Rise Together Grant Updates

Building Bridges & Creating Connections

Throughout the county, $400,000 in recent Rise Together Circle of Support Grants are helping create safe and inclusive spaces for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) youth and families in schools, the arts, the outdoors, health care, and career development paths. Filmmakers and journalists are helping people see themselves and their perspectives reflected in the media. And children are embracing their cultural heritage through dance and music.

Bringing the community’s vision to life

Grant money comes from the Rise Together Fund for Racial Equity at the Community Foundation, made possible by community donations. This latest round of grants brings the total funding awarded to $823,000 over the course of two granting cycles!

Rise Together grants support the group’s five goals: increase upward economic mobility; celebrate, and preserve the stories and culture of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Asian American communities; increase equity and anti-racist policy; deliver essential services and improve well-being for People of Color to prosper; and continuously give and grow sustained funding for communities of color.

Rise Together– a coalition of 32 BIPOC leaders and a team from Community Foundation Santa Cruz County—is working collaboratively to support the vision and action needed to build a more just and equitable county. Founded in June of 2020 by a team from Community Foundation Santa Cruz County and 17 local BIPOC leaders, the group expanded to 32 community organizers, social justice and arts leaders, journalists, indigenous cultural practitioners, public servants, storytellers, social workers, healthcare professionals, youth mentors and educators, funders, and immigrant advocates.

Collaboratively, the Rise Together coalition developed its purpose and goals, determined the grant-making process, and made award decisions.

A Diversity of Projects

Grants have both sustained work started last year and launched new projects that leaders had dreamed of but not yet had the funding to make come to life. For some, the grants kickstarted fundraising campaigns or helped attract significant funding from other foundations.

Coalition leaders rose to meet the intense demands of the winter storms and Pajaro flooding. The flexibility of the Rise Together grants enabled some organizations like Campesina Womb Justice to shift their services in a way that was responsive to the tremendous needs of the community in crisis.

Empowering Collaborations

Ruby Vasquez, the leader of the youth dance troupe Estrellas de Esperanza said, “The Rise Together grant is helping create connections and build bridges!” A collaborator at heart, Ruby acted in a youth-made film produced by Digital NEST which premiered at the Watsonville Film Festival which also showcased films featuring stories about Senderos—all Rise Together grantees.

Rise Together grants are also empowering leaders of standout nonprofits in Santa Cruz County. Elaine Johnson of Housing Santa Cruz County said funding has been instrumental in hiring a BIPOC executive coach who “supports me to build on my strengths and to have agency to be a successful black leader in this community.” Stephanie Barron Lu of Positive Discipline Community Resources said, “As a woman of color leader, it has been tremendously empowering to be not only seen, but invested in, supported, and bolstered. Participating in Rise and being funded has empowered me as a leader to ensure a consistent presence as a trusted partner delivering quality, dynamic, and FREE programming to families in our community.”

Header image: Digital NEST Youth working on a film production. Photo: Genevieve Rico

Rise Together Grant Updates

We’re thrilled to share grant updates from 15 Rise Together member organizations and will continue to update the community as other projects reach the stage with stories to share.

Aztecas Youth participating in community service…with a smile!

Aztecas Youth Soccer, Gina Castañeda, $22,500 - For the Aztecas Youth Club House—a safe space for health education, life skills, tutoring, and mentoring.

The Club House has a stable physical location for 25 – 30 program participants to visit regularly and get the support needed to graduate high school, pursue higher education, gain life and job-seeking skills, mentorship, and pro-social supports. After the floods we had four youth come to get all their meals with us, rest, and get the support they needed.

The Liberation Paddle Out is a full day celebration in concert with the annual Santa Cruz Juneteenth celebration at the London Nelson Center. For many, it’s their first time in a wetsuit, on a board, or in the ocean. Photo: Kevin Painchaud

Black Surf Club Santa Cruz, Esabella Bonner, $22,500 - For programs and resources that reduce barriers to outdoor spaces, water, and surfing for the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community.

In the past year, Black Surf Club Santa Cruz has supported 300 participants, gained access to Cowell’s Beach for trainings and programs, trained diverse coaches reflective of Santa Cruz County’s population, and is promoting mental, physical, spiritual, and communal healing through surfing, education, advocacy, and wellness through their classes and special events.

Ashlyn and several community members in the video lounge, having fun discussing movies that accurately portray each of their cultures/identities. This was from our new space grand opening! Photo: A. Lyons

CA Film & Cultural Center, Ashlyn Adams, $13,500 - For reorganizing as a community center encompassing film and cultural education.

The Rise Together grant allowed our organization to keep paid, trained staff and make major projects come to life. We moved into a physical location and can serve students and patrons much better with Westside Video (YA Film School, screenings, biggest library in-state), AAVE Cafe (community cooking show, barista training program), Mystery Coast Productions (Set School), and EDI Educators (diverse youth program, discussion facilitation, HR policy development, trainings and panels around gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, accessibility) all under one roof. The grant has created 14 more cooking show episodes, with an average of 60 watchers and 27 nutritious meals delivered per episode. We've been able to launch BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disabled, and neurodivergent-focused youth programming with about 40 participants.

