Helping veterans beyond Veterans Day

 Monday, November 16, 2015
Hugh Ralston


Last week, we presented a forum to hear local agencies and volunteers share insights about valley programs that help veterans, part of our donor engagement series to dive more deeply into issues so our donors and the foundation can explore how to be more effective in giving.

$25,000 challenge grant announced

At the session, I was proud to announce a $25,000 challenge grant from our board of directors, to be matched by community members that would be used to establish a new grants cycle to help local agencies who are helping veterans and their families readjust to civilian life, to cope with lingering effects of combat and duties in dangerous parts of the world (including PTSD), as well as ways to translate the extraordinary leadership skills and talents developed by our troops into sustainable jobs, businesses and communities.

In issuing the challenge, we wanted not only to highlight the importance of helping veterans at a time when we as a nation celebrate, honor and remember their service and sacrifice, but also remind ourselves that the work of helping veterans takes more than a day of attention. Veterans from conflicts prior to the Gulf War also seek help, although we recognize that the last dozen years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan - the longest sustained conflict in our nation’s history, have created needs that will stretch for decades ahead. That many of our veterans served multiple tours – some as many as 5, 6 or 7 times, only adds to the burdens being carried back into civilian life.

Help local agencies do their good work

Our priority is to challenge the community to raise funds to help veterans, so that through our grantmaking we can let local nonprofits do their good work – as educators, health professionals, therapists, job trainers, colleagues and friends – work that helps returning veterans and their families come home.

Help them come home

Helping veterans come home is a task fraught with opportunity and hope. Helping them come home from service to their country, service they volunteered for but service to war zones that exposed them to the horrors of modern warfare. Helping them come home because home is not just a place, but a state of being as well. Helping them come home to a life they and their families treasure as much as we do. Helping them come home to lives that may never be the same, but which have value – to them and to us.

Echoes of war around us remind us of the cost of military service

We find many echoes of war in 2015 – some in faraway lands accessible on television and some as close as our streets. It is a close as the Ukraine where national boundaries and identities are being fought over, as close as airliners being blown out of the sky, where casualties are no longer limited to the battlefield, but to the town, the city and the neighborhood. Our televisions are filled with images of refugees escaping years of civil war in Syria and sectarian strife in Iraq – risking life and limb, and those of their children, to escape to a better future in Europe and beyond. Their welcome, their journeys, and deaths along the way raise profound questions – for policymakers, politicians and communities.

The echoes are as close as the commemorations we celebrate: Armistice Day, the Great War that began 101 years ago and convulsed Europe in a true first world war, to the Second World War, and the conflicts since – wars that marked the last century as one of the bloodiest and costliest in lives, and which has shaped the national, territorial and political struggles we deal with. Veterans from each of these conflicts have not only served, often in far away and hostile places, but also brought back profound gifts to the nation they served.

Volunteer military is made possible by 1% of the citizenry

We live in an era that is relatively new in our history – that of a volunteer military, which is less than 40 years old. Our nation’s military consists of those who have chosen to serve as a matter of principle, honor, duty, or as a matter of social and economic opportunity, and/or for a period of time in their lives in common causes. Less than 1% of our nation serves in uniform, and the burdens of service (which are defined by our national leaders in the Congress and the White House), fall on that unbelievably small percentage.

We don’t forget that disproportionate burden. Nor should we forget to appreciate the distance that separates our military from the daily lives of their fellow countrymen. We believe this new effort we have launched is one way the 99% can give back to help those 1% who have served us honorably, well, and in some cases multiple times. We can help them readjust to civilian life, to help them translate what they have learned into skills to benefit our economy, our country and our communities, to help their families with the transitions, to bear the wounds and help the broken.

Lincoln’s call for caring for veterans and families

As Lincoln reminded us in the midst of the greatest military conflict in our nation’s history:

Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have born the battle, and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

We believe we can do our part with the Veterans of the Central Valley Fund, so that it may distribute grants to our region’s agencies helping veterans with medical, therapeutic, educational and training needs. We look forward to engaging the community in the coming months, and to distributing these funds next year. Come join us to find a way you too can help veterans come home and to step up to help the 1% who have carried our collective burdens so well.

Best Regards,

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

Working together is what we are all about

 Monday, November 09, 2015
Hugh Ralston


We have a great privilege at the Community Foundation to invest in the hard, persistent and sometime visionary work of our grantees, work that is focused on creating a better future for our children.

This past week, we distributed $800,000 in grants from our High Impact program, funded by the James Irvine Foundation and contributions from our own Bee Fund and a generous gift from the Central Valley Foundation. The fourth and final grant cycle in this four year initiative, these grants are to local institutions in Fresno and Tulare counties that are assisting parents in helping their children get ready to learn to read at grade level.

