Our Impact:  Ten 2015 Community Grant Recipients Share Their Stories

panel bannerIn 2015, Impact100 Sonoma granted $108,000 in Community Grants to ten local nonprofits.  In order to understand how those grants are making an impact in our community, more than 100 members and guests attended the popular 6th Annual Community Grant Updates on March 19th to hear from each of the recipients. They were not disappointed.

Community Grant recipients provided progress reports on the wide range of projects funded and how they are making a difference in the valley. The following grantees shared their updates:

4Paws4Paws Learning and Wellness Center:
Joanne Yates, President and Co-founder
4Paws provides social therapy through interaction with dogs to build confidence in children and provide connectivity to individuals who have been marginalized because of age or disability. The $2,200 Community Grant was used to increase the number of Sonoma Valley canine social therapy teams that provide comfort to healthcare patients and assist children to gain confidence in reading.

Joanne was accompanied by Rudy, a five-year-old rescue dog with no socialization skills when he entered the program but who intuitively knew how to interact with those in need. Joanne shared stories of children, some second language learners, that have been bullied and lack confidence in opening up to others. By reading to dogs like Rudy, who are non-judgmental and loving, many students have even gained the confidence to read out loud in front of their peers.

Art_Escape_Logo_Large_for_WebArt Escape:
Melissa Plume, Program Coordinator
Art Escape’s mission is to provide a vibrant, stimulating place to explore creative potential through art lessons, studio space, and event space for Sonoma Valley youth.

The $15,000 Community Grant was used to create a mobile arts studio educational program for K-5 students. The grant provides all instruction and materials, and upkeep of the mobile art studio and has already reached 1,458 students at four elementary schools (Dunbar, Sassarini, Flowery and El Verano).

Under the new core curriculum standards, there is little time during the school day for art education. The mobile studio has the flexibility to fit “free” time during or after school to supplement school art classes and meet CA Department of Education visual art standards. This program has exposed disadvantaged students to a wide range of artistic processes and art skills and gives them the space and time to explore and express themselves freely—fostering self-expression, individuality, and pride in the art they create.

Becoming IndependentBecoming Independent:
James Cox, Associate Director of Day Services
Becoming Independent is a community-based organization to help people with disabilities live meaningful and productive lives. The clients range in age from 22-81 years and span an ability spectrum from those that can live on their own and hold minimum-wage positions to those that require significant personal care. The program provides life-experience enrichment and a sense of purpose to its clients while benefiting the community.

A $15,000 Community Grant was used toward the purchase of a new vehicle to transport clients with developmental disabilities to work and volunteer sites. This expanded the number of community support hours to Sonoma Valley and allowed Becoming Independent Day Services to take on additional volunteer and paid contracts.  Example services include volunteer meal deliveries to senior centers and socializing of animals at Pets Lifeline and janitorial/litter abatement services to businesses such as Mary’s Pizza and Benzinger Winery.

Ceres Community ProjectCeres Community Project:
Cathryn Couch, Founder and Executive Director
In the last eight months, 7,700 meals have been served to Sonoma Valley low-income residents with serious, chronic illness, 85% of whom have cancer. This meal service represents an impressive 55% increase from the previous year.  An added benefit is that all meals are prepared by youth as part of the Ceres Youth Empowerment Program. 

The $15,000 Community Grant helped to build collaborative relationships between Ceres and local health institutions. That, in turn, has helped to raise the visibility of Ceres in the valley and facilitated connections to serve more clients. A collaboration with the Sonoma Valley Hospital has resulted in the Community Care Network that provides home health support and meals for low-income people on Medicare and Medicaid. Ceres is also working with the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center to integrate their meals into the newly established Diabetes Wellness Group.

Community MattersCommunity Matters:
Rick Phillips, Founder and Executive Director
Rick summed up the mission of Community Matters as changing the culture of our youth from ‘cooler to be cruel’ to ‘cooler to be kind.’ Their organization provides early intervention programs at schools, helping children to find their voices and to speak-up when they see intolerance, injustice, and harassment—in the end, to enable conflict resolution.

The $15,000 Community Grant was used to institutionalize the “Safe School Ambassador Program” at Adele Harrison and Altimira Middle Schools by providing training of trainers at these schools. Through this model, staff are empowered on their own to sustain and grow the program.

An important message from Rick was that our kids need to understand that “when we are indifferent and silent, our silence speaks loudly and becomes a form of consent or permission for intolerance, thus promoting an ethic that we do not want.”

