform. We've kept the staff and payroll completely intact at this point, have tightened the belt elsewhere, and are having to use some of our reserves to keep our client services going.

The silver lining of the remote platform is that we’re reaching more people and continue to explore how we can expand our capacity using digital connections with our community.

Optimistically, we will continue use of remote training in addition to in-person classes when we return to opening our campus.

What are the ways your organization responded to increased demands for services, and fiscally, in what has your organization been forced to adjust?

Within a week’s time of EBC closing our campus for county-issued Shelter in Place orders, we transitioned to a remote digital platform that includes individual and group training including all facets of assistive technology, support groups, braille, orientation and mobility (safe travel), yoga, exercise, and ukulele.

What achievement are you most proud of?

Providing a service that brings JOY to the clients it serves. As one who lost significant sight 16 years ago, I know firsthand the importance of the services EBC provides to individuals (clients), their families and friends with invaluable tools, knowledge, and support.

What is your biggest challenge today?

It’s growing sustainable revenue while building awareness and capacity in the communities we serve.

What is the next major project either under way or on the horizon?

Building capacity for Earle Baum Center. We wish to be able to serve more people, engage in more strategic partnerships, and support our future and financial sustainability with increased revenue and donor support.

What product or service would/or is helping you do your job more effectively?

Communication and education! Every client who comes to EBC is unique and it’s incumbent on EBC to be the most informed provider offering best practices within the vision rehabilitation industry.

This must be done continually through education, building networks with trusted industry leaders. We are committed to be the most prepared!

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

Less government funding and fewer organizations (vision rehabilitation) to provide services coupled with the changing demographics. So many of our aging population and their family support systems are dealing with sight loss associated with macular degeneration and diabetes.

This really puts the emphasis on new and creative funding sources needing to be developed.

I also imagine that technology supporting our clients will continue to grow a lot, so staying on top of that and getting benefits from it will be important.

Describe a fond memory you have about working with a staff member or client of your organization?

Some fond memories and success stories of EBC clients that come to mind are:

Lauri Ballard – an EBC client who suffered an accident that led to sight loss. She did volunteer work at EBC and never gave up going back to work. She is now gainfully employed.

Vivien Hillgrove – also an EBC client who is a filmmaker. She is a joyful person who is fun to be around. She is now working on a documentary film about her sight loss journey.

Hoby Wedler – one of our board members was born blind. He is a scientist, food and beverage expert and co-founder of Senspoint. In 2016, Hoby earned his PhD from UC Davis in organic chemistry. His fearlessness is infectious. And he has actively paved the way for others to join him in his quest to follow passions both because and despite of any challenges.

I have learned from all of these people and through my own experiences that attitude is key with anything.

Move forward. Be positive. Never give up attitude.

What other community involvement would you like people to know about?

Always looking to build more robust relationships with Health, Center on Aging, Transportation

Successful partnerships: Lions (all service organizations), Scouts, Laguna Foundation, and volunteers from corporations for worksite days at EBC.

Sonoma County Office of Education – provided once a month hangout night for kids under 18. Tandem bike riding, Jeopardy game; Goal Ball. Our organization would love to do more with kids who are blind or have sight loss.


Most admired businessperson outside your organization: David Goodman, CEO of Redwood Empire Food Bank

Current reading: “Intangibles: Unlocking the Science and Soul of Team Chemistry” by local writer Joan Ryan

Most want to meet: Kamala Harris

Stress relievers: Long walks with my guide dog Langley and gardening

Favorite hobbies: Gardening and fishing

Social media you most use: Mainly Facebook and Instagram for work

Buzz word from your industry you dislike the most: Vision Loss. As EBC board member Hoby Wedler likes to say, “all of us have vision, some of us don’t have eyesight.”

Typical day at the office: On the phone and computer a lot; Zoom calls with team, collaborators, and donors

Best place to work outside of the office: Dining room table during COVID-19

Words that best describe you: Passionate, dedicated, experienced

Anything you want to add?

A highlight since losing my sight: I have thrown out a “first pitch’” for the American League, Seattle Mariners, and the National League, San Francisco Giants. This special experience can be viewed at:

Bob Sonnenberg


Earle Baum Center of the Blind

4539 Occidental Road, Santa Rosa 95401


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