A Círculo & Healing Clinic with Campesina Womb Justice offering bodywork, group therapy, activities with children, music, ceremony, ritual. It was also a distribution for womb care kits, herbs, diapers, and cloth and disposable menstrual care products.

Campesina Womb Justice, María Ascención Ramos Bracamontes, $9,900 - To start a Doula Program to train farmworkers to advocate and support each other through births. To offer womb care and personal hygiene kits, and modest emergency financial assistance.

Campesina Womb Justice helps farm workers exercise freedom to practice ancestral womb medicine, rooted in reproductive, menstrual, farmworker, healing justice. We had to delay our Mixteco Doula Training to assist Pajaro flood evacuees in March. But so far this year we’ve served over 500 families between our flood relief funds and monthly healing clinics. We did start a Volunteer Doula Program at Watsonville Community Hospital, training 22 bilingual doulas who will be volunteering to support farmworkers during their births and in the early postpartum period. After this program is a well-established part of the hospital, we’ll start the Mixteca Doula Training.

Community Action Board Santa Cruz County, MariaElena De La Garza, $18,000 - To help inform the next Community Action Plan—a tool that help decision-makers respond to needs—grant will pay a consultant of color to help design a plan, and support surveys, interviews, focus groups, to gather info and pay participants to be compensated for their time.

The Rise Together grant supported the work on our Community Action Plan Process where we build a snapshot of poverty by engaging with voices who normally do not have the opportunity to share their experience. The funding helped us engage with an evaluator and compensate participants (who have an average annual income of $5,000). Offering a stipend to the approximately 400 participants brought forth unique and unheard perspectives in a sacred, respectful way. The data will help build the narrative of the economic realities of our community to educate and impact systemic transformation.

Digital NEST, Jacob Martinez, $18,000 - Provide youth in Watsonville and surrounding area with the skills to pursue careers in multimedia and to share positive stories of their community.

During the 2022 – 2023 academic year, we offered 13 courses in Digital Arts and Technology, with an average of 25 youth in each course. Overall, NEST participants produced one short film, which premiered at the Watsonville Film Festival and two mini commercials.

Featured in the June 1st Santa Cruz Sentinel, Valeria Rodriguez shares her love of folklórico dance at an intergenerational gathering of dancers from Estrellas de Esperanza and Esperanza del Valle youth and adult folklórico groups. The dancers and their families are preparing for an immersive 12-day cultural learning experience in Veracruz, Mexico.

Estrellas de Esperanza & Esperanza del Valle, Ruby Vasquez, $30,000 - To provide an inter-generational, cross-cultural experience for participants. 28 adult and student dancers will travel to Veracruz, Mexico to learn from master folklorico instructors.

This summer, dancers, instructors, and their families (42 total) from Estrellas de Esperanza and Esperanza del Valle are participating in an immersive 12-day cultural learning experience in Veracruz, Mexico. The Simposio Internacional de Danza "Migrantes con Raiz Veracruzana” is examining and how dance has had a positive impact on the lives of first-generation immigrants and their children and grandchildren. The funds helped provide each travelling dancer $500 to offset airfare and lodging costs. Dancers will be visiting the towns of Mixtequilla and Tlacotlapan, learning from experts who have worked over many years to rescue and revive the dance and music of the style Son Tradicional Fandango.

Housing Santa Cruz County Executive Director Elaine Johnson with Dr. Tiffany Manuel who led a workshop during Affordable Housing Month called “Reimagining Issues that Determine our Future in Santa Cruz County.” The event was co-sponsored by HSCC, Ecology Action, and the Land Trust for Santa Cruz County.

Housing Santa Cruz County, Elaine Johnson, $18,000 - To build capacity to promote and advocate for affordable housing while staying focused on maintaining the priority of DEI throughout Santa Cruz County.

As reported by Elaine Johnson, Housing Santa Cruz County’s first Executive Director, the Rise Together funding has been instrumental in hiring a BIPOC executive coach who “supports me to build on my strengths and to have agency to be a successful black leader in this community.” The funding is also going to help Elaine build organizational capacity through diversity, equity, and inclusion training for her board and staff. Elaine says she is excited about “the momentum we are gathering to help bring about equity in housing. We start by helping people change their narratives, to see beyond individual viewpoints, and be more inclusive in our thinking.”

Executive board members & Executive Director Stephanie Barron Lu (with baby) welcoming the new program manager.

Positive Discipline Community Resources, Stephanie Barron Lu, $35,000 - Support overall organizational capacity for sustainability and growth.