High Impact to sustain ways out of poverty

Our focus emerged from a year-long effort to determine how high impact grants could help families find the most effective way out of poverty, with the belief that education for children remains a critical pathway. Helping children read at grade level is an important step, particularly as they transition from learning to read to reading to learn. Single year and multi-year grants have been distributed since 2012 and we are already digesting lessons learned, opportunities to focus more tightly on strategies that are effective, and how to develop ways to articulate the progress made by these organizations.

This ability to synthesize and draw conclusions from grants invested in communities will become an important contribution to the community’s ongoing discussions about expanding opportunities for our children, a set of priorities deeply embedded in the new Cradle to Career Partnership being organized by leading institutions.

Collective Impact changes how we approach solutions

Each program funded – 6 out of the original 42 seeking support through letters of interest – has its own characteristics, goals and objectives. Measurements of success are included. But I think the spirit of the enterprise was captured most succinctly in remarks by Galen Quenzer, from the Boys & Girls Club of Tulare on the “Lea Conmigo/Read with me” effort underway in Farmersville.

In accepting the grant, he stated, and I quote:

“Several years ago several of us became students of this approach called Collective Impact. For the past two years now, under the leadership of Alice Lopez, past school board member, and Deborah Lagomarsino, health care, education, youth development, literacy programs, the library, the Child Abuse Prevention Council, city and county government, and businesses have joined residents of Farmersville with a vision to help kids in Farmersville read well by the third grade. We have acknowledged this isn’t just the schools’ responsibility. We have an expectation that increasing numbers of Farmersville’s kids are going to be good readers by the third grade.

Creating Community is joint work

Second, we’re creating community in Farmersville, around the most important thing in a community: children. Our intent is to bring in an increasing number of Farmersville residents – so that, for example, it’s not Darla or the City opening the new library, it’s the people of Farmersville opening the library and helping develop and market the programs and helping staff the library with volunteers. It’s through the development of community that we are going to create a culture of literacy in Farmersville.

Learning new ways of doing business

Third, as public and private organizations, we’re learning new ways of doing business together. Agencies and CBOs have a long history of working well together in Tulare County. But we’re taking it to the next level as students of collective impact. Our hope is that we can admit that the big challenges we face in the Valley need a comprehensive approach; that progress will take place when we tamp down our egos, resist competing with each other for the dollar, understand the complexities of our challenges, admit that no one agency can solve our problems and begin to come together in trust to develop effective strategy. So we are starting in Farmersville. Our friends in Woodlake and Cutler-Orosi are doing the same and together we will spread this new way of doing business throughout Tulare County.”

I am not sure I have heard a more accurate description of collective impact, nor a more elegant listing of the benefits of working together, or what can happen when the goal is clear, and each organization and person understands what needs to be done to strengthen the community and what it/he/she can do.

Building on traditions deep in our history

The good news is that this is not the only example of such collective action in our region, and it is always good to be reminded that the muscles of collaboration, cooperation and an ability to think ahead – deeply embedded in the narrative of our country, are alive and well here. While rugged individuals always play a role in the history of the Central Valley, it was folks working together that built the institutions, nurtured the communities and helped shape our future.

It is still true today. What role can you play? How best can we move this agenda forward to benefit not only our children, but strengthen the future of this place we love. Come join us.

Best Regards,

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

Taking the Valley Story to Sacramento

 Monday, November 02, 2015
Hugh Ralston


In a room squarely at the center of the State Capitol building in Sacramento, a briefing this past week on the impact of the drought brought together local residents, academics, public officials, staff for legislative leaders and philanthropic & community leaders from around our region.

Brought together by The California Endowment and others, it was a way to bring the impact and needs of the drought to the center of our State’s political leadership.

The message is clear; the impact is real.

The message remains focused and straightforward: people in our valley are hurting – due to economic dislocation, changing agricultural work and patterns, stress and other components that come with four years of drought. For many, water is expensive, work is scarce and families are hurting.

The drought is both an issue of immediate need, and a call to adapt to new realities.

Residents from communities that have run out of water, or where the work for local farmworkers has been reduced, spoke eloquently of the impact on their communities, on the schools, families and neighbors.

Others spoke about the need to pay attention to health needs – some tied indirectly or others more directly, like valley fever’s prevalence in drier times, to the impact on economic livelihood of small cities struggling with the changes wrought by the drought.

Foundation’s study presented to highlight nonprofit needs

I had a chance to present our recent study - Beyond Almonds and Blond Lawns – which was funded by The California Endowment. It looked at the impact of the drought on local nonprofit agencies, many of whom are coping with the realities of families and communities in need, and crisis. They are on the front lines responding to direct and indirect needs.

