Where’s James? Sharing PVF’s Best Practices with Parliament

It was a singular honor to be invited by Lord Wei of Shoreditch to address a joint All Party Parliamentary Group of the House of Lords and House of Commons in London.

They wanted to hear from someone at the forefront of social innovation in today’s world.  I spoke about the growing Inequality Gap in Silicon Valley and PVF’s philosophy of radical collaboration and risk taking in philanthropy.

James Parliament

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The Transformative Impact of Discretionary Giving in East Palo Alto

Virginia, who serves food to the staff at Tesla Motors, fell behind on her rent one month, and as a result her landlord tried to force her and her children out of their East Palo Alto apartment. Her situation is not uncommon; many East Palo Alto residents struggle to stay afloat in a sea of Silicon Valley wealth.


Staff at Community Legal Services of EPA (photo by Craig Sherod)

Fortunately, Virginia has an advocate to help her challenge evictions and stay in her home: Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto. Equipped with a team of dedicated lawyers, they provide legal services for immigrant families and youth, the formerly incarcerated, and residents in jeopardy of being evicted. These legal services range from weekly classes aimed at educating people on their rights to panels that provide career advice to Latino immigrants.

PVF awarded Community Legal Services of EPA a director’s discretionary grant in 2014 to support the critical needs of clients like Virginia. This discretionary grant allows the nonprofit director greater flexibility in their work so they can handle needs as they arise. It is our way of showing we both trust and value them as colleagues.

We aim to reduce the Inequality Gap in East Palo Alto by providing organizations like Community Legal Services of EPA with “paperless” discretionary grants that allow them to make the biggest impact in the community. We think this approach is working – in the words of Executive Director Phil Hwang: “Philanthropic Ventures Foundation has had a transformative impact on the lives of East Palo Alto community members. It has kept long-time East Palo Alto residents in their homes and communities. It has expanded opportunities for immigrant students and parents.”


PVF’s Bill Somerville and Community Legal Service of EPA’s Phil Hwang (photo by Craig Sherod)

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The $1 Million Man

Cole Wilbur has an extensive background in philanthropy. For 23 years he was CEO at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation when it grew from $7 million to $11 billion. When he retired from being CEO he then served on the Packard Foundation’s board for 15 years and his final term has just ended.

Bill Somerville and Cole Wilbur

Bill Somerville and Cole Wilbur

In recognition of his commitment, the Packard Foundation established a $1 million fund at Philanthropic Ventures Foundation (PVF) for Cole to give out to programs and nonprofits. We feel this is a fitting way to commend Cole and to allow him to recognize excellence in the work of nonprofits.

Cole is contributing these funds toward a few efforts to make significant change in the community. As Cole recommends grants to be made, the foundation will issue checks in its usual 48 hour turnaround and as with all foundation giving, the grants will be evaluated for their effectiveness.

We are proud that PVF was selected to be the holder of this special fund. The Packard Foundation and PVF have had a working relationship for 24 years.

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Building Family-School Trust for a Brighter Future: An Interview with a Bay Area Inspire Award Grantee

In 2014, PVF awarded grants to six young Bay Area residents for coming up with fresh ideas for building better communities. These awards were made possible through the Bay Area Inspire Awards, which provides $10,000 grants to 18-30 year olds living in San Francisco or Alameda Counties with an innovative, community-oriented idea.

PVF interviewed each grantee to give you a sense of what these amazing individuals are doing to change their communities for the better. Below is our second interview is with Christian Martinez. Christian is using his award to organize and conduct teacher home visits to families of 6th grade students at Oakland’s Epic Middle School. Goals include increasing teachers’ understanding of students’ home lives to build family-school trust, producing better academic performance and more satisfied students, teachers and families.

Christian MartinezPVF: Tell us about yourself and the inspiration behind The Home Visit Project? 

CM: I was born in Uruapan, Michoacan, Mexico.  I came to this country when I was 10 years of age, along with my sister, brother, and parents searching for the American dream.  My inspiration behind the project was my personal life experience going to public schools where the communication between families/ teachers wasn’t there. At the age of 17, I was a victim of crime. I was shot in my right leg a few blocks away from the school where I was attending at the time. I was out of schools for a few weeks and no one from school contacted my parents regarding my absences, instead just assuming I was another drop out. A few months later my father passed away and the same thing happened. At that point, I realized that the school system had failed me and perhaps I wasn’t the only one that felt that way.

PVF: Why are you interested in creating change in your community? 

