Local Giving Leads to Action through Fund for Women and Girls!

April 26, 2017 (Aptos) - $450,000 grant launches Fund for Women and Girls in the Pajaro Valley.

Starting this fall, 35 girls from Pajaro Valley middle schools (grades 6-8) will participate in a three-year pilot project meant to improve their chances for success in school and life. It's happening thanks to a $450,000 grant from the Fund for Women and Girls at Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.

The permanently endowed fund is meant to boost the economic growth of the county by supporting the educational and career success of local women and girls. The grant is the first step in that effort.

The Fund for Women and Girls was created with an anonymous gift of $1.5 million, in 2016. Additional donor contributions and matching gifts have raised the total to $2,035,960, well on the way to meeting the 2017 year-end fundraising goal of $2.5 million.

The $450,000 grant from the fund was awarded to the UC Santa Cruz Educational Partnership Center

The Center will work with the Community Foundation in managing the fund’s first project, the Girls in Pajaro Valley Initiative, through a collaboration involving the Pajaro Valley Unified School District and six other local community partners.   

The community partners working with the Center under the Community Foundation’s grant are YWCA of WatsonvilleSanta Cruz County Department of Parks, Open Space and Cultural ServicesYour Future is Our BusinessSanta Cruz Community VenturesGrowing Up Wild; and, the MAIA (Migration and Adaption in the Americas) Foundation.

“This undertaking is a great example of the power of local philanthropy in action for social good,” said Sam Leask, the Community Foundation’s philanthropic services director.

“The fund is fueled by people who care about Santa Cruz County and who trust the Community Foundation to help them achieve their charitable giving goals,” Leask said.

“Being an endowed fund it will be here forever,” Leask said. “We still have some fundraising to do, but we’re confident that more people will want to support what it can do for our community,” Leask said.

In talking about what sparked the new project, Christina Cuevas, the Community Foundation’s program director said, “We learned that 60 to 70% of 6th grade girls are interested in becoming a scientist or mathematician, by the time they reach 8th grade that drops to 8%.”  

“Many of the roadblocks to success happen early. Gender norms, lack of support, self-esteem struggles collectively pinch away at a girl’s potential,” Cuevas said.

“When we took a close look at the county’s demographic data, added to the hours of community input, it pointed us to the Watsonville area and its Latino community as one with significant needs and a good place to start,” Cuevas said.

As the grantee spearheading the project, the Center will work with the school district, teachers and parents to select the girls to participate in the three years of extra-curricular programs. Then, with the project partners, help the girls deal with some of the recurring early educational, social and emotional health challenges on their career and life paths.

“The grant project continues the UC Santa Cruz Center’s commitment to improve high school graduation and college-enrollment and attainment rates among low-income, first-generation college students across the Monterey Bay and Silicon Valley regions,” said Maria Rocha-Ruiz, executive director of the Center.

“We look forward to working with the school district and community partners to help this first cadre of young girls succeed,” Rocha-Ruiz said.

The project’s holistic design provides for a full-time staffer to coordinate services and activities. They will also serve as a mentor and counselor, meeting regularly with the girls to help them advance.

Serving as the project’s home base a portable classroom, donated by the Santa Cruz County Department of Parks, Open Space and Cultural Services, will be placed at one of the middle schools. It will function as the central learning, meeting and activity center for the girls.

Girls in the project can expect to get a wide range of weekly after school activities including help with school work, college and career counseling and field trips, help with personal financial planning, plus outdoor summer activities.

“This project allows girls to explore different opportunities and learn that their future should not be limited by social or cultural differences,” said Leticia Mendoza, executive director of YWCA of Watsonville, one of the project partners.

The Community Foundation is building in an evaluation component for the project and is working with ETR (Education, Training and Research), Inc. to put that in place. Because only a portion of the endowed Fund for Women and Girls is available for spending the first year, the Community Foundation is working on getting additional funds for that piece, as part of the 2017 fundraising effort.

“With the help and support of many we look forward to making this first project from the Fund for Women and Girls a winner, for our daughters, for our community and for our local economy,” Cuevas said.

“When a girl succeeds, our community thrives," Cuevas added.