Jack London Park PartnersJack London Park Partners:
Tjiska Van Wyk, Executive Director
Invasive plant species are the #1 threat to biodiversity in the Sonoma Valley natural environment because they compete for the resources of native species. Who would suspect that six of the most threatening invasives are all around us:  Douglas fir, purple and yellow star thistle, periwinkle, and French and Scotch broom.

The $15,000 Community Grant was used to develop a program for the removal of invasive plant species throughout Jack London Park and to engage at-risk youth and community groups in the task. The 175-member Mounted Systems Unit served as part of an ‘early detection and rapid response’ team to locate the invasive species. Then, as part of the “stewardship phase,”125 members of community and youth groups were recruited to remove them. As a result of this effort, nearly all the French and Scotch broom have been removed from the park.

La LuzLa Luz Center:
Veronica Vences, Program Director
La Luz Center strives to be a catalyst for change in health, education and financial security in Sonoma Valley. The $15,000 Community Grant provided computer literacy workshops and employment counseling for low-income Latino adults with the goal of making individuals more competitive in finding a job or running a business.

Classes at the El Verano Community School were so successful that they have trained 120 individuals, surpassing the original target of 80. They have also added additional computer courses and are expanding to Sassarini Elementary School to reach more adults. 

Veronica mentioned two individuals using their training to advance themselves: Javier, a day laborer with inconsistent work, took the computer literacy class in hopes of one day ‘working indoors’ and Catalina who owns a local hair salon and took classes in Excel to improve her business by predicting revenue and profit & loss electronically.

Pets LifelinePets Lifeline:
Monica Dashwood, President, Board of Directors
Monica described the mission of Pets Lifeline as finding “forever homes” for cats and dogs in Sonoma. As the only animal shelter in the valley, they also offer care for abused and abandoned animals, offer spay/neuter clinics, conduct child education programs, and provide elderly companionship services. Pets Lifeline relies entirely on grants and private donations as it does not receive funds from either the city or the county.

The $800 Community Grant was used toward structural enhancements of the dog kennels. They will be assessing the new porous flooring installed in one of the kennels as a pilot study with the goal of expanding the new flooring throughout if it shows benefits for the health of the dogs.

Monica reminded us of our commitment to the welfare of animals and children with the quote: “Bless the children and the beasts, they have no choice they have no voice.”

Mentoring Logo with yellow raysSonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance (SVMA):
Tina Baldry, Program Director
The SVMA runs eight mentor centers that are equipped with tools and activities to foster relationship-building between mentors and mentees. SVMA recognized the need for more STEM-focused (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) activities because of the opportunities for employment projected in this area.

The $15,000 Community Grant was used to purchase STEM “toys” and to expose both mentors and mentees to these new learning tools. To assist with the project, they hired a toy inventor who has provided workshops at the mentor centers, leading activities such as circuit-building and building and programing mini-robots and solar-powered cars. The activities not only engage both mentor and mentee, but also help to strengthen their relationship as they problem-solve together. While they are having fun, they are being exposed to computer coding and engineering skills.

Maira Nava Alvarez, Bilingual Prevention Educator
Verity operates a rape crisis center in Santa Rosa offering counseling, prevention, and intervention. They also provide educational outreach to schools. Maira reminded us that sexual assault is a form of oppression that occurs with great frequency across all social classes, but that it is preventable through education, which is the focus of Verity.

With the $15,000 Community Grant, Verity expanded the “Youth Empowerment and Support Project of Sonoma Valley,” which aids students in preventing sexual violence .  To date, Verity has reached the goal of educating 600 students and will surpass this number in 2016.  Five schools have had informational presentations, and Adele Harrison Middle School has requested their service.

Verity is anticipating more partnerships with Sonoma Valley schools because of enactment of CA Senate Bill 695 that requires middle and high schools to provide education on sexual assault, healthy relationships, and affirmative consent.


Several Community Grant recipients commented that, through their Impact100 Grant experience, they had found more collaborative opportunities with each other and were able to maximize their impact on our community.  It is rewarding to see that Impact100 is not just a funder, but a part of the community helping to bind us together for a common cause.

In closing, Gera Vaz, Membership Chair, left us with another important message: “Do all the good you can for all the people that you can for as long as you can.”

Text by Donna Dambach and photos by Bari Williams