I outlined some of the key findings –

• the impact on agency programs is real, and reflects growing needs 

• many nonprofits are already stretched thin and are struggling 

• in addition to funds to meet the growing need, many nonprofits also need help in expanding capacity – skills for leadership, engaging donors, telling the story more effectively – as well as funds for things like new equipment. 

 • Donors are encouraged to support local organizations which are providing direct help, as well as to think how donations could be more effective and focused on addressing these social challenges.

Legislators, aides and public officials recognize that these disparities have a real impact, and are as frustrated that it is sometimes hard to get information about who is providing what services. The chance to connect the dots is always a good byproduct of such gatherings.

Adaptability will be important as California agriculture evolves

One presentation – from an official at USDA Rural Development - made an interesting observation: many in the ag community have adjusted to the impact of the drought by smarter and more effective use of water, skills that will serve the sector well in times impacted by global warming – more rain vs. snow, more drought than not, volatile weather patterns and more extremes. With adroit use of scalable technology, water use is going down and yields are going up – success in facing the adversity of a less benign climate. And the cost of such technology will help the smaller farms as well as the large.

We know this slow moving but very real crisis raises questions, particularly given the evolution underway in our ag sector. How can we strengthen our workforce in light of these type of seismic shifts remains a challenge. What remains encouraging is the willingness of groups to listen across boundaries, to help understand both the policy and human implications, and to think about what can be done next.

Visalia and Bakersfield join the conversation

In presentations earlier in the week in Visalia and in Bakersfield, we shared the results of the study with local audiences, exploring implications for donors and nonprofits, and the areas that we have identified where moving forward with focus and deliberate intent can help address the immediate needs, as well as engage the longer and likely more stubborn challenges. These issues will last beyond the next rainfall, and lasting solutions are likely to require collaboration, coordination and some imagination.

Throughout these conversations, we remain guided by our core mission and priorities, of exploring how community philanthropy can address an issue of import ../../../css/onnecting_solutions_with_needs__and_telling_the_stories_that_reflect_why_this_drought_matters__ndash_sse0qavdu4pksam2bgopd3.css; these are all part of the opportunity to move forward.

Investing in the sector is one response

We hope to launch training sessions for applying for federal/state grants to municipalities, nonprofits and small regional districts in December, and to engage in more workshops through our Center for Community that will focus on addressing some of the needs raised in the study. Working together, we can make a difference – not only in the lives of those that struggle, but in taking the Valley’s story to the heart of our state Capitol. Come join us.

Best Regards,

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

People make the difference in each of our lives

 Monday, October 26, 2015
Hugh Ralston


The familiar melody of Pomp & Circumstance accompanied the graduates to the stage at the Fresno Convention Center, as the 1000+ crowd attending the Fresno Rescue Mission recognized and cheered the accomplishments of the men and women who have completed their 18 months training, many turning to a new direction for their lives.

As was shared eloquently – on the stage and on video, lives that carry the weight of past addictions, behavior and abuse can be turned around and, with assistance and support, can face a new future buttressed by faith and a belief in skills and self.

But it takes a lot of work, dedicated time by volunteers and staff, to help folks who turn for help when they have the courage to admit they are broken, or who no longer want to live the life they have been living. Hard questions are asked, mostly of themselves.

Anyone who attended the Rescue Mission’s annual event saw the extraordinary combination of faith and redemption, and how it works wonders in the lives of those whose lives have gone seriously off track, but who have chosen a different path.

It is inspiring, particularly given the distance many of these individuals have traveled.

Higher High School Graduation Rates matter

It was an interesting bookend to a community wide meeting that morning, attended by educators and community leaders focused on helping make sure students graduate from high school. Fresno is part of a national movement to reach a 90% graduation rate, a goal above the current 78.8%.

Part of the discussion was reminding us to connect with those who are ‘off track’, and who do not see – for a multitude of reasons – why continued schooling and graduation are important. Many of them don’t need another lecture or reminder of where they are falling short, but actually someone to listen to them – really listen to them, and understand what is happening in their lives.

Data points to huge challenges

It is easy to see the magnitude of these problems in the data – important measurements of where we are as a community, and where we fall short. The numbers are sobering: The percentage of children living in poverty (43%), students ready for kindergarten (38%), skilled at 8th grade algebra (35%), or reading at grade level (42%). Moving the needle on any of these is a call to action by the community, and the strategies, tactics and priorities present huge hurdles, often requiring institutions moving towards new practices and programs.

Sometimes to accept new paradigms, or even to acknowledge the current reality.

Moving institutions is not for the faint of heart.

Everyone belongs to someone

And yet. As we were reminded on the stage, every one of these graduates is someone’s sibling, someone’s child, someone’s parent. Everyone is a statistic or data point until they become someone we know. Each high school student wrestling with choices is an individual person, filled with possibilities and potential.

