The following blog post is by guest writers Marc and Ragni Pasturel, who are PVF donors and partners.
Our partnering with Philanthropic Ventures Foundation (PVF) goes back more than 20 years. We admire Bill Somerville’s pragmatic, empathetic and contagious approach to grantmaking. So when we decided to create a Donor Advised Fund, PVF naturally came to mind. We are still sold on its commitment to quality education and to fighting poverty in our midst, all with minimal overhead and without lengthy grant applications.
We trust PVF’s suggestions because Bill has first-hand knowledge of organizations, schools, and people in need in our area. Our giving became personal as we got to meet the grant recipients, staying in touch with them to follow their progress. Being involved with organizations where we can make a difference, both with our time, such as tutoring, as well as with our grants, is a winning combination. Philanthropy is a two-way street: giving morphs into gifts, and “givers” morph into humble recipients of thankfulness: it helps us sort out our own priorities and values in life. This is the gift that money cannot buy.
It was ex-priest Larry Purcell of the Catholic Worker House in Redwood City who introduced us to Bill Somerville. Larry’s tireless dedication to feeding and sheltering the less fortunate has been a shining model for us, a source of motivation to participate in his mission. In addition to our ongoing financial support, Ragni has enjoyed the opportunity, complete with challenges and rewards, to tutor children in Sister Mary Jane’s after-school program.
The Saint Francis Center in the unincorporated area of Redwood City is another example of PVF’s ability to recognize exceptional leaders in the community and to fund their projects. For several years we have admired Sister Christina Heltsley’s work as its Executive Director. In order to serve the poorest of the poor, the Center has managed to buy and refurbish over forty apartments, offering families a decent place to live until they reach financial stability. They provide a stellar education to 12 children selected among the 100 poorest local families, from Kindergarten through 8th grade. Their parents must spend at least one day a week at the Center to further their own education, primarily to learn English but also basic skills such as computers and interview skills. Their facilities include a classroom, a free clothes bank and a food bank, as well as a first-class Siena Youth Center for afterschool programs for youths ages 10-17.
Amika Guillaume, the principal at Cesar Chavez & Green Oaks Academy in East Palo Alto, is an innovative and supercharged leader in the field of education for at-risk children. She motivates her ethnically diverse student body to excel; the school motto: “DREAM BIG – WORK HARD – GIVE BACK” says it all. Amika manages to involve parents in their children’s education. It is rewarding to contribute by funding special programs at the school, such as field trips, college tours and special art projects.
Another exceptional person we’ve met thanks to Bill: Sister Trinitas Hernandez who founded the Rosalie Rendu Center in East Palo Alto in 1996. The center offers four English classes each day, Monday through Thursday. A child care center, made possible by the Junior League of East Palo Alto, is available for those attending the classes. In 2001 her order, the Daughters of Charity, purchased the 48-unit apartment complex where the classes are given, thus enabling many families to have a decent place to live.
Last but not least, we value PVF as the umbrella 501(c)(3) organization for our 15-year involvement as US delegates (always eager to recruit!) for a Franco-Italian-Swiss-American NGO which supports a school, Kindergarten through 10th grade, in the isolated Zanskar Valley of Northern India. At 12,500 feet in the Himalayan foothills, and cut off by snow from the outside world eight months of the year, “Aide au Zanskar” founded a private school in 1988. It has grown to 12 grades of 30 students per class, 49% girls. It offers the mainly Buddhists of Tibetan ethnicity a quality education while keeping their language, customs and traditions. Its curriculum spans four languages and four alphabets. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has visited the school three times, pointing to our school as an example of modern education while preserving the Tibetan heritage.