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SLO County Garbagemen’s Association Donates $5,000 to Must! Charities

Must! Charities is proud welcome the SLO County Garbagemen’s Association as a partner, having recently donated $5,000 to must! charities, one of many groups it has supported over the last 50 years. Together with other must! charities partners, they aim to meet the greatest social needs facing Northern San Luis Obispo County by empowering local organizations to make strategic change that creates long-term, philanthropic, sustainable transformation within the region.

“I was thrilled when Ian Hoover walked in my door to inform me about the donation, and to learn that the association lets public officials choose where the donation goes,” Stated Becky Gray, Executive Director of must! charities. “Our public officials see the needs in our community better than most, and then to be chosen to facilitate the use of funds by Supervisor Peschong was an honor.”

The SLO County Garbagemen’s Association is committed to serving its customers and communities throughout San Luis Obispo County and recognizes that contributions to local charities are one way in which to do so. Over the years the Association had supported programs which have provided benefits to County youth through donations to the Shandon School System, the Boys and Girls Club, the San Miguel Community Pool, CASA of San Luis Obispo, and the Nipomo Library, and to senior citizens and other County residents through donations to Meals on Wheels.

Recently Supervisor John Peschong identified needs within the North County. He says, “I appreciate the SLO Garbagemen’s Association’s dedication to giving back to our community. This $5,000 donation to must! charities will go a long way in helping the growing needs in San Luis Obispo County.”

The Association became aware of must! charities’ role in improving life for residents of this area of the County, and committed to granting a donation to that organization to meet those needs. Must! Charities has committed over $1.5 million dollars since its inception in 2012 and have current collaborations with CASA of San Luis Obispo County, El Camino Homeless Organization, Boys and Girls Club of Northern San Luis Obispo County.


Big Sister Bailey and Little Sister Vanesa: Why We Need Each Other

Little Sister Vanesa, had big, big worries.

Where would her family live this time, if mom lost her job again?

How would they get to school if the car broke down again?

And worst of all, if her brother got sick again, would he die this time?

Big Sister Bailey helped Vanesa take a break from feeling stressed about her family’s past. Together, they faced some fun, kid-sized challenges. Bailey taught Vanesa how to make collages and paint with watercolors. She showed her how to look up books at their local library. Bailey introduced Vanesa to yoga and meditation.

Now, when Vanesa feels worried, she knows what to do. She does something creative to express her feelings. She gets more information to better understand the problem. She breathes deep to relax her body. “All those things help” Vanesa says, “But the best thing to do when you’re worried is to call a good friend who will just be there for you. My Big Sister Bailey is that kind of friend to me.”

*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of both the child and volunteer


How can philanthropy help nonprofits build the strength they will need in these changing times?

must! charities does not just invest dollars into organizations, but we also invest business expertise.  This is a great article from the Center for Effective Philanthropy that explains why an “investment in leadership may just be philanthropy’s most strategic response to both.”

There are two distinct ways our changing world is creating new challenges at nonprofits — and an investment in leadership may just be philanthropy’s most strategic response to both.

1. A purposeful investment in leadership can help nonprofits more successfully manage growth and transition challenges.

The Changing Context: Economic and political changes are creating funding uncertainty at many nonprofits, while simultaneously increasing the need for services among those they serve. For example, The Giving Code, a report on Silicon Valley nonprofits and philanthropy published last year, found that 80 percent of community-based organizations responding to a survey reported an increase in the demand for services over the last five years.

The Changing Need among Nonprofits: The combination of increased funding uncertainty and increased need for services is forcing many nonprofits to reevaluate their own efficiency and effectiveness. In doing so, some nonprofits find that they must grow and/or expand current offerings in order to meet the increasing need. Others realize that they must transition or adapt existing services in order to continue serving their communities well and within their budgets.

For example, grantees may be grappling with how to expand their services nationally or increase the sheer amount of services provided. Similarly, grantees may be struggling with how to increase staff size or assess staffing needs across new geographic locations. They may be transitioning current leaders while also trying to onboard those who will take the organization into its next phase.

How Philanthropy Can Help: An investment in leadership can help nonprofits as they transform to their future state. A leadership investment can empower nonprofits to:

Envision the future leadership structure needed for success. Funders can help grantees identify and better plan for the leadership they need to succeed. For example, this could mean providing support to help them restructure their board, design a new management structure, and draft job descriptions, or providing coaching to enable nimble and distributed leadership.
Build leaders’ ability to effectively manage change. Funders can support grantees as they lead their organizations through moments of change. This could mean providing support to coach leaders on change management and direction setting. It could also mean equipping leaders to plan for change through the development of transition or succession plans.
Grow leaders’ proficiencies to enact the change. Funders can bolster grantees’ ability to better plan for, communicate, and execute on their growth. This could mean providing support to develop and align staff and board behind a long-term strategic plan, or strengthening leaders’ proficiency in fundraising, communications, or marketing.