At the GradNation Summit hearing, what was encouraging was the reminder of how many people are stepping into a part of the solution by not only doing their job, but doing what needs to be done. Listening to a teen and connecting. Serving as a mentor to someone struggling to find their place. Working with the system to reach “those” who are themselves trying to carve out meaning - often in the face of stiff headwinds.

In the middle of a forty year turnaround?

For many, Fresno is famously a place where there are problems – as the Mayor reminded us, where there are great concentrations of poverty, disparities and challenges. Children walking to school in blighted neighborhoods do not arrive primed for learning. She reminded us we are in the midst of a forty year project to turn this around – work to be done, but twenty years work already completed.

Fresno is also a place where individuals are quietly but persistently slugging away at their piece of the solution, their contribution to the greater whole – whether it is tutoring after school students, helping seniors connect with others, taking the time to listen to someone lost, or providing support for nonprofits and faith based organizations to reach out and help those struggling. They haven’t given up.

Faith communities are putting into practice the demands of their faith, engaging in neighborhoods and organizations that create community for so many. Many are moving beyond their mission fund distributions to help parishioners, and the neighborhoods that surround their campus, to adjust the changes in society, in community and neighborhood – and to fulfill their mission of working within the world to make a difference. Each act of engagement is a community asset we can harness towards this 40 year turnaround project.

Philanthropy does its bit as people step up

At the Community foundation, we are privileged to work with so many who want to see how philanthropy can make a difference, how their charitable desires can be invested, promoted and protected, sometimes long into the future. They understand the power of what has been invested in them, and the value of a legacy that reaches out to touch the future.

And they understand that we are built for community, designed to find deep value and meaning when we connect with others, satisfied when we are part of something larger than our individual passions and concerns.

We are part of a community where people seek ways to work together, to help others, and to build a better place. That is rightly celebrated in a graduation, in academic achievements but also in everyday encounters with each other. That is what makes this work so rewarding.

Come join us to find your way to contribute to a community that sees work to be done, and steps into the breach. There is plenty of work to be done, but we will succeed together as we chart a path to a better future.

Best Regards,

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

Values matter

 Monday, October 19, 2015
Hugh Ralston


This past week, Bill George – former CEO of Medtronics/current Harvard Business School professor, came to Fresno to launch the fall series at Fresno Pacific University on the challenges facing our economy. He spoke eloquently about the ideas embedded in his seminal work Authentic Leadership, and in his updated Discover Your True North.

As he distilled his message to local business and community leaders, it is pretty simple. Success in a business comes from respecting core values and its mission, and not being diverted from those values regardless of the short term opportunities.

At a time when United’s CEO departs in a scandal with a $20 million severance packet, and VW demonstrates how quickly it can destroy a global brand through deceit and obfuscation, his message was a timely reminder of the importance of core values.

Finding your own pathways

His examples were of leaders whose values were reconfirmed and forged in those crucible moments when hard choices are actually hard. Relating his own experience of examining his own life goals with a pending corporate promotion, he found his own true north in leading an organization whose values aligned with his, and with its products, and with the impact those products have on people all over the world.

He shared a conversation he had with one of his line workers who made artificial valves (one of its core products), noting her commitment to 100% results; she said she couldn’t live with herself if someone died because she had not done her job properly. That reflects how deeply values were imbedded in the workforce.

Reviewing our organizational values

Prof. George’s talk was timely, as our Foundation board reviewed and approved this week a statement of organizational values developed over the summer through a series of conversations among staff colleagues and among the board.

Prompted by reviewing values adopted in 2007, we asked a couple of questions: is anything missing that reflects on our mission and our work as a community foundation? Are there values and practices that underscore everything we do, which might be embodied in those values?

As we identified what values we felt were important to us, and explored what they mean and how they should be implemented, we moved through discussions, wordsmithing, and different definitions, with a chance to hear perspectives, explore our own history and define expectations for our work. That we would spend several hours discussing the language describing each value was an encouraging sign that we did care about which values matter, and why.

Values and core assumptions

So here they are: 


Respect, inclusion and diversity 


Leadership and Vision 


 Innovation and a culture of learning

Underneath each - and part of all - these values, we noted the following assumptions that we agree apply universally to our work – excellence; strategic thinking; collaboration and belief in supporting each other; kindness, thoughtfulness and caring; utmost confidentiality; honesty; and the courage to do the right thing. These connect our values and each other, sinews that reflect everything we do, and should do.

There is always a risk in publishing a list but if we are serious about these values, we should not be afraid to be held accountable for them either. As Bill George reminded us, values are the anchor we use when we make the decisions that impact our work, our customers, our partners and our communities.

Or as we were reminded as children – they are what guide what we do when no one is looking.

As value based organizations demonstrate success in navigating the challenges in the current economy, we believe that exploring how and what these values mean, helps sustain the trust that rests at the heart of our mission.