PDCR provides trauma-informed, developmentally appropriate, culturally responsive, tri-lingual education for families. Thanks to the Rise Together grant, we’ve been able to sustain our program assistant position and bring on a program manager fueling our ability to be of service. When our south county community faced storms and floods, we were there in immediate response. PDCR was able to flex our strengthened team and served an additional 230+ flood-affected families from Pajaro, specifically the pregnant and postpartum families with children 0-5 years old.

Participants in the Youth Ambassador program.

Santa Cruz County Black Health Matters Initiative, Cat Willis, $13,500 - To support staffing, curation of events, and continued operations of BMHI.

Funding from Rise Together helped scale up staffing for our Youth Ambassadors program which then positioned us to apply for and receive a major grant from the Sierra Foundation to support Black youth in Santa Cruz County.

Aerial view of the mural before it was vandalized and the state we will restore it to on June 24th. This image includes a snapshot of circles of community members in dialogue and workshops learning and teaching racial justice, Kingian non-violence, local BIPOC experiences and allyship.

SC Equity Collaboration, Justin Cummings & Abi Mustapha, $13,500 - To help fund events and activities related to the restoration and maintenance of the Black Lives Matter mural.

We have organized our next mural repaint and are using the Rise Together grant funds for paint, permitting, as well as planning and organizing for the community restorative justice dialogue, and hiring a facilitator for a somatic healing event open to the public aimed specifically for addressing healing in our BIPOC community. This process of restorative justice—which needed to happen to get us to repainting the mural—has not been linear. We've discovered more layers to address as we do the work. This has changed our timeline, but we’re committed to addressing actual harm done and not just repainting the mural to signal undue virtue. Therefore, we’ve had to inch along in this process at the pace of trust and real progress.

Fidel M. Soto is Santa Cruz Local's new Spanish audio reporter / product manager. Soto has 30 years of experience as a journalist serving Pajaro Valley residents. Credit: Santa Cruz Local

Santa Cruz Local, Kara Meyberg Guzman, $18,000 - For a part-time position to create free bilingual news that addresses information needs of Latinos in Santa Cruz County.

The Rise Together funding helped us kick off a $72,000 fundraising drive—a goal we met in March. We hired Fidel M. Soto, a journalist with 30 years’ experience serving Spanish-speaking residents of the Pajaro Valley and Fidel started work in mid-June. In May, Santa Cruz Local won the “Next Challenge for Media and Journalism Future of News award.” This competition celebrates startups that are reinventing local media. We won the award for our plan to serve Pajaro Valley residents with Spanish news and our broader community-focused journalism. The award came with a $20,000 prize which will also help fund this position.

Dancers at the 2023 Guelaguetza. Photo: Rebocito Serrano Robles

Senderos, Dr. Nereida Robles Vásquez, Fe Silva-Robles, Helen Aldana, $50,000 - To compensate five Senderos dance and music teachers—who were previously volunteers—equitably for their time teaching.

Rise Together funds were used to help pay our dance and music instructors—many of whom have been teaching since the founding of the program 20 years ago. The grant has helped us move towards becoming a more equitable organization that values the labor of our teachers. It has also set the precedent to value the work of cultural preservation. Each teacher has about 10 - 15 students and we encourage their parents to be active participants. We estimate having a direct impact on 100 Santa Cruz residents—youth and family members. With the support of compensating our teachers, we are able to focus on the needs of each class and students—creating healthier space for people to learn and practice their traditions.

At a Community Archives information session with the Japanese American Citizens League.

UC Santa Cruz University Library, Community Archives Program, Rebecca Hernandez, $4,800 - To provide payment to community members we work with, provide scanners and hard drives to community members so they can begin scanning materials they choose.

Rise Together funds enabled me to purchase nine scanners and portable hard drives, making it possible for us to start planning workshops and information sessions. Additionally, we’re purchasing gift cards to compensate community members for participation in discussion groups. We will be using the scanners at a summer institute planned in collaboration with Film & Digital Media and Special Collections and Archives.

WFF Cine Se Puede Fellows Past and Present with award-winning Mexico City director Carlos Perez Osorio.

Watsonville Film Festival, Consuelo Alba, $18,000 - For the Cine Se Puede Fellowship which supports a cohort of emerging Latine filmmakers at any stage of their film project for one year.

Thanks to the Rise Together grant, we are supporting four emerging filmmakers and six past fellows by providing funding, mentorship, peer to peer support and networking opportunities. Our 2023 Cine Se Puede Fellows have had day-long workshops with Hollywood screenwriter Ligiah Villalobos, Ariel winning Mexican director Carlos Perez Osorio, and Bay Area award-winning director / producer Vickie Ponce. Our current fellows are finishing their scripts and getting ready to start their pre-production plans. We will take them to the Bay Area Media Makers Summit in August to expand their horizons and networking opportunities. Our Cine Se Puede Fellows are collaborating on different projects, including a documentary film about the devastating effects of flooding and evacuations in Pajaro.

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