2. A purposeful investment in leadership can help nonprofits create equitable practices and inclusive cultures.

The Changing Context: There is a growing need for inclusivity, equity, and diversity in our communities and workplaces. Whether to promote justice, drive innovation, or increase productivity, the value of diversity is undisputable. But, like all sectors, the social sector struggles with developing the personnel and building the organizational cultures that allow inclusivity to thrive.

The Changing Need among Nonprofits: For nonprofits who typically spend less than 10 percent on overhead costs, leadership development and diversity and inclusion programs are virtually nonexistent. Without the ability to secure and develop staff, the sector faces a leadership deficit and loss of top talent. More starkly, however, the sector faces a racial gap in leadership, and the number of people of color in power at nonprofits has remained stagnant for the last 15 years.

Further, this racial gap extends to the highest level of governance: board members. As BoardSource explains, this racial homogeneity results in “blind spots” for an organization, resulting in programs and plans that “ineffectively address societal challenges and inequities, or even reinforce them.”

While many nonprofits understand the importance of diversity and inclusion, many also struggle to create strategies for promoting equity among leadership or building cultures that actually promote and value difference.

How Philanthropy Can Help: A purposeful investment in leadership can help nonprofits create a more equitable strategy, structure, and culture in a few ways. A leadership investment can empower nonprofits to:

Develop the competencies leaders need to create cultures of inclusivity. Funders can help grantees develop the leadership skillsets needed to promote and value difference at their organizations. This could mean engaging leaders in training and activities, like pro bono service, that encourage leaders to practice competencies such as fostering a sense of connection and belonging, or incorporating diverse viewpoints.

Create leadership equity by focusing on first-time leaders or underrepresented populations. Funders can help grantees build strategies and action plans for populations previously overlooked for leadership roles. This could mean drafting individual career and development plans for emerging leaders or providing new executive trainings on management skills like communication, delegation, or time management to first-time leaders.

Build leadership diversity at the organization. Funders can support grantees to increase diversity across their board, leadership, and staff. This could mean designing strategic plans with a racial equity focus or redesigning board outreach and recruitment strategies.

Philanthropy is capable of helping provide the space for nonprofits to more holistically evaluate their leadership development needs. Once leadership needs are identified, these organizations will be better positioned to ask for, secure, and manage resources, like pro bono service, that can help them overcome these challenges. Investing in leadership means creating the resilience and adaptability nonprofits need today and in the future.


Kayla & Carmen: A Big Sisters Tale of Trust

Kayla and her sisters were not allowed to tell anyone where they lived. They were in hiding from an abusive relative. They spent time in shelters and in homes of friends before they were finally able to get an apartment of their own. Kayla’s mom was very careful about who they met, where they went, and who knew where they were. She took them to their new school, picked them up, and did all of her shopping and errands close to home. The girls were kept in a small world of home and school and became timid and uncomfortable in public places. As time went on and Kayla’s mom began to feel safer, she reached out to Big Brothers Big Sisters – which was a big leap of faith. She asked that no photos be taken, and she did not share her address for a long time.

The family is still careful about where they go and who they meet, but if you ask Kayla, she will say, “Spending time with Carmen is my most favorite thing to do. She keeps me safe, and we have so much fun.”

This is an example of one life positively affected by Big Brothers Big Sisters.

*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of both the child and volunteer


Mentoring Matters: Andre and Ian

Mentoring Matters at Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Luis Obispo County.  Take 12-year old Andre.

Andre moved in with his dad when his mom went to jail, leaving his home and friends behind. Andre’s dad is a truck driver and is gone for long periods of time. While his dad is on the road, Andre stays with his step-mom and his new siblings. He did not feel like like a part of the family and he was having difficulty making friends in his new school. Understandably, he missed his mom, his life, and his friends. He changed from being an outgoing, happy kid into a sullen, moody kid. His grades slipped and he no longer enjoyed school.

When he was matched with Big Brother Ian, Ian was concerned he would not be able to “fix” Andre’s problems. The match support specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters assured Ian that he did not need to be an expert to help Andre. So Ian jumped in by teaching Andre to play disc golf, taking him hiking, grilling burgers, and listening when he wanted to talk. As the relationship grew, they realized they both shared a goofy sense of humor, and a love of martial arts movies.