As value based organizations demonstrate success in navigating the challenges in the current economy, we believe that exploring how and what these values mean, helps sustain the trust that rests at the heart of our mission.

For more information, please give us a call. We will be happy to share with you why we think these values are ones that will power the next chapter of community philanthropy – in part because they distinguish our work, and in part because they embody the community we build, serve and support. That helps define why this philanthropy matters to this place. Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

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

New space. New name. Next Chapter

 Monday, October 12, 2015
Hugh Ralston


This past week, we formally dedicated our Center for Community – as a place to gather, to share and to build.

And we unveiled a new name that better reflects our ambitions for the days ahead.

But first: why this space? A simple answer is that we like meetings. And now we have rooms in which to meet!

A deeper answer is that we believe in the nonprofit sector, and its capacity to shape community. As the region’s community foundation, we believe that helping that sector achieve a higher level of effectiveness, leadership, capacity, and funding will help the region we all work to strengthen.

More than just grantmaking

Many know us by our grantmaking, both from donors and from the partners who have helped us invest in families help their children succeed by the third grade, encourage smart growth, work with arts organizations, help students go to college and graduate school, and reduce teen pregnancy.

It remains a fundamental part of our work.

But our mission is more than be just a grantmaker to local nonprofits. This Center gives us the space to do that broader work:

• provide free meeting space for organizations to do that face to face work – perhaps even more important in an age when we are connected digitally 

help convene organizations around issues that matter and skills to be taught 

• provide workshops to help CBOs do their business better – at the staff and at the board level -- to be more effective in our work, share our best stories, engage more donors, and master the tools we use 

• bring donors together to learn new tools to help make their giving more effective 

• understand research, data and how our work shapes that of others 

• foster collaboration among public, private, nonprofit and other partners 

• and work together to raise new charitable capital, which remains for many the lifeblood of our work and the means to transform lives.

The nonprofit sector in Fresno County alone is a $4 billion business – we cannot fund solutions to every problem with grants but we can help each other build an effective platform to do the work that only nonprofits can do.

We also announced the board has approved a change in our name, to reflect two key disciplines of our work: our focus on the Central Valley of California and our brand as a community foundation.

Community Foundation brand

Community foundations have spent the last twenty years refining what makes us unique and different, what distinguishes this part of American philanthropy. It is reflected in part in the national standards movement but also in what the brand should be about:

• a physical place and the people that are there 

• engaging donors and helping them be more focused and effective in their work, measuring outcomes, thinking through strategies, exploring products, and understanding the legacies that are to be protected, for good for ever. 

• being a long term steward, protecting those legacies as an organization that is never going away. 

• And building the charitable sector to be an effective steward of - and for – community.

A community foundation is both a trusted steward of capital, protective of the donor’s intent and expectations, and a place that engages others in how to use philanthropic dollars to strengthen our region – the institutions, the individual people, the community, and --in a sense --the future itself.

We are here for the long haul.

Central Valley Community Foundation continues the work

Under our new name, logo and tagline, we will continue to build on the work of board members and donors who have partnered with the Fresno Regional Foundation for almost fifty years.

And that work will focus on the Central Valley.

Our new name will be the Central Valley Community Foundation, with our mission, vision and core identity reflected in our tag line: Effective philanthropy. Stronger communities.

Our new logo reflects our deep connection to the land we serve, and the rich agricultural heritage that will be a part of our future. Our mission to cultivate smart philanthropy, lead and invest in solutions that strengthen community is one that will shape our efforts for years ahead.

We recognize that we cannot do this work alone but rather can do so much more if we recognize a deeply held truth: we do better work when we work together. That is true when we work with donors, our efforts through this Center for Community and our work in, and as, a community.

To what end?

We look forward to you joining us in the coming weeks and months – with a class or workshop, a lecture or convening, a contribution or a new fund, a planned gift or agency endowment: a partner in this great work of community philanthropy building community – not just here in Fresno but across the entire central valley.

And what is our goal? A stronger community for all of us, a better sense that we can shape a prosperous future for more of us, a commitment to this region and the rich, broad and diverse people that have built California’s fifth largest city, its most productive valley that feeds the nation and part of the world, and what I believe will be the next great chapter in the California story.

It can be a way that our generation will take the gifts and legacies bequeathed to us, and invest them in building communities worthy of those investments made in us, worthy of the challenges we face today, and worthy of our dreams. It is within our ability to do so, working together.

Come join us in this good work.

Best Regards,

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

The drought adds another burden to the underserved

 Monday, October 05, 2015
Hugh Ralston


At a convening on this past Tuesday morning, FRF unveiled a new report on the impact of the drought on our region's nonprofits, many of whom are at the forefront of responding to those suffering across the valley.

