Largest Charity Ponders Gilroy’s Needs


Lack of affordable housing, poor road conditions, and the availability of street drugs are some of the biggest problems raised by community leaders in Gilroy recently, during a fact-finding session hosted by the largest community foundation in the country.
The Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which has $8 billion in assets, held an open conversation with 20 community stakeholders—in social services, law enforcement, education and business—on Feb. 23 at the Gilroy Art Center to identify the city’s most pressing concerns and get ideas on how they could help.
“Just as we did in 2007 and 2008, we have solicited input from a variety of stakeholders across Santa Clara and San Mateo counties to help us determine how and where our discretionary grant-making funds can have the most meaningful and long-lasting impact,” said Manuel Santamaría, the foundation’s vice president of strategic initiatives and grant-making.
Since 2008, the Foundation has distributed $90 million in grants to 500 organizations in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties in four areas: economic security, education, immigration and building strong communities.
Over the years the money has been used to combat high-interest payday lending that targets the poor, provide affordable legal services to immigrants, and ensure students entering the 9th grade are placed in the correct math class level, among others.
Based on input from the Gilroy event and similar conversations the foundation has held in communities across the two counties since September, the four grant-making strategies may be refined or changed in some ways, according to Santamaría.
Results will be announced in October.
During a breakout session at the Gilroy event, attendees were asked two questions: What are the most pressing issues in Gilroy, and how can the Silicon Valley Community Foundation add value and best engage to help solve these issues?
Gilroy Mayor Roland Velasco said that while demographics vary from North to South County, most of the city’s problems are regional in nature.
“The challenge is going to be how to get people to think regionally. These are huge socioeconomic issues that go beyond Gilroy.”
Each community member was asked to write a list of their worries and post them on a board. They included: Gilroyans earning low wages in an area with a high cost of living; poor road conditions; the need for ESL (English as a Second Language) and adult education; the availability of street drugs, including methamphetamines; children worried about their parents being deported, downtown revitalization, and lack of transportation alternatives.
“We are still in a situation where someone making $50-$80,000 a year probably can’t afford to buy a home,” said Gilroy Chamber of Commerce CEO, Mark Turner. “There is also a lack of affordable rentals.”
At last count in 2015, there were 300 unsheltered people living in Gilroy.
Interim Police Chief Scot Smithee said he would like to see a safe place, with restrooms and garbage pickup services for local homeless folks to camp.
“Instead of kicking people out we need to have some option for people to go,” said Smithee. “You can go up to the foothills today and see encampments of a hundred people.”
Gilroy’s top cop also wanted to see more youth mentorship programs and drug and alcohol counseling to help mitigate future problems.
“A lot of the problems we see in the community happen when teens are home alone,” said Smithee. “They are keeping themselves busy with people who are not doing the right things.”
He added: “Aggressive programming should start at a younger age.”
In addition to the estimated $10 to $12 million a year the foundation has available for grant-making in the region, the group is celebrating its 10 year anniversary this year by awarding 10 $100,000 grants to eligible organizations in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.
Gilroy resident Daniel Perez recently joined the Silicon Valley Community Foundation Board of Directors because he was taken by its mission.
“The community foundation has a very unique platform to help people in deep ways,” he said. “Those with very little voices—those that are marginalized.”

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