A year later, Andre has acclimated to his new family, and started making friends in his new school. School has become fun and interesting to him again, so his grades have improved. He is again becoming that outgoing, happy kid he had once been. It didn’t take an expert, but just someone to show him that he was worth the time, someone like his Big Brother Ian. As Andre says, “I know my dad loves me, but basically he didn’t have a choice, he had to let me live with him. But Ian doesn’t have to hang out with me, he just does it … ’cause we have fun together. That’s a good feeling that someone is choosing you. So I did it too. I chose some kids to talk to at school and now we’re friends. I chose one teacher to be my favorite and she helped me do better in school. And if I had a chance to choose a Big Brother, I would choose Ian.”

*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of both the child and volunteer


Summertime for Children at ECHO

Imagine being homeless.  Imagine being homeless with children.  Thankfully Northern San Luis Obispo has a tremendous resource in the El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO).  ECHO is a transitional shelter helping families and individuals find permanent housing while providing case management services to the homeless, helping them create an action plan, live with new behaviors, find a job, and locate a permanent home.

It is a place where people who are willing to help themselves can be lifted up.

And of course it has rules.  Between the hours of 7:30am and 4:30pm residents are asked to leave the premises.  But where do parents take their children during these hours?  Parents who need to work…

This summer, ECHO has several children staying at the shelter. Thanks to the support of our community, ECHO has been fortunate enough to send these kids to camps keeping them busy and engaged this summer.

  • Three children participated in the two-week long Applause Children’s Theater. This was an amazing experience where the children learned dance steps and movements. They worked together to participate in short dance/theater skits and monologues. One child really found her voice and entered a local talent show as a result of the confidence she built at theater camp.
  • Three young children participated in a camp at the Charles Paddock Zoo, experiencing the zoo educational program.
  • Three kids are participating in the Boys & Girls Club Summer Program. Two of which are there as participants and one is a Counselor-in-Training.

This is another example of our community coming together to help our neighbors – thank YOU for those of you that made summer programs possible for the children staying at ECHO this summer.


“If Not Us, Then Who?”: A Chat with Eric Jensen

Booker is synonymous with award-winning wines and grapes and is something of a Central Coast phenom. The owners also happen to be must! charities founding board members inheriting a tradition of philanthropy steeped in the hillsides of their vineyard.

The name Booker comes from the two orphan brothers, Claude and Dick Booker, who purchased the land in the late 1920’s. By the turn of the century the Booker brothers had acquired over 1,200 acres on Paso’s Westside. The Booker brothers were Paso’s favorite sons, dedicating their lives to being great farmers and humanitarians. Aside from lending their farming knowledge and manual labor to neighbors and those in need, they were the area’s biggest philanthropists, leaving 100% of their estate to charity when they passed.

It’s only fitting that Eric and Lisa Jensen, philanthropists themselves, acquired the property in 2000 with an intent of growing the best fruit for top local wineries that has since evolved into their own winemaking. And while all of this is impressive in its own right, it is the Jensen’s philanthropy that continues to inspire us and others in Northern SLO County.

What’s it like to sit down with Eric Jensen? Well, here it is…

The Central Coast is ripe with great causes, why does Booker continue to support must! charities?

If we all were focused on our giving and started in our own backyard to move the needle there, it would allow us to then reach out to other areas like developing nations, disease cures, etc. Instead, people are all across the board and the needle never moves. Local business must take care of our own towns first to make it vibrant and healthy, then move outward.

What motivates you to be philanthropic?

Not everyone believes they can accomplish anything in this lifetime, but God gave me that belief. For those that believe they can never amount to anything and were never told differently, that’s my motivation.

Did you grow up in a household of philanthropy or is this new to you?

My mom was always on the front lines of donating time to any cause. She didn’t have money, so she got her hands dirty at every opportunity.

Why is giving back to the community important for your business?

I receive so much from this community that I must put back into it to make sure it stays healthy and provides others the same opportunity it gave me.

How do you talk philanthropy to your kids?

I tell my kids weekly that you cannot just continue to take from your community, that the only way business success is sustainable is if everyone around you wins. There can’t be a great separation of rich and poor, the gap needs to close and we need to insure that everyone has the same opportunities that we have. The way you do this is by putting back into community programs to educate, enlighten and empower.

Where do you see Booker in 10 years?

In 10 years hopefully the boys will be running the business and I’ll be the brand ambassador and a must! board member!

What are your company’s greatest strengths?

Booker’s greatest strength is that everyone is treated equal from the bottom to the top. If you empower all your coworkers with the belief that no job is more important than another, everyone believes they’re important and relied upon to do their best. This has created a culture of teamwork and respect that helps us to function at the highest level.

Perhaps our favorite quote of Eric’s, deep in the must! archives still resonates today, “Being able to attack problems and see positive changes in our own backyard is a must for a healthy community. If not us…then who?”


