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.”

Must! Charities Gets a Workout

Kennedy Club Fitness Paso Robles and Atascadero recently offered a series of classes that encouraged members to ‘sweat’ and raise funds for must! charities.   A total of $700 was raised for must! charities.  What a creative way to raise awareness, while also getting a workout in!

Says Barb Kennedy, of Kennedy Club Fitness, “The focus of must! charities resonates with our members and they were so excited to take on the challenges offered to raise funds for must! We look forward to doing more in the future.”

Be a Kid Again: Greta and Karen

Greta, at 10 years old, had been dealing with adult-sized anxieties and responsibilities. When her family lost their housing, she worried about where they would live. When her dad started hitting, Greta was the one who decided whether or not to call the police. When her mom cried, Greta was the one who helped her feel better.

Greta was living a very stressful life and missing out on just being a child.

With Big Sister Karen, Greta is excited and grateful to just have fun and forget her concerns for a while. They make Halloween costumes and Valentines. Karen, a musician, is teaching Greta to play guitar.

The family has a safe home now, and a counselor who helps them heal from their past. Greta’s time with Karen is helping her imagine and prepare for a safe and happy future.

This is just one life, one family impacted by Big Brothers Big Sisters.

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

Q&A – What is must! charities?

Becky sat down with Barry Goyette, who is creating a promotional video for must! charities.  His questions are questions we hear every day – and here is what we say about must!

How is Must! Charities different from other fundraising organizations?

must! is a public gifting organization – pooling resources and expertise to tackle the biggest social issues/needs that our communities are faced with. Everything is statistically and data driven. We provide evocative partnerships with organizations servicing the biggest needs, and come along side them with a hand-up approach versus a hand out approach. 100% of our donor funds go directly to our projects, thanks to our Executive Board who cover all of our overhead and administrative expenses.

Why wouldn’t I just give money directly to Food Bank, Big Brothers, Boy’s & Girls Club, Casa, Echo — in other words, what benefit is there to giving to must! if funds are ultimately funneled to those organizations?

This really boils down to a personal choice. If you are passionate about something in particular then I recommend you give to them, donate your time and resources to help them be successful. Our non profits need donors and volunteers to survive. We are not the cornerstone for these organizations – this is where individuals and businesses come into play.

At must! we live by the philosophy of “alone we can only do so much, but together we can move mountains”. Our giving is not simple. It is thought out, thoroughly vetted, and then strategically invested. We are all about impact giving. We want to give big so we can make a big difference. We want to see transformation take place in an organization, and with the services they are providing. We hold them accountable to reaching goals on a quarterly basis.

Isn’t must! just made up of a bunch of winemakers? Why can’t they just keep funding it?

While the idea of must! came about from conversations a few people in the wine industry were having about philanthropy and the lack of cohesive giving from the wine industry, the fact is not every winemaker or winery owner has the ability, the means, or the desire to give through must! Of our 200+ donors, less than 25% are from the wine industry. must! is all about ensuring our community members that everyone can be a philanthropist and give back – whether you are giving $10 per month or $10,000 per month, it doesn’t matter what you give – what matters is that you are involved and doing something because together we have the ability to really give big!


Life Lessons I am Learning from a 12 year-old

My life is hectic. Between running must! charities, raising two high school teenagers (which entails keeping up with their crazy schedules), keeping a home organized, investing in my marriage, and investing in friends & family… it’s busy, busy, busy. It’s not often that I slow the pace down enough to be able to enjoy all that is before me. A pace I long for often, but truly don’t put the effort into making it really happen unless I’m on vacation in a remote place where I am forced to “un-plug”

or…  spending the day with my little sister.

I’ve been paired with my little sister, through Big Brothers Big Sisters, for over a year now. I can’t begin to tell you the life lessons she is teaching me every time we are together.  When I am with her I am committed to focusing all my attention on her.  I need to invest in her, because I am her mentor and it’s important that I give her my 100%.

