Thanksgiving and Thanking Veterans

 Monday, November 24, 2014
Hugh Ralston


November is bracketed between two national holidays, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, both a chance to reflect on those who have gone before us, and those who have built the communities we live in.

The celebration of Veterans Day emerges from Armistice Day, the 11th of November 1918 when the bloody slaughter in the trenches finally ended World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. This year, we acknowledge the centenary of the start of what was called The Great War, which brought Europe, and the world, into a global conflict that not only transformed the 20th century but left scars that marked generations. One of the compelling memorials developed this year involved 888,246 ceramic poppies placed at the Tower of London, each remembering a British soldier’s death ‘in Flanders’ fields’.

On our Veterans Day, we celebrate the bravery and sacrifice of soldiers and servicemen, and now servicewomen, who responded to the call of their country, and went off to war. Many never came back, including my great uncle and my uncle, in World War I and World War II, respectively; I bear their name with honor. Millions of families have been touched by the costs of this service, casualties and wounds seen and unseen, with a new generation of veterans returning to our homes and communities, bringing not just memories but also skills, experience and leadership that will help shape our country’s future.

I was honored to be able to present at Fresno’s Veterans Day parade a $100,000 check to our own Veterans Memorial Museum, the home of the legion of valor, a distribution from the Edward K. Martin Family Legacy Fund, established here at the Fresno Regional Foundation which carries forth the legacy of a family whose passions include among other priorities preserving our rivers and supporting our veterans.

The Foundation has also been privileged to work to support our local World War II veterans who can – thanks to the contributions of donors throughout our region – visit the memorial in Washington D.C. that honors their service. Over the past 18 months, we have received over $850,000 in donations from 940 donors, which has allowed five Central Valley Honor Flights, carrying 340 World War II veterans on a very special journey, for many perhaps a last thanks from a grateful community for their service.

At the Regional Foundation, we believe that supporting veterans, and their families, is one of the ways we can invest in community. We are honored to work with so many donors who believe that investing in local nonprofits who are working with veterans is a good partnership. In fact, we have a fund dedicated to helping local veterans, an expression of our commitment to helping these returning veterans and their families. Established with the support of the late Arthur Hill, Ted and Dan Martin among others, this Veterans of the Central Valley Fund is permanently endowed, and will honor veterans and their service for decades to come.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, and the bounty and blessings that have accrued to our nation, and to each of our families, we take a moment to include thanks for those veterans who have served our nation, and the sacrifice of those who gave their last full measure.

A community foundation serves the region and people in it. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, building the community, the institutions and the ties that nurture community across the Central Valley. Each generation steps into positions of leadership, as each generation refreshes the American dream for themselves, their children and future generations. We are proud to be able to help our veterans, and those institutions who serve those that served us so well, and to say thank you for their service. Please join us in this good work.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Best Regards,

Hugh J. Ralston

President and CEO

A Legacy from the Valley

 Monday, November 17, 2014
Hugh Ralston


This last Thursday evening at the Fresno Art Museum, we had a chance to welcome a new book chronicling a little known story of a remarkable figure, whose dramatic life included a struggle farming in the valley, an early success in the Alaskan gold rush and – as if that weren’t enough - founding an oil company in Kern County that was ultimately sold for $4.5 billion. Clarence Berry was in some ways an unexpected success and his life a reflection of his enormous self-confidence; he was also a product of the opportunities he created for himself in the then developing West.

It is a story that reflects in part where we came from, indelibly part of the San Joaquin Valley’s soil, a story both particular to its time and, I suspect in ways, one that is being recreated for the next generation as well.

The book Beyond Luck: The Improbable Rise of the Berry Fortune Across a Western Century by respected local author Betsy Lumbye, is the first of a projected series of books issued out of the West of West Center, dedicated to sharing stories of the Central Valley and the rich history that has marked the development of this fertile and abundant landscape. Growing out of a decade’s worth of oral histories captured by Mark Arax and the West of the West Center, this story captures both the history of an extraordinary man, and an insight into our region’s colorful, abundant and often surprising history.

It is an amazing story. In Lumbye’s words, “it is an American epic, a tale of wealth extracted from the earth – water, gold and oil, the story of an empire built on guts, sweat, swagger and almost unimaginable luck. In other words, it is the story of the West.”

At the Fresno Regional Foundation, we understand and respect the power of legacy, and the role of philanthropy in carrying forth the passions of a founder, a family and a region into the future. As a community foundation, we have the unique opportunity to gather the stories that have helped shape our common past, and engage the present in a dialog about what has happened, and what can happen next.

Community foundations are at their core about people – and their passions, and the work of nonprofits and community organizations supported by philanthropic capital that often hold neighborhoods and regions together, nurturing the bands of community itself. One of my greatest privileges is getting to learn the stories of our donors, and helping make sure the work that is important to them is protected and preserved far into the future.