CASA Advocate Story: Marie and Lizzy

One year ago, CASA volunteer Marie* was assigned to the case of 10 year old Lizzie* in the North County.  Due to the abuse and neglect Lizzie had experienced living with her parents, she was now living with her grandmother.  After being assigned to Lizzie’s case, Marie reviewed all of her records and became concerned that Lizzie had to repeat a grade in school and appeared to be falling behind, especially in math and reading comprehension.  Although her grandmother held her educational rights for Lizzie, she was under the impression Lizzie was doing well in school.  At Marie’s suggestion, the grandmother agreed to have the school test Lizzie which confirmed she was having difficulties.  Marie set up regular meetings with the teacher and school personnel and regularly contact them about Lizzie’s progress.  She also found out that Lizzie’s therapy appointments were scheduled during school hours, causing Lizzie to miss significant amounts of school.  She informed the judge of this situation and the judge ordered that Lizzie’s therapy appointments be scheduled after school hours.  Because of her caring and being proactive, Marie has been instrumental in helping Lizzie advance in her education.  Without Marie as her CASA advocate, Lizzie might still be struggling in school and falling further behind.

* names changed to ensure confidentiality.


Must! Charities and Mentoring: Children Like Samantha

Little Sister Samantha, a 3rd grader, had difficulties reading and writing. At recess she would often visit the nurse’s office. Her teacher was not sure why this was occurring, until one day Samantha was brave enough to share with the school nurse that she was being bullied during recess. Samantha was unsure how to handle the situation so she would avoid her bully by complaining about stomach aches and visiting the nurse’s office.

Samantha’s mother enrolled her in Big Brothers Big Sisters with hopes that she would gain social skills and increase her self-esteem. She wished Samantha would be matched with a supportive Big Sister who was patient and sensitive.

Elizabeth joined to our program to become a Big Sister because she wanted to make a difference in her community. She finds that dedicating a bit of time to a child can make a BIG difference in their lives. She enjoys volunteering at elderly homes and reading to them. She has noticed that they also value the time that she shares with them, just as children do. Elizabeth wanted to share this volunteer experience with her Little.

Samantha and Elizabeth were matched over a year and they volunteer together at least once a month. Samantha has improved her reading skills while reading to the elderly and is now more confident about herself. Elizabeth and Samantha have had several conversations about how to handle bullying. They even role-played together to help Samantha stop the bullying at school. Samantha is no longer spending her recess at the nurse’s office and feels safe at school.

*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of both the child and volunteer


Must! Charities and CASA: Children like Angie

Must’s quarter million dollar collaboration with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of San Luis Obispo County is providing more advocates for abused and neglected children within the court system

In 2016, must! charities entered into a quarter-million dollar collaboration with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of San Luis Obispo County to address un-met needs in San Luis Obispo’s North County. The four-year plan ensures CASA will not only be able to help more children in the North County find safe, nurturing, and permanent homes, but also sustain this program after support from must! charities is complete.

“Less than two years into our collaboration with CASA, we are inspired by the stories of children like Angie whose lives are positively impacted by CASA,” said Becky Gray, Executive Director of must! charities. “When we began our partnership with CASA, there were 60 children being served in the North County, now we have 110 children who have a CASA advocating for them.  CASA is training new volunteers and by the end of this year, we will have two supervisors managing caseloads in Northern SLO County – the impact is growing!”

Today, there are over 385 abused and neglected children in our county who are under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court and need a CASA to make recommendations to the court, based on the best interest of the children. CASAs are trained advocates who listen to the children, research their situation, then give recommendations to the court on what they feel is in the best interest of the children.

Children like Angie.

Angie had been removed from her parents’ care because her needs were being neglected and she was being abused.  When she left her home, Angie carried a secret that made her avoid people, especially people who were nice to her.

One day Angie was introduced to Michelle. Michelle was different.  She wasn’t a teacher or a social worker or a therapist – Michelle didn’t get paid to spend time with Angie, she was a CASA volunteer. After many hours spent together, Michelle had shown Angie that she was really there for her and Angie knew this was someone she could trust.

Angie told Michelle her secret one day when they were driving out to get a frozen yogurt. Angie trusted Michelle and when she said, “Honey, this is not your fault, you are not bad and you are not to blame,” Angie believed her and the terrible burden she had carried with her secret went away.

Today, Angie has friends, goes on play dates, has fun in school and believes there is hope. She is in specialized therapy to help her overcome past, all because one person came into her life and opened the door enough that Angie trusted her – that person is her CASA volunteer.

“We cannot thank must! charities enough for allowing us to serve more abused and neglected children over the past year! What a wonderful feeling to be able to provide caring, consistent, local advocates to the children right here in our community who so desperately need them,” said Melanie Barket, North County Program Manager.  “We could not have expanded without the financial boost from must! Charities and feel very lucky to have this wonderful organization by our side.”