DAMES, DO-GOOD and DRINKS – Guest Blog by Jean Pedigo

Last Summer I was in San Francisco for an amazing birthday day event. My good-hearted friend arranged for about 20 of us to serve meals to the homeless at Glide Memorial Church. She has been a long-time volunteer there and was hugging staff and completely in her element.  A few of us were not so comfortable. That afternoon we served over 500 lunches at a break-neck speed, while the staff bellowed out orders. It was orderly, yet chaotic at the same time. After we ripped off our hair nets, cleaned the food off of our shoes, we left that world and crossed the street to a hip bar, where she had set up a fun, late afternoon of food, drinks, games and good cheer. Two hours of good-will, followed by a few hours of good cheer. I was blown away by what a great idea this was and vowed to do something similar for my birthday.

I have been a Partner to must! charities for almost two years, and have been able to see close-up how much impact they have in our community. ECHO Homeless Shelter in Atascadero was a recipient last year of a 4 year, half million dollar collaboration with must! charities. I set my sights on ECHO. I reached out to Kyle Wommack of must! charities, as she volunteers there regularly and she directed me to Mimi who coordinates the volunteers. ECHO serves dinner nightly at 5pm until 6pm, with an expected clientele of approximately 75. When you take on an evening with your group, it is understood that you will provide the entire meal – prepped ahead of time. So my birthday plan started percolating in my brain. I sent out an invitation to about 40 female friends, entitled it “Dames, Do-good and Drinks”. Knowing that many would not be able to attend all parts of the day, I gave the option to volunteer where they could.  From 1 to 4pm I planned the dinner prep at my house. I then gave the option to bake cookies to those who could not make any part of the day. Those were either dropped off at my house or at ECHO. From 4:30 – 6pm I gave the option to join us at ECHO to finalize the meal and serve the clients. And lastly – at 6:15, whomever could join, met us at The Grape Encounters EmPOURium for drinks and what turned into dinner!

I am fortunate to have so many friends that wanted to be there and take part in giving back to the community – they were rockstars! My friend Cynthia gave a suggested prayer to the clients as they waited outside, I got choked up, she got choked up, it was a meaningful moment. We were packed into the tiny kitchen, but too many cooks in this case, did not spoil the broth. We went to work like an army. I just watched my friends take charge, look to me for information and it ran, for the most part, like a well-oiled machine! We served lasagna, salad, mashed potatoes, rolls, homemade cookies and brownies. We were all pretty pleased to hear a few clients say “This is the best meal I have ever had here!”. Mission accomplished, I was super happy. When a few clients found out it was my actual birthday and they wanted to meet me and thank our group, I gave them hugs and felt so gratified.

We are all human beings, equal and the same.

PBS: 1.3 million Students are Homeless

Check out this opinion piece from PBS – complete article can be found HERE.

There are more than 1.3 million students in our country’s public school system with no safe place to call home. Equal to the number of all K-12 students in Virginia or the entire population of Dallas, Texas, these young people pursue their education while contending with the anxiety of homelessness and grinding poverty.

Imagine, if you can, trying to memorize your multiplication tables or the Bill of Rights while standing in line outside of a shelter. Imagine wearing the same clothes you wore yesterday and hoping your friends won’t notice—or if they do, that they won’t ask why. Imagine not knowing if you will sleep in the same place tonight as you did last night, or if you will have to search for a new place to rest. Now tell me, what does the 10th Amendment say again?

Our homeless students hold as much promise, and are as much a part of this country’s future, as every other student. And while that’s easy to say, the reality is we haven’t taken the steps to ensure homeless students get the support they need to succeed in school. The results of our inaction are staggering. Students who experience homelessness are 87 percent more likely than their stably-housed peers to drop out of school—the highest dropout rates in the country. In turn, young people without a high school diploma or GED are 4.5 times more likely to experience homelessness, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and despair.

A young person’s housing situation should have no bearing on their access to opportunity. When students experiencing homelessness don’t get a fair shot at graduation or a pathway to success we deny them the American Dream. Nearly three out of four homeless students reported being motivated to complete their educations and take the next steps in their careers, notwithstanding their traumatic circumstances. If they are hopeful about their futures, we must be too.

So what’s to be done? In an otherwise chaotic time of homelessness, schools can be pillars of stability. Students spend a significant portion of their day in school and, as a result, schools can help identify homeless students, provide a safe and consistent place to study, and connect them to caring adults and community resources. Encouragingly, under the federal McKinney-Vento law, all districts and states are required to have liaisons to provide such supports.

These ideas aren’t just academic, they’re working in school districts around the country. In the Tukwila School District in Washington State, nearly 12 percent of students have been identified as homeless. Tukwila embraced the challenge by training educators and school staff to identify early warning signs of homelessness, like low attendance and falling grades, and to provide transportation, counseling, tutoring, housing and other services they need to keep students on track.

