Gilroy Foundation grows to $8 million, gives back

Ascension Solorsano Middle School Principal Sal Tomasello

As Gilroy Foundation Executive Director Donna Pray pored over
the numbers, she struggled to nail down just how much the
organization had recently donated to local nonprofit programs.
As Gilroy Foundation Executive Director Donna Pray pored over the numbers, she struggled to nail down just how much the organization had recently donated to local nonprofit programs.

Considering that figure rose with each newly discovered donation, Pray didn’t mind.

“It’s not the worst problem to have,” she chuckled.

Pray eventually rested on $350,281, a record total for the

31-year-old Foundation, which donates every year to local nonprofits and individuals to help them satisfy their philanthropic goals. That money – donated during the Foundation’s annual grants presentation Thursday – will remedy a wide range of needs in Gilroy, including scholarships for graduating high school seniors, immunizations for homeless children and countless programs for community organizations.

And it was done in spite of still bleak economic conditions, Pray said.

“We have donors that are so generous and feel they had done well in this community and have wanted to give back. Some of them might not have felt the pinch like some of us did,” she said. “They could step to the plate when we’re all hurting.”

Pray also couldn’t cease bragging about the Foundation’s “fabulous investment portfolio,” as the organization had approximately $8 million in the bank at the end of March.

The 180-member Foundation itself is part of a much larger – and much richer – regional organization known as the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which manages about $2 billion in assets for communities in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Gilroy’s $8 million stays in Gilroy, Pray said, but the Silicon Valley Community Foundation invests it. With much success, she added.

“We’ve grown every year,” Pray said.

According to Foundation Board President John Perales, growing is just what the Gilroy community needs to do.

“Gilroy could be anything we want it to be,” said the Christopher High School principal. “It’s something that I really believe in. It’s not about the money, it’s about pulling people together to make a difference for the community.”

One place that difference will be felt is the School Health Clinics of Santa Clara County’s Gilroy office, where a $2,500 Foundation grant will pay for whooping cough immunizations for 166 of the Gilroy Unified School District’s approximately 200 homeless students, said Celia Moreton, director of fund development and communication for the clinics

“They’ve been amazingly supportive of the programs that we do,” Moreton said of the Foundation. “Without the money, we’d have to seek other means of funds, which during this time is difficult. Grant money has become very competitive.”

Moreton said she sat in awe when she witnessed the variety of organizations that received funding during Thursday’s event.

“They’re all worthy causes, and there’s only so much money to give, and I think they did a good job of covering all the different things that needed to be done,” she said. “I think it’s amazing and says a lot about the people in Gilroy. They are one community that does this, and there are not a lot of places that do.”

The Foundation’s donations are broken into several categories. There are competitive grants, for which local organizations must apply each year. This year, the Foundation donated more than $25,000 in competitive grants to 17 organizations, including the Gilroy Historical Society, the Antonio Del Buono Elementary School Violin Program and Ascension Solorsano Middle School.

Designated grants pair specific Foundation funds with local groups to provide annual funding, while donor-advised grants allow a Foundation fund to change its recipient on a yearly basis if it so chooses. Roughly $180,000 went to designated and donor-advised grants this year, including more than $66,000 to Christopher High School from the Don Christopher Fund for CHS and more than $47,000 to retain a Gilroy Unified School District elementary choral teacher from the Connell Family GUSD Music Fund.

The Gilroy Dog Park, the Diabetes Society of Santa Clara County, the Gilroy Arts Alliance and South Valley Middle School math teacher Carmen Koto’s efforts to hold Saturday morning classes were among many parties funded.

“It means so much to every organization,” said David Cox, executive director of the St. Joseph’s Family Center, which received $13,500 from the Sean Michael Merriman St. Joseph’s Family Center Fund.

He added, “We really benefit from those dollars because our needs really change on a daily basis.”

Cox said the money also allows the center to lean on its yearly donations and more easily secure funding from other avenues.

“Not many people or foundations want to be the sole supporter of a program,” he said. “If they see others buying into the program, it seems more viable.”

Cox said a portion of the donations received April 28 will fund the Gilroy Street Team, in which homeless or formerly homeless individuals assist in beautification projects around Gilroy. He said the life-changing programs the center provides would be difficult to maintain at current levels without support from the Foundation.

“That’s the pride of this community,” Cox said. “There’s always a willingness to make our community stronger. The Gilroy Foundation is at the forefront of the question ‘How can we make our community better and healthier and stronger?’ ”

It’s a question Perales has been asking himself for years.

Perales said he once met with his church pastor to ask why some cities and communities suffered.

“He said people don’t give freely of their resources or their talents,” Perales said.

Now it’s a trend Perales said he and the Foundation have tried tirelessly to reverse.

“Its not all about money, it’s about believing in these organizations,” he said. “Some people volunteer, some people write a check. You can clearly point to the Foundation as evidence that people are believing in what we’re doing.”

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