Twice a month I pick my little sister up from school and we hang out. This week was a bonus because she had a minimum school day – which meant more time for fun (and homework too).  We had the whole day planned.  It entailed going through the “golden arches” drive thru – not my favorite, but it was her choice so I obliged on some salty fries, a soda and a burger. We drove out to Chapel Hill for a picnic lunch. It was the perfect day for a picnic – puffy white clouds, sunshine, and a slight breeze. We began the hike to the top of the hill – stopping to admire the views on the way up (an excuse for me to catch my breath – she’s smart… she caught on and giggled). Once at the top we enjoyed our lunch together and talked about the wildflowers in the distance, how green the hills are right now, her grades in school, what she observes on her campus and how kids treat each other, what she thinks she wants to be when she grows up, and all kinds of other things.  She asks me a million questions about life, about what I studied in school, and about what I think about decisions she might make in her future.

She is not a fast eater… so, when we enjoy a meal together it is a time to be still and talk. To breathe deeply. To notice all that is around us. I am so very thankful for this time.  It is a time when I am reminded of how I should live life. Present in the moment, peaceful and un-hurried. It is so good for my soul.

The best part of it all, my little sister has no idea of this gift she gives me each time we are together. It is how she rolls when we are together.  She takes her time with things and has a calm, kind spirit about her, which radiates out and is contagious. Maybe her daily life is hectic too, and we’re good for each other.

We enjoyed the afternoon taking cool pictures of our surroundings, then off for a swim and later played rounds of Uno and Blink – two of her favorite card games.  The time flies by, and I have to take her home. We chat in the car about what we should do the next time – “Rainbow Grilled Cheese Sandwich” making (thank you Pinterest) and a painting project with Emma (my oldest daughter who teaches both of us how to paint).

So thankful for the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, but most importantly for the little sister I get to invest in… though often I feel like it’s the other way around – such an amazing gift!

Must! Charities Youth Board Gives Back

On Saturday, February 25th the must! charities youth board took time out of their busy schedules to give back by volunteering at the Food Bank Coalition of SLO County. This group of high school students not only gave up a Saturday, but also got up early to give back. Raising two teenagers myself I can assure you, this is a huge commitment from them, and there was not a single complaint.

Prior to the actual volunteer time, the group was given a personal tour of The Food Bank’s new digs. The best part of the tour was the tour guide herself, Caroline. Not only was Caroline super informative and knowledgeable about the Food Bank, but also her history of volunteering with a food bank in Nebraska while attending college was something each of these students could relate to. You see, half of these students are seniors in high school and will be going off to college next year and all of them have a heart for philanthropy. You could see their eyes light up as they were processing internally what that might look like for them next year.

Caroline did a fantastic job relating to our youth board. Caroline had attended high school on the central coast, and I had to ask her to share how she ended up working for the Food Bank. I’m always curious how people end up where they are, and Caroline’s story did not disappoint. Her story was one of a willingness to volunteer, not wanting to just sit around and do nothing, while looking for a full time job after graduating from college. One thing led to another upon an initial inquiry meeting about volunteering opportunities and she happened to be a perfect candidate for a job opening at The Food Bank. Boom! This lesson alone was so valuable for our youth to hear.

The tour consisted of a walk through the new office space, and every so often a stop to chat about the many programs our food bank offers, the people in our community who are being served (over 46,000).  The obstacles of serving people in need, as well as over a million pounds of food our Food Bank gives out each year. So much information was given and it was all AMAZING to hear about.  Members of our youth board had questions for Caroline, and she addressed each question with detail in a way that made sense for each of them. Trust me, she nailed it including questions referring to government regulations which she delivered eloquently, concise and with ease.

Then it was off to the rather chilly warehouse, where we connected with other community volunteers to give of our time. We had several tasks that were to be done. I was super excited to hear about a new program at the Food Bank for the homeless – this was our first task, to prep mini bags of ready to consume, healthy products for our own homeless population. Our team gathered the items and had an assembly line going and the task was done in an efficient amount of time, all while having fun together.

From there we were given the task of sorting items that had been donated from the community. So many “teachable moments” given to our youth about how sorting for one person looks different than sorting to another. Lots of conversations taking place about how people live differently and probably all sort their kitchen items differently too. The team sorted and re-sorted someone else’s prior effort to sort (is salad dressing and pasta sauce used the same in someone’s house… maybe?) Albeit the crew worked hard and guidance from Caroline was key – as they asked a million questions wanting to be certain they were sorting correctly to her standards. The best part of sorting was when one of our team came across a boxed cake mix. Caroline stopped the crew and educated us on the standards of healthy food choices that our local Food Bank lives by. Cue the applause, because not all Food Banks have the same standards and my hat goes off to ours for their efforts in this area.  In fact, Caroline pointed out a bin labeled with another county’s name on it (I’m not going to rat them out in this blog), but it was filled with a bunch of non-healthy food choices. The best part… our food bank trades with them. They get the junk and we get fresh produce in exchange. That’s a huge WIN in my book.