CM: I’m very interested in creating change in my community because where I live, I see a lot of young people with a lot of talent who only need someone to push them and believe in them.  I work at a middle school in the Fruitvale area where most of the students there are predominately Latino. A lot of them come from broken households and most of them are aspiring to be the first generation of their families to go to college or even graduate high school. I believe that if a student is disengaged in education, this is because someone somewhere, somehow failed them, and it is our job as educators to change that mindset. Overall, I just want to create the change I wish to see in the world.

PVF: What is your hope with how this project will create change?

Christian MartinezCM: The hope with this project is to open the eyes of teachers, parents, and students that communication is a key component to keeping students on the path to success. We are all responsible for igniting knowledge in the young minds of the students we come across in our lives. Mainly, I hope teachers see students outside the school gates and realize that there is more than just teaching in a classroom. When you want to create change or impact students’ lives you really need to be involved 100% and engage parents in their child’s education.

PVF: What communities are you targeting for these home visits? Can you tell us about the people you are working with?

CM: The communities that we are targeting with this project are where the students live. I work for a charter middles school located in the Fruitvale community where we have students coming from all over East Oakland. The majority of the people that we are working with are majority Latino and African American. A lot of the families are Spanish speakers only, therefore we come in with translators to make sure they understand our visit.

PVF: How do you go about establishing a partnership between families and schools? What are some challenges in doing this?

CM: The way we establish a partnership between families and school starts with a letter or phone call introducing what we are doing and why our visit is important. Most of our families are very welcoming and open to a visit. The challenges in doing this would be scheduling the visit while the parents is present. A lot of the parents have 2-3 jobs and it is very difficult for them to meet with us. We have had home visits made at their jobs, public places, late at night, and even on the weekends. Time for most of our families is very limited, but we make the effort to accommodate their schedule.

PVF: What do you want teachers to know when it comes to helping students who are struggling in school?

CM: I want teachers to know that there is more than just teaching, especially when you teach in areas with high drop-out rates, crime, and broken households. A lot of my own teachers came from areas not near my community. They didn’t sound or look like me, but wanted me to pay fully attention to their teaching without acknowledging my struggle, pain, and unprivileged life. As a student I felt that my home life didn’t matter to my teachers and school. All they wanted was for me to memorize their lessons, without realizing I had bigger problems to worry about. Sadly, that is also the case with most of our students. I hope that with my project teachers will realize that everything is connected in order for a child to succeed.

PVF: What has come out of these home visits so far? What have you learned?

CM: A lot of things have come out of these home visits, especially when it comes to behavior management. A common element in each debrief with the team is that once you visit the student’s home, you realize why he/she behaves a particular way.  Everything makes sense, and we all have to have more patience and empathy for the student who struggles to control his/her emotions. One thing we have learned from the home visits is that once we make the connection with the parents, we become part of their lives and their family.

PVF: What are the next steps for you and your project?

CM: The next step will be to find funding that will allow me to both continue this project for the next three years as well as expand it to nearby schools. My dream is to bring this project to the school board with the ambition of having them implement it in all public schools within Oakland.

PVF: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

CM: We all come from different backgrounds and cultures, but we all have the power to create change in the world.

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Where’s Bill? Finding ‘Em and Funding ‘Em in Richmond

Pogo Park 1

Pogo Park’s community garden adds a healthy vibe to the neighborhood.

There are some exciting things happening in Richmond. One of them is Pogo Park, a project spearheaded by Toody Maher to renovate small pocket parks in the heart of the iron triangle, an area known for drug dealing and crime. The first park is complete and is an exceptional example of people coming together as a community to serve children, to rejuvenate an area, and to motivate others to join in.

The Pogo Park team is now tackling a strip of land abandoned by a railroad running through the city. This has attracted artists in metal sculpture, wood carving, and mural painting, all of whom want to contribute to their community and create positive change from the ground up.

Bill Somerville and Toody Maher inspect a recently added addition to one of Pogo Park's spaces.

Bill Somerville and Toody Maher inspect a recently added addition to one of Pogo Park’s spaces.

Years ago Philanthropic Ventures Foundation was an initial funder and now it is a current supporter with an immediate grant for discretionary use.

Toody recently described her first experience with my find ‘em and fund ‘em approach: “You are a central part of a story I tell over and over: how, when I was first starting out, Pogo Park needed a $5,500 match to secure a $30,000 grant. Fifteen minutes after meeting us and hearing what we were doing and what we needed, you just blurted out ‘We’ll give you $5,500!’ and the check came a week later.”

