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Blue Rose nonprofit bridges music and preschool

An African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It’s no wonder parents with young children often make fast friends with each other and chip in with the parental duties and general commiserating. Glen Ellen residents Joe and Sarah Poletto had a dear friend named Joe Capone. He was important to them, part of that “it takes a village” idea.

Unfortunately, Capone passed away very suddenly a few years ago. Just like that, the parents’ network was left with a hole in their village, and the Polettos decided to actively fill it, nonprofit style. They wanted to do something to keep his memory alive and thought that a scholarship in his name would be an appropriate honor.

The Polettos have a background that makes nonprofit work second nature. Sarah has a master’s degree from University of San Francisco in nonprofit administration, and Joe has experience in the tech and the entertainment industry.

They began the Blue Rose Foundation in 2014 and headquartered it in Glen Ellen.

“We were still pretty little then,” said Sarah Poletto. The lofty goal of the Blue Rose Foundation was to support preschool education and to “spread the word as to why preschool education is so important.”

She added, “Investing in early childhood education is a fundamental building block for a successful educational career.”

They organized an event at the Sebastiani Theatre in June of 2014 called “The Blue Rose Ball.” A poster by artist and ex-Sonoma resident Stanley Mouse commemorated the night and stated “In memory of Joe Capone.” The concert featured several wonderful musicians and was headlined by singer-songwriter Steve Forbert. The event was a success and all funds generated benefited Old Adobe Preschool.

The website for the Blue Rose Foundation states their mission as “equal access to resources starts children on an early pathway to success and strengthens our families and communities. By awarding preschool scholarships to children from economically disadvantaged families, we foster a lifelong love of learning and provide the children with the tools to reach their full potential.”

The result of that vision is translated into scholarships for qualifying families with children in preschool. Currently, Blue Rose Foundation funds benefit Old Adobe School in Sonoma and Laurel Hill in San Francisco, as well as a few preschools in Sacramento, New Jersey and Connecticut. In August, Blue Rose plans to add a school in New Orleans to its list of beneficiaries.

Sarah’s longtime friend and college roommate, Hilarie Sander, is co-executive director and now an attorney based in Seattle. The two work closely together and are very mindful when selecting the target schools. “We look for a connection to a place. Then we find a school that needs help,” Sarah said.

The Foundation awards $10,000 annually to each school that successfully applies. The funds are donated specifically for scholarships for their financially disadvantaged students. The Blue Rose Foundation is not involved with the selection of the students.

Michael Murray, director of Old Adobe School on East Spain Street, said that when local school families are struggling financially, they fill out a questionnaire.

“I take it to our board who decides how best to divide the money between qualified families,” he said. Often the money is used to halve the family’s share of tuition, amounting to $500 per month for a full-time student.

“The Blue Rose Foundation is amazing, they are absolutely unbelievable,” said Murray.

The working partnership of the Polettos can be divided fairly equally, Sarah’s passion is preschool, Joe’s is music.

“I am musically illiterate, but Joe has always loved music,” said Sarah. In 2016, the Blue Rose Foundation spun off Blue Rose Music, a record label based in Sebastopol with an office in Nashville, Tennessee, as well.

At the helm of Blue Rose Music is Joe Poletto, who over the years curated a stable of impressive musical artists in the Americana and folk music genres. He has continued to produce the annual Blue Rose Benefit utilizing the talent from the label to connect with fans in the Bay Area

Over the last two years, the Blue Rose Benefit has found a home at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium, a location that offers a certain allure to attendees.

Recording artists currently represented by Blue Rose Music are Tim Bluhm, the Mother Hips, Steve Forbert, Greg Loiacono, the Coffis Brothers and Shannon McNally. Many of the represented artists are residents of the Bay Area.

Steve Forbert’s connection with Blue Rose began with the first Blue Rose Foundation benefit show. A recent release on the Blue Rose label is Forbert’s “Early Morning Rain.” Forbert burst on the scene back in 1978 with his album “Alive on Arrival,” one of the year’s most acclaimed albums. His second release was “Jackrabbit Slim.” The song “Romeo’s Tune” reached the Top 10 on Billboard’s charts.

“Early Morning Rain” is a collection of Forbert’s favorite Americana and folk songs, very pleasing to the ear and warming to the soul. It includes covers of songs ranging from Leonard Cohen to the Grateful Dead. His treatment of Elton John’s “Your Song” is soft and touching, his version of Ian and Sylvia’s “Someday Soon” is at once familiar and refreshing.

Another release on Blue Rose Music is called “An American Troubadour -- The Songs of Steve Forbert,” a collection of Forbert’s most popular songs covered by other Blue Rose Music artists. Standout performances include “Goin’ Down to Laurel,” by Elliot Peck, and “Tonight I Feel So Far Away From Home” by Sonoma resident Jason Crosby.

A portion of all music sales of recordings and merchandise through Blue Rose Music goes directly to the foundation. A full 100 percent, “every penny,” according to Sarah, of the proceeds from the benefits and all fundraising activities goes to the foundation for grants.

The Blue Rose Foundation and Blue Rose Music are another example of the importance of the village, one hand helping the other. Music and preschool… the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round.

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