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La Luz gets $100K Impact grant

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The La Luz Center was selected from three finalists as the winner of Impact100 Sonoma’s annual $100,000 grant on Saturday, June 9, at Hanna Boys Center. The prize will fund development of the center’s computer literacy and employment services program.

The two runners-up, Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance and Sustainable Sonoma, were both awarded unrestricted grants of $10,000.

Impact100 is a philanthropic collective of 305 local women who each make an annual donation of $1,000 to fund community nonprofits. In the nine years since its inception, the organization has given more than $2 million to various agencies in the Sonoma Valley.

It took five months to navigate the process that narrowed the 23 original applications down to a manageable few. Claudia Sims, Mary Jane Stolte, Margaret Grandy, and Lynne Lancaster led the charge, vetting the three finalists with the help of financial and grant review committees comprised of more than 80 Impact100 members. The 14 finalists for the smaller Community Grants were narrowed to 10 by a vote of the entire membership.

Lancaster, Impact100 Sonoma’s co-president, opened Saturdays’ ceremony by announcing that 2018 had yielded a record number of participating women for its charter: 305. That number of local women – up from last year’s membership of 290 – collectively contributed $305,000, with an additional $1,000 given by one member in the aftermath of the 2017 fires.

Impact100 employs a “giving circle” approach to philanthropy, allowing individual donors to make a collective impact. There are charters in 31 cities in the United States and Australia, all using strategic philanthropy to transform their communities. In Sonoma, Impact100’s philanthropy has taken many forms: job skill development at the Teen Center, a tree project on Highway 12, a new preschool at Sassarini School, money to help S.O.S. support local homeless people, Sonoma Land Trust’s protection of the SDC’s 700 undeveloped acres.

The La Luz Center will use its windfall to help its clients step into the 21st century.

“We saw a great need, post-fires, to help many in our community with job attainment, and we saw an opportunity to get people back in the market by learning computer literacy,” said Veronica Vences, associate director of programming at La Luz.

Recognizing that a job candidate without fundamental computer skills is virtually unemployable in the modern world of work, La Luz plans to build individualized curriculum for its clients. It will employ a bilingual, bicultural technology instructor in its 18-station computer lab, and possibly upgrade some of its 12 aging laptops. The center expects that the Impact100 grant will support programming for as long as two years, and they hope to train as many as 200 people.

“We’ll create the program, implement it, evaluate it and redesign as we need to,” Vences said. “We’re just getting started, and we’re so excited. We expect to really get underway in the fall, but may have some workshops as early as this summer.”

Marcelo Defrietas, president of the board at La Luz and an active volunteer, was still giddy from the shock of Saturday’s win. “Juan Herdandez, our executive director, was backstage, and they tell the three finalists before they tell the crowd. I was sitting up front with all the ladies of Impact100 for some reason – I love them! I’m very fond of them – and when they called our name it was just incredible. The ladies all turned to me and were cheering for us. We’ve been working so hard for so many years. It’s amazing when you get an award that validates all that you do.”

Impact100 Sonoma’s co-president, Gera Vaz, was equally pleased. “We are so proud that we’re seeing the results of our efforts make a different in our community. Impact100 Sonoma has tremendous momentum going into our 10th anniversary year,” Vaz said.

To mark that milestone, Impact100 is doubling down on its efforts next year. In addition to the annual Impact Grant of $100,000 and the Community Grants of $20,000, it will issue a special 10th anniversary grant of $50,000.

Contact Kate at kate.williams@sonomanews.org.