Impact100 Hears from 2014 Community Grant Recipients


“Helping people makes you feel good about yourself.”

…Rodrigo, a teen participant in the Ceres Program

When you hear the stories, the individual hurdles and accomplishments, the extent of the impact on the community – that is when you truly appreciate the efforts of our nonprofit organizations and the services they provide to Sonoma Valley.  And yes, it also broadens your smile to learn how much our Community Grants are helping to make a difference.  That is what the annual Community Grant Recipients Update is all about, and the reports from our 2014 recipients were no exception.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMore than 70 Impact100 Sonoma members and guests gathered at the Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club on March 21st to listen to representatives from the seven nonprofits (image above) that received Community Grants last year.  The following summaries provide only a glimpse into the extraordinary projects supported by the Impact100 Community Grants.  For a full listing of these grants, click HERE.

ceres Ceres Community Project
Cathryn Couch, Executive Director
Cathryn expressed gratitude to Impact100 for two vital years of support. The Ceres program in Sonoma began with a proof of concept pilot at Hanna Boys Center in which teens learned to prepare (and eat!) healthy meals for clients suffering from illnesses. “From our first month in September 2013 when we provided fewer than 200 meals, we are now – just 18 months later – providing 1,300 meals each month to primarily low-income Sonoma Valley residents who are unable to prepare food for themselves due to their struggles with serious illness.” The goal for 2015 is to deliver 15,000 meals!

The impact of this effort was illustrated by numerous testimonials from those they serve.  “The best part of becoming a Ceres client was that I did not need to plan meals, shop for food, or prepare meals. They happily did all this for me and delivered the meals to my front door every Thursday morning… During three months of chemo, I was way too sick to even think about or desire food and Ceres helped save my life…” And as for the teens who are helping to provide the meals? Their comments are equally revealing: “I can’t believe I am eating kale and seaweed!” and “Helping people makes you feel good about yourself.”

Linda Alwitt – FISH/Severe Weather Shelter, Volunteer
Cynthia Vrooman – SOS, Board President
The sound of the heater coming on during a cold wintry night is unknown to the homeless in Sonoma Valley.  Cindy recalled hearing the news of people freezing to death during the winter of 2013-2014, while she was curled up in a blanket in her recliner watching Downton Abbey.  That was when she decided to get involved.  She, along with 15 other volunteers, joined in a pilot project that ran from November through February in which homeless were picked up at the library and taken to one of seven Sonoma Valley churches willing to offer shelter during severe weather.

Linda described the benefits provided: warmth, safety, dinner, a cot and bedding, and breakfast.  They have now gathered supplies for 20 homeless people and have a roster of trained volunteers.  As this past winter was quite mild, the shelters were not as heavily used as expected.  However, it provided a good time to learn a little about what works and what does not.  For instance, 45 volunteer hours were needed just to open a church for one night.  Such findings have led to a revision of the current model and an effort to find a more permanent place to serve as a severe weather shelter for the homeless.

Jack londonJack London Park Partners
Tjiska Van Wyk, Executive Director
Tjiska described the health benefits of outdoor recreation.  Unfortunately a lot of at-risk youth have very little exposure to the environment outside city living.  This disparity provided a perfect opportunity for the park to increase its involvement within the community and demonstrate that parks are relevant as a long-term resource.  Recognizing their inexperience in working with at-risk youth, they turned to their neighbor, Hanna Boys Center, and the Teens to Trails project was born.  Eight Hanna students participated in an eight-week-long, vocationally-linked trail restoration project.  Beyond the physical skills attained, they also learned about time management, personal responsibility, and how the health of the environment directly affects one’s personal health.

Surveys taken pre- and post-project indicated a strong increase in an appreciation for the environment.  Javier was a perfect example.  He not only overcame his fear of the outdoors, but he also found new leadership skills.  And he (along with his peers) lost weight and “buffed up.”  Javier now wants to explore a career in communications.  (If you want to meet Javier “in person,” click HERE to view the video about the Teens to Trails project.)