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Where’s James? Seeing How ODALC Creatively Connects the Dots

I recently met with Shaun Tai, Executive Director of Oakland Digital Arts & Literacy Center, to check out the latest billboard design winner on Broadway.  ODALC trains this generation’s young talent and connects them to vibrant small businesses in Oakland to create digital and social media campaigns for these owners.  Think of it as a grassroots digital marketing agency.  It’s the type of connecting the dots that we love at PVF – youth, neighborhood businesses, and corporations coming together to boost the local economy by $2.5M.  Keep your eyes open and you just might come across one of these beautiful billboards or Facebook business pages.


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Reflections from a Zimbabwean Grace Scholar: Promise Kondo

Now in its 8th year, the Grace Scholarship Program is the result of a partnership between PVF and a donor to provide the critical gap funding necessary for bright, low-income Zimbabwean students who are a part of the US Achievers Program (USAP) to study at US and European universities.

This year, we interviewed a few of the Grace Scholars to learn more about their background, experiences in college, and plans for the future. Below is our final interview with Promise Kondo, a third-year student majoring in Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Jacobs University Bremen.

PVF: Tell us about your decision to study outside of your home country:

Promise KondoPK: Well, when I was young I mostly imagined myself going to the local high school, getting good grades and then going to the best university in my country. Although, I really wanted to go abroad someday, I never thought it would be possible because I thought of how my parents would be able to finance my studies abroad or whether I would even get a scholarship to go abroad. Then one day, I heard about the United States Achievers Programme (USAP) from a friend and how they assist students in applying to universities abroad. I said to myself, “maybe I should give it a shot,” and I did. When I got accepted into USAP, that’s when I realized that life doesn’t always have to be ordinary and you always have to aim higher and that’s when I was convinced that studying abroad was one big opportunity I couldn’t afford to miss.

PVF: Was it difficult transitioning to a different culture?

PK: Having lived in Zimbabwe all my life since the day I was born, yes the transition was indeed difficult. I had never been to other neighboring African countries even just for a few days and the only culture I had been exposed to for all the 18 years of my life was my own country’s culture. Of course, exposure to a European culture for the very first time would be overwhelming. I found myself having to adjust to the diversity at my university where there are people from more than 110 nationalities with their own cultures, and I had to adjust to the German culture off campus too. My first semester was the most difficult of all, I got homesick a lot of times and this did not help me at all. I then decided to join clubs and sports and this did not only help me cope with homesickness, but it also enabled me to make more friends and above all, to overcome my fear of adjusting to the diversity at my school.

PVF: What types of activities are you involved in at school?:

PK: During my high school I was in the choir and I was also really interested in tennis. So, when I came to Jacobs University I decided to engage into these activities as well. I joined the African Choir (Mzuka) and also became a member of the African Black and Caribbean Society (ABCS) in which I helped in organizing African events on campus and educating other students about Africa. In my second semester, I joined the Jacobs Way, which is the only theatrical, musical play at my school. I had never in my life thought of venturing into acting but for some reason, when I came to Jacobs, I did and I loved it! Just recently I became a member of the Rotaract club where I am involved in community projects such as teaching children English and helping refugees. I have realized that engaging in extracurricular activities has made my life at Jacobs more enjoyable and less stressful.

PVF: What is your greatest accomplishment at school thus far?

PK: Well, this is indeed a challenging question as there are so many things that I believe are great accomplishments in my life both academically and socially. I would say giving back to the community by participating in clubs such as the Rotaract club, has been one of my greatest accomplishments so far.

PVF: What do you plan to do post-graduation?

PK: After my bachelor’s I would like to go to grad-school and further my studies. I am not yet sure where exactly I will go and how I will finance my studies but I’m keeping my hopes high.

PVF: How has the Grace Scholarship helped you pursue your goals?

PK: For me, Grace Scholarship is indeed God’s miracle in my life. I had applied to four universities for my undergraduate studies and I got accepted to two of them but none of them was giving me full financial aid to pursue my studies abroad. At first I thought maybe my dream of studying abroad was indeed just a dream after all, and then Grace Scholarship helped turn my dream back to reality. Personally, I believe that Grace Scholarship was indeed God’s Grace in my life. Because of this scholarship I have not only met so many people from all over the world, acquired so many life time experiences which I will always be grateful for, but I have also obtained high quality education which I am very convinced has brought me closer to accomplishing my dreams.

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