As our time came to an end, much faster than we anticipated because time flies when you are having fun. We posed for a photo out with the Food Bank’s Cow. Then we went to lunch, because when you are volunteering around food for several hours, you get hungry. We chatted over a meal about everything the team learned that day and we discussed how amazing our local food bank really is and how fortunate our community is to have them operate the way they do. We also talked about how much joy can be found in giving back. It feels good to give. Several members of the youth board asked if we could come back. I assured them they didn’t need me to come back, now that they know what to do they have the tools to make it happen on their own. A smile crept ear to ear as I overheard them chatting about how they should get together once a month and drive down and make it happen. I was stoked to hear them plan their next day of volunteering together at The Food Bank… the seed was planted and I can’t wait to see it grow.

Bottom line. I would highly recommend volunteering at The Food Bank Coalition. You will not only walk away with knowledge about our community and The Food Bank, but you will feel good about giving back. Grab a friend and put in a couple hours there, you won’t regret it. Opportunities to volunteer are always there for anyone 16 years or older, and sometimes family days are available too. Check out more about The Food Bank Coalition at

If you know of a high school student who might be interested in serving on our youth board, direct them to our website at  Applications for 2017-18 school year will be available in April.

Match Story: Little Brother Blye and Big Brother Steve

Big Brother Stephen and Little Brother Blye love to shoot archery together. They like to visit the San Luis Obispo Sportsman’s Association, or SLOSA, to practice their aim while having a good time together.  Want to make a difference?  Consider being a Big Brothers Big Sister – find out more HERE.


CASA Volunteers: Who Are They?

A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is a trained volunteer community member who is appointed by a judge to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in juvenile court proceedings. These children have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.  Read about a few of the heroes advocating for children:

Andrew Reynolds has a very unusual situation in his case. Andrew began working with this teenager when he was placed in San Luis Obispo County and was able to visit him a few times before he was moved out of the County to a residential treatment facility. Through it all, Andrew has remained steadfast and maintains in contact with the young man in anticipation of his return to the County in spite of not being able to visit in person. The boy has limited contacts in this community and Andrew has remained in his life ready to provide a connection when he returns.

Gerry Robertson started working with an older teen and is still mentoring him even though he has turned 18 and moved out of the County. Gerry has been a steadfast friend for this young person and they call on her when they have a need. Gerry has been creative with solutions and utilized the resources AB12 offers as well as other community resources to ensure the young adult has a place to live and something to eat. Gerry is quick to encourage and compliment and through thick and thin she has never wavered in her dedication to the best outcome possible for the young person.

Sherri Danoff is currently working with the sibling that Gerry is working with. Sherri began working with this family long ago with a younger sibling. As she got to know the siblings better Sherri opted to work with the older sibling along with the younger. When the case closed for the younger sibling, Sherri continued working with the older and still is on the case after the young person turned 18. Sherri is consistent and committed and ready to do what she can even when the communication is sporadic.

The CASA volunteer serves as the “eyes and ears of the court,” making sure that the needs of each child are met, with the goal of ensuring that these children grow up in a safe, caring environment. For more information on becoming a volunteers, contact CASA.

NEW! BIGS in Blue Program

What is Bigs in BlueSM?

Bigs in BlueSM is a one-to-one mentoring program that connects youth with police in communities throughout our nation, building strong, trusting, lasting relationships. These relationships can help build stronger bonds between law enforcement and the families they serve. We are pleased to roll out this initiative across the nation and looking for your support. Learn more or give a gift to support Bigs in BlueSM by selecting one of the options below. Thank you for your support.

Bigs in Blue in San Luis Obispo

Meet our first match! Big Brother Thomas and Little Brother Zachary were paired in December as our first Bigs in Blue match program. Zachary has been waiting 8 months for a mentor and is excited to have Thomas take him to fun places!

Bigs in Blue creates one-to-one mentor relationships that positively impact the children in our program. Strong, trusting, lasting relationships are built in return between law enforcement and families. Learn more here.

must! charities made this match and a total of 56 mentoring relationships in North County possible in 2016!