The full report “Beyond Almonds and Blond Lawns” is available on our website, at www.fresnoregfoundation.orgWe are grateful for the support of the California Endowment in bringing this study to fruition. 

How can donors help?

The purpose of the study was to find ways that donors and funders could respond to the sector’s needs, some of which are deep seated and some of which have been exacerbated by the drought itself. Through a series of online surveys, direct interviews and community convenings, we identified a number of strategies that we think are worth exploring.

Some are obvious. Some focus on what happens after it starts to rain.

They include providing financial support to nonprofits operational sustainability, long term infrastructure investment, economic development, and for increasing organizational effectiveness. The recommendations also include taking their story/stories to a wider audience, and working with regional, state and national funders to help local agencies doing important work.

Long term issues will matter too

Some longer term issues will need attention, even after the winter rains convince some the drought is over. More efficient use of water – not just by farmers but by consumers, will be on our agenda for years. So will the need to boost underserved communities, and to strengthen nonprofit effectiveness so they too can do work only they can deliver. As community partners and donors, we are also called to pay attention to the evolving needs, to donate directly to CBOs that are struggling to meet new or extended demands for services, to learn how to become smarter investors and to deepen the conversation among the parties where collaborative action can make a huge difference.

There is plenty of work to be done to help those struggling – both those with immediate needs like no water or cascading health problems, as well as those who are grappling with social and institutional changes that impact their ability to make a living, provide for their families or build for a better future.

Issue crosses county lines

As a community foundation that serves a broader geographic region, we recognize that some issues cross county lines. This is one that affects the entire Valley. We appreciate the participation with the Kern Community Foundation, whose county was included in the study. We are planning to have additional sessions in Bakersfield, Tulare and Merced, so we can explore how local action can help as well.

FRF is exploring ways to respond

There are strategies FRF is moving forward on its own, including supporting training for state and federal government grants applications, especially for rural or small municipalities, water districts and CBOs, funded by a grant from the Board's Fund for the Common Good and launched this fall with the Fresno State Office of Community and Economic Development.

The requests for capacity building support - widely supported in each of the four convenings, will help shape the curriculum for workshops to be offered in coming months from FRF's Center for Community.

One more weight on the wrong side of the scale

The impact of the drought is magnified in regions that have underfunded infrastructure, stretched public dollars and changing economic conditions. Those impacted by seismic shifts in agriculture -- often summarized in the shift from row crops to tree crops – include farm workers, many of whom will no longer be able to find similar work. Job and skill retraining is particularly important as these workers and their families have to adapt to a different job market.

CBO infrastructure is equally important, particularly for those nonprofits which are being pulled into positions of community leadership, sometimes to fill a vacuum. Basic leadership training - at the board and staff level, marketing and outreach, engaging donors -- all will help.

Telling the story

One other element we heard over and over again is the importance of telling the Valley story outside the Valley. This is not only exploring why the Valley, its people and its products are important to the entire state of California, if not the nation, but also highlighting why investing in this region is not just about responding to the needs. We know that regional and statewide funding partners recognize this, but there is an opportunity to make the case to a broader audience.

This is a place worth investing in because it is a place that matters to more than just its residents.

It will rain again in this fertile valley but that will likely not solve the water problems we face. We hope this report will help others shape how to respond effectively and shape a better future. Come join us in this important work.

Best Regards,

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

Helping families succeed is harder when the world keeps changing so quickly

 Monday, September 21, 2015
Hugh Ralston


Two engagement sessions this past week focused on our recent high impact grantmaking, helping nonprofits, school districts and intermediaries explore what builds success by the third grade.

Our two panels – one here in Fresno and the other in Visalia, brought together donors, grantees and community leaders to share lessons from investing in this area of fast changing opportunities.

Thinking about the whole community can be a paradigm shift

A school superintendent shared that one of the paradigm shifts in his thinking requires the need to think beyond the needs of the school district to focus on the needs of the larger community. As we digest new research and new observations about how children learn and develop, from the earliest ages, the importance of the first years on brain development are being understood more broadly.

All that happens before anyone shows up at school.

Seeing the dots connect between the stages of child development, starting in the womb, should help direct priorities as our children develop. Each stage has its critical importance in building skills and talents; each feeds the next. One of our panelists suggested we think of the highest impact, where the brain development is most rapid: 0-18 months.

One of our community’s challenges is to understand more clearly these connections. Institutions are wrestling how best to help families and parents get their children ready, both formally and informally. Important work by the First 5 B-3 initiative has helped districts here in Fresno understand how making these connections more effective can help children be ready to start kindergarten, first grade and the stages afterwards.

Three years of high impact grants help us learn what is working

Our three years of high impact grants have been focused on efforts to help families prepare their children for success by the 3rd grade, which emerged from a months long process to identify effective pathways out of poverty. Successfully navigating that all important transition from learning to read to reading to learn, a component of ‘grade level reading’, is an outcome we seek.