With this project, we have become “greater than a park,” Tjiska reflected, and they are now working with many others to expand the program.

on the moveOn The Move
Leslie Mendine, Senior Consultant and Trustee
Susana Garcia, Family Engagement Director, Parent University Project
Rather than starting with a pre-determined program to engage more Latino parents in school programs, Leslie explained that they recruited five mothers to run focus groups to find out what parents wanted to know about their children’s schools.  The hope was to connect with 50 people.  They ended up with 155, and analysis of their input enabled the creation of a course catalog for the parent university and the start of classes.  Though the primary focus was to demystify the school system to parents (how to have a positive parent-teacher conference, understanding test scores, etc.), the classes also included DMV tutoring, access to technology, Zumba, and men’s basketball.  During the last four months, 150 parents participated in the classes.

Based on her experience with the first class and how nervous the parents were, Susana organized a leadership class for five (mostly) stay-at-home moms, who then felt confident enough to lead focus groups at their community center.  They began to see the importance of staying connected to their children’s activities.  They came to soccer matches, interacted with neighbors and other parents, started volunteering in classes, and encouraged others to do the same.  Susana said, “This is my story of five Moms.  Imagine ten Moms.  Imagine 25. Imagine the changes we can make. I am so proud of them.”

sosSonoma Overnight Support (SOS)
Kathy King, Fund-raising consultant (pinch-hitting for Catherine Barber, Executive Director)
The SOS homeless shelter has three bedrooms – one for men, one for women, and one for families.  Kathy explained that each morning after the residents leave, the professional staff opens the doors to homeless individuals, who come in to use the showers, phone, and laundry and get some food. “In 2013, we served 373 drop-in individuals.  This year we served 605, and the number of services provided reached 4,802 – nearly a 5% increase over the previous year.” With ~ 40 loads of laundry each week, SOS was thrilled to recently accept a check from Park Point Health Club to buy a new industrial washer and dryer.

Nearly 28% of the drop-ins are women – many of whom bring their children to get them ready for school and receive a hot breakfast.  Kathy went on to describe a homeless count last January conducted by SOS volunteers and homeless volunteers.  She was guided to several encampments by “a sweet young man in his mid-20s with a huge tattoo on his face.  He told me he had made some bad decisions in his life and his mother, who lived in Glen Ellen, would not let him live in her house with younger siblings.  These are the faces of the homeless: someone’s son, brother or sister, or mother, or even grandmother.”

SVHCSonoma Valley Community Health Center
Cheryl Johnson, Executive Director
Once it is fully operational, the new dental clinic will provide services to pediatric and prenatal patients and low-income families.  Progress has been a bit slower than anticipated due to two challenges: getting permits for the x-ray machine and finding a Spanish-speaking physician.  However, since the “soft opening on February 18th, there have been 54 visits – mostly mothers and children.  Ultimately, the clinic aims to serve 7200 patients each year.

Cheryl stressed that the SVCHC really plays two roles: providing health care and educating about health care.  That is certainly true when it comes to dental care.  The take-home message is that “the mouth is the gateway to your body.”  Poor oral hygiene can lead to more serious health problems.  Bacteria from inflamed gums can enter the bloodstream and travel to the arteries in the heart, increasing risk of a heart attack or stroke.  It can also make it harder to control blood sugar levels, which can have a profound effect on those suffering from diabetes.

The Center is also a partner with the Redwood Empire Food Bank in their Diabetes Wellness program in Sonoma Valley, hosting group classes that focus on improving health and nutrition for patients suffering from diabetes.

SVTSTeen Services Sonoma
Cristin Felso, Executive Director
Cristin briefly reviewed the progress of their Skills for Life program since receiving the $100,000 Impact Grant in 2011 and then focused on how their new walk-in refrigerator has completely revolutionized the services offered by The Lovin’ Oven.  The ability to buy in bulk, accept food donations, and prepare foods in advance has led to numerous catering opportunities, record pie sales, potential new partnerships with Whole Foods and Rocket Catering, and a program expansion.

But there is also an individual impact – on those who have found their “first job” thanks to Teen Services Sonoma.  “Allen” had been working in the No Name Café, but he lacked motivation.  Cristin had several talks with him, but eventually had to let him go.  Six months later, Allen asked for another chance.  He was turning 18.  His parents expected him to pay rent.  He was afraid.  Allen started the job training classes at Teen Services and was introduced to The Lovin’ Oven and catering.  The transformation was extraordinary, and Rocket Catering was so impressed that Allen will soon be their first teen employee.

The morning closed with time for questions and answers and an expression of thanks – to the members for their continued support and to the nonprofits for all of the extraordinary work that they are doing in Sonoma Valley.


To read more about all of the recipients of Impact100 Grants over the past five years, please visit Profiles of Impact.