Partners in Philanthropy

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.


Marc Pasturel teaching computers to eager 10th grade students at Lamdon Model High School in Zanzkar Valley in Northern India.

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.

Ragni Pasturel tutoring 1st grader Diego at the Saint Francis Center in Redwood City.

Ragni Pasturel tutoring 1st grader Diego at the Saint Francis Center in Redwood City.

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.


Students at Cesar Chavez Academy in East Palo Alto.

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.


Sister Trinitas of the Rosalie Rendu Center in East Palo Alto.

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.


His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, visiting Lamdon Model High School in Northern India in 2014.

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Encouraging a Brighter Future: Parent Involvement in East Palo Alto Schools

The following guest blog post is by Nancy Alvarez, a PVF Parent Involvement Worker at Cesar Chavez Academy in East Palo Alto.

Education is the means to break the cycle of poverty. East Palo Alto is a community with many newcomers looking for a better future and seeking refuge. Consequently, new families come to the school system who do not speak English. Philanthropic Ventures Foundation (PVF) sponsors a program at Cesar Chavez Academy in East Palo Alto that ensures communication between families and the teachers. In addition to setting up parent and teacher conferences for the families, the program’s purpose is to get parents involved in their child’s education.

I have been working with the program, and I have learned the needs of the families. For example, many families do not know how to support the children in school, and perhaps they are not aware of the resources the school and the community offer to help children get to college. I am really inspired by seeing moms sending their kids to college. The program not only focuses on filling the gap in communication, but also on aiding the parents in feeling welcomed in the school and making them feel like a part of their children’s education.


PVF’s Bill Somerville (center) and parents at Cesar Chavez Academy in East Palo Alto. These parents are encouraged by Parent Involvement Workers to be active at their children’s school.

Bill Somerville, PVF President and founder of the program, designed it to encourage parents to be part of the kids’ education. The mission was to strategically target the problem of miscommunication between families and educators. As of now, the program is a success and has been changing lives. A strong group of moms support the school in all aspects. They are very active in school activities such as raising funds and contributing to school-wide decisions. They are definitely a strong voice for the middle school, for they purposely advocate not only for their children, but for each student.

Thanks to PVF, which believes in the power of education, each student has an advocate that makes it possible to fill the gap of communication between educators and parents who are willing to contribute and support the school.


PVF’s Bill Somerville (center) at Cesar Chavez Academy with Parent Involvement Workers Nancy Alvarez (left) and Imelda Jovel (right).

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Where’s Bill? Touring UC Berkeley with a PVF Parent Involvement Worker

Bill at UC Berkeley

I offered one of the mothers who is a Parent Involvement Worker a one-day visit for her and her two daughters to UC Berkeley. Walking on campus, dipping in on a large lecture room and observing a lecture, walking the halls of older buildings and looking at the historical pictures, and finally lunch at the faculty club with UC faculty.

It’s the kind of visit any parent would want for their son or daughter to learn what higher education is about.

Learn about some of our work with UC Berkeley.

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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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