We are of course pleased to hear of successful results from our grants, from grantees who are engaging parents in getting their children ready, strengthening literacy at the parent and the child level, helping bridge cultural gaps, and reaching out to sustain families as they gain the skills and tools to connect to the organizations and schools looking after and teaching their children.

We are in the midst of our 2015 grants - to be distributed in November, the final of this cycle of grants made possible by a partnership with The James Irvine Foundation, whose critical investment is in projects of high impact that emerge from community needs here in the San Joaquin Valley. We remain grateful for this significant investment.

Change at a faster tempo

America has been wrestling with its education system for generations. The Nation at Risk report was issued in 1988, raising concerns about the efficacy of our school preparation in light of our economy’s needs and global changes. It seems as if every decade, new efforts are directed at ‘strengthening the schools’, from both the federal and state level; local schools – officials and teachers together - adjust and absorb, all the while moving forward with their critical work preparing the next generation for success.

But the world continues to change as well, often at accelerating speeds.

Local authority responding to global tempos

American education has long been a local issue, which has served the nation well over the past two hundred years. Major reforms in the early years of the last century helped the nation transform from its agrarian roots to a more industrial global economy, and the new high school provided graduates with tools and skills. The GI Bill moved a new postwar generation to college, and a vast increase in students stepped up their game, rebuilding the economy after World War II.

The 21st century economy has its own needs. We are adapting to the new norms and connections of technology, globalized and diverse populations and a faster clip of change. That puts local school board, teachers and administrators on a shorter turnaround time, as each district tries to balance its community, resources and expectations. Progress can seem uncertain or uneven.

One of our panelists suggested we need to move beyond acknowledging it takes a village to raise a child; we need a new village. I think the new village is being created around us, with change emerging faster than the institutions who are charged with the responsibilities for educating our children. We need help, so we can help them succeed.

As we respect the needs to get ready for a new generation, we are mindful that human pace for change sometimes runs on a different tempo. Connecting the two keeps everyone focused on the objective, developing the means to do right by our kids. It takes a community to help each other through these tectonic changes, remembering the long view, and setting the stage for that more prosperous future.

Come join us in this good work, as we learn how we can be more effective in making these investments in helping the next generation succeed – not only at the third grade but beyond.

Best Regards,

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

A legacy's impact stretches across the generations

 Saturday, September 05, 2015
Hugh Ralston
Dear Friends,

At the community foundation, we respect the power of legacies, testaments to the impact of lives invested in others. It is one of our greatest privileges to work with individuals and families, either to establish a legacy to honor the passions of someone who has passed on or to craft strategies that carries the donors’ passion to the next generation and beyond.

FRF’s own legacies of service and investment

We are also mindful of our own institutional legacies, as we prepare to celebrate fifty years of community philanthropy in this region. This is timely as we connect with our former board members on an annual basis, each of whom has played an important role in overseeing the foundation’s mission and who represent an important sounding board as we move into our next chapter of work.

In that work, we see many examples of legacies at the foundation reaching across the generations, and in expressing the love folks have for this region and the institutions that build, nurture and sustain community. Whether it is designated funds for projects like river restoration, or scholarships, or permanent endowments for local agencies, philanthropic capital at the foundation carries forth the things that matter most to our donors and board members.

Rosellen Kershaw’s legacy

One such life that will linger long after her death is Rosellen Kershaw, a veteran community volunteer whose contributions to civic life have been well chronicled in her recent obituary and in other commentary published by those whom she inspired, whom she worked with and whom she believed in.

Her passions included our local libraries, which found its tangible legacy in endowment funds that sustain the work of the county public library system. A legacy society has been created in her name at the Fresno Library Foundation to acknowledge and honor those who, through a planned gift, shared her belief in the power of libraries, and the importance of sustainable funding.

Active in the Rotary Club, the AAUW and the League of Women Voters (where she was the first to achieve 50 year status) – among other organizations, Rosellen was one of those whose commitment to community made things happen.

FRF’s partnership through grantmaking and leadership

We knew her as a board member of the Foundation from 1991-2000, an appointee of the Mayor under the previous form of board governance. In her giving through and to funds at the foundation, she was a generous donor to institutions that ranged from art and cultural institutions, conservation trusts and a wide array of local charities that serve the poor, the disadvantaged and those needing help.

In addition to her own charitable activities, she served as a fund advisor to several scholarship funds – Raymond Harvey Music Fund, the Maxine Rodkin Scholarship Fund, Glee Ewell Memorial Fund and the San Joaquin Valley Town Hall, lending her expertise and passion for this region to ensuring that philanthropic dollars are wisely invested and distributed. These funds carry forth missions that impact real lives: parenting programs to enable parents to finish high school, music programs in Fresno County and supporting the civic leadership and engagement through the Town Hall Fund. 