While the graduation rate for homeless students in Washington State was 52 percent in 2015, it was 73 percent for homeless students in Tukwila, exceeding the average graduation rate for all students in the district. In Deer Park Independent Schools in Texas, the graduation rates for homeless students approaches 100 percent. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the rate of progress in boosting graduation rates for homeless students has exceeded the rate of gains for all students. If we can provide an equitable education for homeless students in Tukwila, Deer Park and Virginia, we can do it everywhere in the country.

In every school district in America there are students experiencing homelessness, and they deserve an opportunity to succeed. That’s why America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises, the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness and SchoolHouse Connection are spearheading the Education Leads Home campaign. The campaign aims to achieve a 90 percent high school graduation rate for all homeless students by 2030, a 60 percent post-secondary attainment rate by 2034, and equal rate of participation in quality early childhood programs for homeless children as their housed peers by 2026. Education Leads Home will spread best practices from places like Tukwila, Deer Park and Virginia across the country, raise awareness of the importance of focusing on this vulnerable population of students, and bring together a powerful coalition of organizations and leaders to support homeless students.

We owe it to our kids and our country to rise to this challenge and ensure the homeless students of today do not become the homeless adults of tomorrow.

Denver Post: On Philanthropy: Business leaders, consumers and employees find value in enhanced philanthropy

A great article in the Denver Post – Read Here:

Businesses must play a more strategic and integral role in efforts to solve the most pressing problems of our local, national and global communities. So believes Larry Fink, chairman and CEO of international asset management and investment giant Blackrock. His colleagues in the business community are taking note.

In his annual CEO letter, Fink recently wrote:

“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.”

Fink continued with a series of question companies must ask themselves:

“What role do we play in the community? How are we managing our impact on the environment? Are we working to create a diverse workforce? Are we adapting to technological change? Are we providing the retraining and opportunities that our employees and our business will need to adjust to an increasingly automated world? Are we using behavioral finance and other tools to prepare workers for retirement, so that they invest in a way that that will help them achieve their goals?”

Consumers clearly agree. Research shows that 78 percent of U.S. consumers want companies to address important social justice issues. Eighty-seven percent will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about and, conversely, 76 percent will refuse to purchase a company’s products or services if it supports an issue contrary to their beliefs. These results are found in the 2017 Cone Communications CSR Study.

Among the most important issues to consumers are domestic job growth (94 percent), racial equality (87 percent), women’s rights (84 percent), immigration (78 percent), climate change (76 percent), gun control (65 percent) and LGBTQ rights (64 percent).

In just two years, millennials will make up half of the U.S. workforce. These individuals, born between 1981 and 2000, have extremely high expectations of their employers. When deciding where to work, they carefully consider a company’s social and environmental commitments. Many will not accept a job offer from a company that lacks such commitment.

Eighty-three percent of millennials claim more loyalty to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues. (Only 70 percent of the U.S. workforce as a whole feels this way.) Eighty-eight percent of millennials say their jobs are more fulfilling when they are provided such opportunities, states the 2016 Cone Communications Millennial Employee Engagement Study.

Business philanthropy is a key component of any corporate social responsibility strategy. This includes providing meaningful employee volunteer experiences. Opportunities to volunteer are expanding and diversifying to meet unique employee skills and company cultures.

Employees who serve on nonprofit boards as company representatives, for example, enhance shareholder value by advancing workplace diversity and inclusion goals; developing human capital for leadership, creativity and innovation; and fostering economic development by strengthening communities where their company’s employees and customers live and work. This information appears in the Nonprofit Board Leadership Study, conducted by Alice Korngold.

No matter the size of the company, the community or the contribution, businesses increasingly understand that a reputation as a good corporate citizen helps them recruit, engage and retain employees; create better relationships with vendors and regulators; satisfy investors’ objectives; and deepen ties with customers.

In today’s highly competitive and rapidly changing environment, corporate philanthropy is a critical component of citizenship. It must be strategic and part of a company’s DNA – and so much more than random acts of kindness.

With corporate tax rates recently reduced, 2018 is an ideal time to start or refine corporate strategic philanthropy efforts. A South African proverb states: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is today.”

Boys and Girls Club: Impact

Patrick is in the 8th grade, living at home with his mother, who values having a safe place for her son to go after school.  Patrick was not so thrilled about her decision to send him there and made sure everyone knew it.  A month into coming to the Club, Patrick had a meltdown during an exercise and was sent to the office.  After many words by him, and supportive affirmations from Club members, Patrick slumped his shoulders and cried.  He admitted he was not only having a bad day, but a bad month as well.

While he didn’t want to talk directly about what was bothering him, he did make a pact to respect his leaders and be as polite as possible, even on those bad days.  The office was offered to him as a place he could go to when he needed a break or was not emotionally prepared to be in group settings.

Since then, Patrick has utilized this plan.  There are days when he stays in his group and others where he works on homework in the office.  He follows the club rules and even smiles when arriving at the club.

The Boys and Girls Club offers so many success-ensuring programs and activities but sometimes the one thing a member needs is space to let their guard down and be vulnerable without judgement.

