A night at the movies

 Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Hugh Ralston


It was a magical evening straight out of the pictures – clear skies, twinkling stars, gathering of friends at the family home, ice cream and a lovely breeze reminding us we were still weeks away from August’s furnace. And a movie screen that – despite its 21st century technology – was grounded by the family tractor.

It was a new documentary that brought us to the Masumoto family’s organic farm, some seventy years after Mas Masumoto’s father invested in San Joaquin Valley farmland for a better life. A movie that shares the narrative of a family’s love for the land, the will required to thrive, of the transitions of generations, and the unique experience of a Japanese American family adapting to new traditions, new stories, and new hopes.

The heart of the film rests around Mas’ observation and question, “how many harvests are there in a farmer's life?” As the family business transitions to daughter Nikiko, who has - like her father - returned to the farm, the question shifts to how many harvests are there now to share. And in the reminder of the hard physical labor it takes to produce such sublime peaches – pruning, shaping, watering, harvesting, packing, marketing and delivering, labor that is shared between and among the family and stretches through all four seasons.

At the Fresno Regional Foundation, we understand the dynamics of families, of legacies that carry meaning through generations, of finding inner strength to carry through the adversities of nature and life. We are privileged to have board members like Mas Masumoto, who brings his talents, passions and hopes for a future his children will help shape, to our work.

We raise strong people on this land, strong enough to thrive and to create the future. What a privilege to share the next cycle of that most human of stories: one generation staking the next, adjusting to changes that reflect values, and the hard work on the land to bring forth all its bounty, far richer than the sweetest of peaches we enjoyed during a night at the movies.

Best Regards,

Hugh J. Ralston
President and CEO 
(559) 226-5600 ext. 101 

Building Community and Preserving Culture

 Monday, July 13, 2015
Dear Friends of the Foundation,

In late June, HmongStory40--a joint effort from many people from throughout the state of California to preserve and celebrate Hmong history, heritage, and culture-- unveiled a preview of their work Southeast Fresno. The opening remarks reminded us that culture is a defining aspect of a person, a group, and an entire nation. It represents stories that have lasted through time and propels the legacy of our people into the future. HmongStory40 began with this idea and a fear that Hmong history - shared through oral tradition - is quickly fading and the next generation of youth are losing out on their culture, language, and history.

Hmongstory40 came about in 2015 with a group of 40 founding donors. Dr. Vicky Xiong-Lor shared how she became involved. As she came up to the stage, she pulled Kyle, her “other half”, to join her. Vicky is one of a handful of second generation professionals that is fluent in Hmong. She shared that many Hmong children speak very little Hmong now, but speak English perfectly. Children think that their family history, their roots, start at -- Clovis Community Hospital, where many are born. When Vicky heard of efforts to preserve their culture, she asked Kyle to attend the meeting. “I said to him, you to go to these meetings and if they ask you to raise your hand, you raise your hand”. They became two of 40 founding donors and contributed $1,000 towards these efforts.

Early in 2015, local leaders of the HmongStory40 group in Fresno approached Fresno Regional Foundation about funding opportunities. The inquiry aligned with a priority of FRF’s Arts and Culture grantmaking program aimed at capturing the rich history of the Central San Joaquin Valley. In May of this year, the FRF Board of Directors approved a $10,000 grant award to HmongStory40 to facilitate these efforts.

This exhibit is the first of its kind in California showcasing clothing, artifacts, documents, and photography that capture a glimpse into the past. The group is also employing multi-media approaches to capture first-hand accounts of the struggles and heartbreaks of the Hmong people exodus from Laos. To date, they have raised over $150,000 and have plans to raise another $100,000 more towards this project. They continue to invite community partners to participate and join in support of this important work through contributions of talent, time, and financial support.

As the Program Officer for the Arts and Culture grant cycle, I was privileged to learn about the importance of this project and explore the many stories, documents, photos, and artifacts that have been collected. We are proud to support the efforts of HmongStory40 in this region. HmongStory40 will be on display at the Fresno Fairgrounds in December and will travel to other cities with strong Hmong communities including Merced and Sacramento in California, and Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota. For more information on this project go to 

Best regards,
Kelvin Alfaro
Program Officer
[email protected]
(559) 226-5600 ext. 105 

Celebrating the joy of life

 Monday, July 06, 2015
Hugh Ralston


As we celebrate the 4th of July, and the sacrifices that set our nation on its extraordinary journey, and pause to digest the remarkable events of the past ten days – shootings in Charleston, decisions by the Supreme Court, crises in the Eurozone, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the speed of change.

I want to pause and pay tribute to someone whose local philanthropy calls out for gratitude, respect and recognition. Peter Bennett passed away this past week at the venerable age of 92, leaving behind his belief in the promise of philanthropy and the impact of a remarkable family. He had a passion for the land, for photography and was someone whose sly sense of humor reflected lessons learned over many years; Peter didn’t miss much when it came to people.

For Peter Bennett, philanthropy was “the elixir vitas – the joy of life”. It was, as he noted, a ‘win-win situation to give’, where “reaching out to help others you help yourself.” Given the people he helped over the years, his joys must have been profound.

I had the pleasure of working with his sister a decade ago, whose philanthropic passions were dedicated to books and history; her generosity established the Berry Research Library at the Museum of Ventura County. Both DeDe and her brother were beneficiaries of the Berry oil fortune, a remarkable story captured in a recent book about the founder’s rise from a peach orchard in Selma, riches saved from the Klondike and reinvested in a Kern County oil fortune. It is, in abridged words from Peter, one of the great stories of the west - of personal fortitude, leadership, and stewardship.

Peter brought his own focus and discipline to this work. Philanthropy became his passion but there was an art to it; it was not easy. A former board member of the Fresno Regional Foundation, who established his fund here in 1998, he understood the value of being discerning about his giving, and he valued the insights, expertise and experience that working with our staff brought to his grantmaking. His priority was to give to those who help poor families and children overcome challenges, and achieve a better life – and he was generous: over $10 million invested in dozens of causes and organizations, with grants for scholarships, afterschool programs, operating support, historical societies and programs that ranged from body cameras for the Fresno police department to the food bank.

I was taken with the grant to Valley Children’s Hospital, to support a project started by an Eagle Scout who identified a need for students like him for a more accessible exercise space, to help disadvantaged students get more agile. Peter Bennett’s saw not only the need but the initiative of one young man who raised $4000 on his own. Peter’s grant made the new park a joyful reality when it opened this year.

The Berry family legacy of risk, luck, determination and perseverance has been burnished by the quiet, thoughtful and dedicated philanthropy of one named after the fortune’s founder, Clarence Berry. Peter redeployed that good fortune into making this community better for more. He found great peace in the outdoors, and in the view from a horse on his beloved Madera ranch. He saw the landscape and the people, and appreciated the opportunity to do good. He used to say, “it is great to help out and give back, but it feels even better to be smart about it”.

We were privileged to learn from Peter Bennett about how smart philanthropy can make this a better place and are all the better for having been part of his joy of life. That is the legacy we are proud to carry forth into the work that call us to be done.

Best Regards,

Hugh J. Ralston
President and CEO 
(559) 226-5600 ext. 101 

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.

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