Max Rossi, an assistant county tax assessor and community activist, saw Solano County needed a community foundation to help charitable donations remain here.
With others who supported his vision, he founded the Solano Community Foundation, said the Foundation’s chief executive officer, Connie Harris. “He noticed there was nothing here like it, and money that could help people was leaving the county,” said Rossi’s wife, Nancy. “He really stressed the importance of keeping the money local, and for the need to help each other.”
Starting with $20,000 in 1995, the Foundation has grown to $9.5 million. But the mission remains the same. “We still award grants and scholarships, act as a vehicle for philanthropy, engage decision-makers as a community leader and work to encourage collaboration and community involvement to help improve the quality of life in Solano County,” she said.
The Founders Club also boasts individuals, such as philanthropist, developer and bank founder Billy Yarbrough and his wife, Louise, C.C. Yin, who owns a number of Solano County’s McDonald’s restaurants, and the Hearn Family Trust. They pledged $15,000 over three years, Harris said. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation matched the contribution to capitalize the Foundation at $600,000.
In 2015 and 2016, the Foundation received a combined $641,000 in three significant grants from the Buck Foundation and $366,000 in unrestricted bequests in the last two years. The Foundation helps others open charitable funds. In the past three years, it started nearly a dozen.
Through “Education Plus!” grants, the Foundation rewards projects that enhance learning, improve student achievement and augment individuals’ educational experience, especially in achieving grade-level reading skills and proper math placement for ninth graders, Harris said.
Benicia schools have received Foundation grants for their reading intervention programs, and Benicia High School received funds to buy robotic construction kits used to teach mathematics, problem solving and coding. The Foundation also supports music education, helping schools buy instruments, sheet music and other necessities.
The Foundation emphasizes transparency, recipients are accountable for how they spend the money, and Foundation members sometimes drop in for visits. They were impressed by reading lessons they witnessed, and admired the enthusiasm of students who were teaching a robot to play soccer.
Area nonprofits that serve Solano County may join the Foundation for $75 per year to take advantage of the Foundation’s Nonprofit Partnership Program (NPP). Among the current members are Benicia Historical Museum, Benicia Tree Foundation, Benicia Volunteer Firemen, Solano Symphony, Sustainable Solano, VOENA and Solano Land Trust. They’re eligible to attend the Foundation’s professional development workshops—fifteen will be offered this year.
NPP members also are eligible for up to $2,500 in competitive professional development grants for education, training and capacity building, so organizations can grow their programs and services, Harris said. Other partners helped by the Foundation are Meals on Wheels, the Humane Society of the North Bay (SPCA of Solano County), Benicia Tree Foundation, Solano County Library Foundation, Veterans Unlimited Services of Solano County and the Solano Coalition for Better Health.
Through the years, needs in Solano County have become greater. “Pockets of inequity have grown and become geographically larger,” Harris said. Donations have dropped to $3 per capita since the early 2000s, so the Foundation started Give Local Solano, which accepts online donations at solanocf.org and urges people to contribute annually during Giving Tuesdays.
“Giving to the Solano Community Foundation, to any fund we hold, is an investment that will strengthen our community both now and for future generations, enhancing the quality of life for all,” said Harris.