*names and details have been changed to protect the identities of those involved

CASA: A Life Affected

Sara is a youth being served by CASA. She and her brother are currently living in foster care.  One day Sara expressed to her CASA Volunteer, Donna, that she always wanted to learn to play the guitar.  Donna has kept this desire in mind and knew that Sara dreamed of having her own guitar.  During this holiday season, Donna helped to make Sara’s dream come true through CASA’s annual holiday gift tag program.  Sara was literally in tears when she received her own guitar with promised of guitar lessons too!  Donna continues to be Sara’s advocate.  She is her voice, attends every hearing to support Sara, and she and her brother are on their way to being adopted by a loving family.  This is just one example of a life positively affected by CASA.

*names changed to ensure confidentiality

Happy Match Story: Big Brothers Big Sisters

Big Brother Mark and Little Brother Emmett

Emmett who is now 12, was raised by his grandmother. Missing his mother and father,  he became increasingly quiet, and at school he showed frustration by making bad choices and having sudden outbursts. His grandmother hoped a positive male role model might help him with feeling so angry and sad.

Big Brother Mark told Emmett that it was okay to feel sad, that it was normal and if he wanted to talk about it Mark was there to listen. Mark understood loss and hoped, with time, that Emmett could find the joy in things again.

Mark started by doing projects with Emmett to empower him and build his confidence. Together they talked about building a fence, what tools to use and how to use them. The fence took time, like the relationship, it went up one board at a time. The accomplishment was day-by-day visibly noticeable. As the fence grew, so did Emmett’s self-esteem.  He started to look forward to his outings with Mark. His interest and joy started to spill over into other areas of his life; his behavior at school improved and he started to show interest in science and other subjects. He earned an Achievement Award for “most improved student.”

Emmett’s grandmother says, “I was really worried about Emmett and his future at this time last year, but with the faith and time that Mark has given him, Emmett started to believe in himself again and even though his parents had made wrong choices, he didn’t have to.”

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

Just One Example of a Life Positively Affected by CASA

When she was 8 years old, “Juliette” was removed from her home because of neglect and placed with a foster family. Within two months, Juliette had been moved to three different foster homes, including a placement with a step-parent who did not like or want her. CASA volunteer Susan was matched with Juliette to serve as an advocate who would also be a stable person in a young life that had already seen so much chaos.

Susan spent time building a strong bond with Juliette and concentrated on learning all she could about the child, her education and her family ties. Juliette was returned to her mother’s care after several months in foster care and Susan continued to see Juliette weekly. Although from the outside, the little family looked to be doing well, Susan noticed that Juliette was frequently ill and had lost weight.

Juliette’s teacher reached out to Susan with concerns about Juliette’s attendance, health and family life. Juliette’s mother also began avoiding Susan, delivering Juliette to locations other than the family home for her visits with Susan. All of these concerns were reported to child welfare workers. During this time, the mother also began having positive tests for methamphetamine. Juliette was again removed from her mother’s care to a foster home.

Susan has been Juliette’s advocate, friend and mentor for more than two years, providing ongoing support to Juliette. Juliette’s foster family is so in love with Juliette that they have decided to adopt her. Susan says, “Juliette’s future is bright because everyone, the social worker, her teacher and the foster family, worked to address Juliette’s needs as they arose.” And Juliette says, “I’m happy here and even though Susan will not be my CASA anymore, my family and I will be seeing Susan again soon, so I won’t have to say goodbye.”

From a CASA Volunteer Advocate: I Met with My Youth Today

I met with my youth today. Her birthday is this month and so is mine, so we celebrated both of our birthdays today. She made me a card and brought one flower wrapped nicely with a bow. What a special kid she is. There is nothing better than receiving a homemade gift from the heart.

She is still in school and has also gotten a part-time job. She still likes where she is living. She said she feels guilty about receiving assistance as an adult, but really is glad that it’s there for her. She also looks forward to being able to totally support herself when she is 21, but greatly appreciates the extended foster care program and the CASA program. We often talk about budgets and managing funds.

It’s funny that as it turns out she still really didn’t understand the CASA program correctly after all this time. She thought I was getting paid to see her. She didn’t know it was completely volunteer work and that I picked her specifically. She was very pleased to know this and couldn’t believe it. I guess she didn’t understand that volunteer meant you don’t get paid. So she thought I had a bunch of kids assigned to me and met with all of them and got paid to do this.
I think it’s a great quality that she can apply for jobs and get hired easily. People seem to like her and her manners are impeccable. It’s taken a while for me to break through the politeness and her feeling like she has to tell me what she thinks I want to hear. The conversations now are real and non- judgmental. In the arena of honesty is where I can be the most effective mentor. I’m so lucky to have been able to choose her.

Must! Month with Adelaida, J. Dusi, Venteux Vineyards and Tablas Creek

It’s that time of year again – December Must! Month.

For every bottle sold of Tablas Creek Vineyard wine, $1 is donated to must! charities.

And for every bottle sold at the tasting rooms of Adelaida Vineyards & Winery, J. Dusi Wines, and Venteux Vineyards $1 is donated to must! charities.

That is a BUCK A BOTTLE!  Happy holidays, happy shopping and enjoy Must! Month!


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.