Each of these funds distributes grants which extend to an organization or an individual the possibilities that animated a donor’s lifelong contributions. And in Rosellen’s case, these possibilities will now carry forward into the future. 

Sustaining Legacies is part of our work

In ways large and small, we are proud to sustain those legacies we have been entrusted with, and to ensure that these legacies are protected and carried forth. We look forward to working with donors across our valley to find ways to sustain the legacies that will shape tomorrow’s communities, and carry forward that virtual circle of care that grounds every community in the transition between generations.

As we move forward to our next chapter as a community foundation serving this Central Valley, we will seek out those ways that charitable capital can be harnessed most effectively, protecting what donors care about, ensuring effective use of scarce charitable dollars and strengthening those organizations and causes that will help shape a more prosperous future for this next chapter of California’s future. Please join us in this good work.
Best Regards,

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

Investing in the next generation is still one of the best investments we can make

 Monday, August 31, 2015
Hugh Ralston


This past week, the foundation was privileged to distribute funds to local grantees for two of our competitive grant cycles – teen pregnancy prevention and aiding college bound youth in the communities of Dinuba, Reedley, Cutler-Orosi and Orange Grove. In a late afternoon event held at our new Center for Community, we once again were able to translate grant dollars into programs that transform people’s lives.

It remains one of the great privileges of being a community foundation, to provide that connection between a donor’s passion and the next generation

Grantmaking Connects FRF’s many stakeholders

For FRF, competitive grantmaking brings together key strands of our work: 

• funds distributed from those entrusted by donors to our care, whether it be a bequest or regranting dollars from a trusted and valued foundation partner 
local nonprofits seeking support for programs, missions and outreach 
• volunteers working together to help us identify options and solutions, often to complex problems, through our advisory grants committees 
• goals to fund and the grants themselves, approved by our board of directors to ensure clarity as to intent and priority, as well as ongoing oversight 

• and foundation staff working to ensure the funds are properly used, with results measured, evaluated and then shared with multiple stakeholders

 Effective philanthropy often takes time, discipline and follow up, and in both cases we are proud of the work distributed this week.

The Mitsuoka Legacy for Dinuba, Reedley and Orange Cove

Dorothy Mitsuoka worked hard as a citrus farmer, and believed in the power and importance of a college education to the children in her local community. Her bequest to the foundation set up a permanent endowment, whose grants support programs that would expand the number of local students ready and able to go to college.

$100,000 was distributed to four organizations – Central Valley Higher Education Consortium for a boot camp for first generation college bound students, Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE) engaging 185 parents to support the college readiness at two local high schools, Community Services Employment Training for a program that connects high school students in Cutler Orosi with a chance to develop leadership skills, to learn how to use technology and to build career and college preparation. The fourth grant to Teen Success was for supporting teen moms transition to being able to go to college.

Teen Pregnancy Prevention – a multi year partnership continues

Other grants distributed are part of multiyear support from the Hewlett Foundation to reduce rates of teen pregnancy, which locally - despite recent reductions in the national numbers - are among the highest in California. This year’s $303,000 in grants included support for the Madera Coalition for Community Justice, to provide comprehensive sex education to youth and parents, for ACT for Women & Girls, to support two programs that use teens as educators focused on reducing teen pregnancy, the Peer Health Ambassadors Program of Fresno Barrios Unidos, providing outreach and education to 3,000+ teens and 350 parents, and for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Fresno County, to expand its Safer Choices program to engage 990+ youth and 530 parents in workshops, again aimed at reducing teen pregnancy.

Program directors shared their appreciation for this support, noting this work is not universally welcomed but critical in making headway in reducing the alarming rates across our six county region. Whether it is investing in education and awareness, for both teens and their parents, the grantees believe that giving teens accurate information is an important ingredient to changing behaviors, and in expanding opportunities for success in the future.

In the same way, investing in the capacity, awareness and skills of teens exploring college becomes an effective tool for those exploring life after high school, especially for those students who are forging a pathway never followed before in their family. These programs help them imagine a future embedded in the dreams of parents, some of whom are navigating these choices for the first time, just like their children. Given the potential impact of going to college, getting ready early is often vital.

Effective investments transforms young lives

Whether partnering with donors or foundations, we know the effective investment of philanthropic dollars can not only sustain a legacy, a program or an education but provides for a future to be transformed, lives made promising through new opportunities, and a community’s next generation strengthened.

Congratulations to our grantees, and the thousands of teens that will be helped over the coming year. That is one measure of philanthropic capital well invested. Come join us in this intergenerational investment - good work indeed.

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.

Learn more about giving through the foundation.

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