But community foundations are also about place -- about this place, and about all the stories and people that have shaped the Central Valley into the communities that make up this vibrant region, so central to the future of the California and its evolving dreams of economic opportunity, healthy communities and prosperity. In taking the time to understand how we became who we are, we are better able to help shape the future.

Best Regards,
Hugh J. Ralston

President and CEO

Celebrating Philanthropy and Convening Local Leaders

 Monday, November 10, 2014
Hugh Ralston


This has been another busy week at the Fresno Regional Foundation, one that has been filled with reminders of how much successful work is done when folks work together. At the annual celebration of National Philanthropy Day, where a wide range of philanthropic partners and their impact on the community were celebrated, it was inspiring to see the incredible commitments of volunteers, staff and youth to make this Valley a better place, with a special focus on those organizations that help those in need.

From the celebration of elementary students helping to raise thousands of dollars for Children’s Hospital to a focused young man starting to change the stigma attached to homelessness in his kitchen, preparing meals that reinforce kindness along with food, we are reminded once again that communities are built by those who nurture the bands that hold us together.

Professional fundraisers, volunteers, business leaders -- each was celebrated for their energy, generosity, patience and vision. Each spoke of what one called the passion behind the work, why they do what they do. Often emerging behind the labels we sometime use to pigeonhole people, these passions reflect the many ways that people nurture, sustain, lead and extend the work of nonprofits that provide such vital services to so many.

At the Community Foundation, we have the great privilege of working with individuals and institutions, to develop research, networks, partners and colleagues, each grounded in a patience that acknowledges the challenge but also in the belief that making a difference is still worth it. This past week we also had a chance to share knowledge, skills, expertise and inspiration from those who are working together to find ways to reduce teen pregnancy, and to focus on how best to help young parents navigate their responsibilities as parents.

A full day conference on Tuesday brought nonprofit and community leaders together, to strengthen not only their skills but to share with each other best practices, as well as the overlapping complexities that impact this work.

That points to one of the great opportunities we have -- the willingness to work together to tackle these challenges. From those celebrated for their philanthropy, to those doing the day/day work, our region can be encouraged that we have some of the key elements for solutions already in place. The Fresno Regional Foundation is proud to be partners in this good work.

Best Regards,
Hugh J. Ralston

President and CEO

Harnessing the Power of Community Philanthropy

 Monday, November 03, 2014
Hugh Ralston


Sometimes, the timing works perfectly. In my second week as the new president and CEO of the Fresno Regional Foundation, I had a chance to participate in one of our signature events, the distribution of $600,000 in grants from the FUND for the San Joaquin Valley, central to our high impact competitive grant making. The following excerpt from my remarks at the reception on Wednesday reflects one of the many reasons I am so looking forward to working here in Fresno: the chance to harness the power of community philanthropy to shape change that matters to people.

Tonight, you have seen a central part of our work – disciplined, thoughtful, engaging, research based, stakeholder informed grantmaking that is designed for high impact – to make a difference in an issue that is important to the future lives of thousands of our neighbors, that will expand their opportunities and strengthen their families, that will --we hope -- move people out of poverty by helping parents move a bit closer to the dreams they have for their children.

Tonight, we have partnered with a statewide foundation whose mission is focused on strengthening the people of California, whose partnership with the Fresno Regional Foundation advances that mission, our mission, and our region. We are grateful for the support of the Irvine Foundation in this work.

Tonight, we partner with those here in our region who have invested in the FUND as one of the purest expressions of community philanthropy, who believe that working together, we can build something sustainable that will, in its way, help shape the future of this region. That is the idea embedded deep in the DNA of the FUND: to partner with others in an investment that will help change the future and, in working with the community foundation and its stakeholders, to do that next year, and the year after that, and the year after that – which we can do with your help and generosity.

Community philanthropy is what we are about – investing in the future of the communities where we live and work, where we raise our families, where our legacies can flourish for generations. Sometimes we invest to keep things alive, food in the food bank, clinics open, or galleries filled. Sometimes we invest in people, in leaders doing the hard work of our community benefit organizations, our faith communities and our public institutions. Sometimes we invest in scholarships, that most powerful investment of one generation staking the next. Sometimes we invest in preserving a donor’s passion in the form of a legacy: a program, an institution, a cause – something vital to the very fabric of community and which the donor wants to support long into the future. And sometimes, we invest in change, in creating new opportunities.

For more information on this latest grants cycle, visit our website at  

As the months unfold, I look forward to more opportunities to share how this Foundation, its donors and its dedicated staff can make community philanthropy a better partner to those who believe that we can shape a better future. Come join us in this good work.

You can reach me at [email protected]. Stay tuned – more to come!

Best Regards,
Hugh J. Ralston

Giving through the Foundation

Fresno Regional Foundation helps donors achieve their charitable goals, and we serve as a bridge connecting philanthropy to community-based organizations that provide programs and services throughout the San Joaquin Valley.

Learn more about giving through the foundation.

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