Interview With Jim Trimble
Retired police chief, global traveler, humanitarian.
Let someone else spend his retirement on a fishing trip.
Jim Trimble is on a journey that involves far more than just seeing landmarks around the globe. He and his wife, Chris, are avid travelers who stepped up their explorations once he retired—with a twist. On many trips, they spend time with local organizations that improve the lives of those in need.
They take trips organized by GoPhilanthropic Foundation and Make It Real Foundation, two groups that combine humanitarian work with travel. Their first trip took them to coal country in eastern Kentucky, where they worked with Appalshop on a youth media project. Last spring, the couple spent time at an orphanage in Uganda and learned more about widows’ villages while in Kenya.
Jim’s philanthropic ways are rooted in a life of service. He served as Benicia’s police chief from 2000 to 2007 after 28 years on the Hayward police force. Now retired, he is a Rotarian, a mentor at Liberty High School, a member of Benicia Youth Action Coalition’s board, and sponsors a teenage girl living in the M-Lisada orphanage in Uganda. He also works occasionally in the tasting room of Robert Biale Vineyards in Napa.
He co-founded and remains active in organizing Expanding Experiences, a benefit for Liberty High that Benicia Rotary started in 2004. Liberty students help serve at the annual event. “The real reward is putting this core of adults together with this group of kids who are often judged. Put them in one spot for a couple of hours and it’s just a whole different experience for the kids and the adults. The adults get to see the kids in a new light, and the kids get to hear from these adults, ‘Yeah, my life wasn’t perfect.’ We all have something we’ve had to overcome, and it helps kids to hear that.”
Jim, 67, and Chris were married 47 years ago and have two children and two grandchildren.
What led you to expand your travels to include humanitarian work? The traveling we’d done led both of us to enjoy different cultures and what was going on in these countries as much as the sites, the architecture and the historical pieces we were seeing. We enjoy getting to know the people. When you do that, you see the disparities that exist in many, many countries of the world, including our own. We were in China and we went to an orphanage and Chris wanted to adopt every kid there. In Egypt, there was a school for kids with special needs. So when the Make It Real people said they had this idea about philanthropic travel, we thought that sounded pretty good.
Are these similar to community service trips where groups build houses and such? It’s more about going and meeting and being with people who have organizations that are working on sustainability in their own countries. If there is something we can do that will help with their work, we will do that. It’s not about going and working on the farm. It’s about giving them the tools so they can work on the farm.
What did you do when you were at the orphanage in Uganda? We mostly hung out with the kids. We ate with them. If you sat down, you’d have two or three kids in your lap immediately.
We played baseball one day – it was kind of a combination of baseball and cricket. The batter stays up until he gets a hit or the pitcher tells him he’s done.
One of the things I most enjoyed was meeting with the young men from the orphanage. A man from GoPhilanthropic and I met with the young men. They asked us questions about relationships, being prejudice, education. They were ages 14 to 22, about 15 young men in all. We were in Africa so we were sweating, but I would have been sweating anyway because of the questions. I don’t remember hearing questions like that from our kids. It was supposed to be an hour but it lasted almost two hours. We had to finish it up because it was time to eat.
What is a widows’ village? It’s pretty common there that women are given no status. They are still circumcising women, still practicing polygamy. When husbands die or leave, or the women run away, they have nowhere to go. A widows’ village provides a place for them and their children.
The community chief in the area was raised in a widows’ village. He found this very energetic, very bright teacher who said she would start a widows’ village if he gave her a plot of land. Hellen also started a school known as the Purple Cow School. Everything in that school is very, very good. They have all the equipment they need.
What is the appeal of taking these humanitarian trips? One of the things we like about GoPhilanthropic is that the intent is not to make you feel sorry for any group and just give them money, but to coordinate something to make the group more self-sufficient. M-Lisada has a brass band that performs to support the orphanage, but they needed a van to get around. Make It Real was looking for funds to leverage to buy a van, and they have a van now.
GoPhilanthropic are money managers. They go to M-Lisada several times a year. So money doesn’t go directly to M-Lisada. If we want something to go to Africa, we send it through GoPhilanthropic.
How are you continuing to support these programs now that you’re back home? The Interact Club, which is the Rotary Club’s high school group at Benicia High, has raised $2,000 since we came back for medical and dental supplies for M-Lisada. The Interact kids have been communicating directly with kids from M-Lisada via email. We’re trying to coordinate a Skype session so they can talk about being a teen in Kampala and being a teen in Benicia.
Bosco, the founder of M-Lisada, bought 10 acres of land to teach kids about farming. Everything is done by hand, so Rotary donated $2,000 for rakes, hoes and seeds. We expect them to be earning money from selling food they raise, but don’t eat, at the orphanage.
The president-elect is working on getting a Rotary grant to bring in consultants to work on finances, leadership, and planning to enhance the skill level of the staff.
Did you take any supplies yourself to Uganda and Kenya? Chris and I took 150 pounds – everything from toothbrushes and toothpaste, soccer balls and pumps to shoes. They have to have uniforms and dress shoes to go to school, and most kids don’t have dress shoes. We cleaned out Payless Shoes of dress shoes in every size before we went. We also donated the luggage because it can become a child’s closet.
The widows’ village has no electricity and the kids wanted solar-powered lights. I found some online that provide 45 minutes of light.
Even with all that, we’ve never been stopped by Customs.
What other humanitarian trips have you taken? We used to travel with Overseas Adventure Travel, which is part of Grand Circle that has the Grand Circle Foundation. Part of our ticket price went to local organizations. We went to China and worked at an orphanage, and we went to Germany and worked at school for kids with special needs.
Our first trip to Africa was with Grand Circle. We wanted to support a school we saw when we were in Zimbabwe. We all threw money in a pot, then we hit every store in Lake Victoria and bought every eraser, every pen, every school supply we could find so the company could take it all back to the school.
When you first started thinking about retirement, what did you think you’d be doing? I had no idea. I was dead set on not doing anything with policing and law enforcement. I taught for 22 years at Chabot Community College and I didn’t want to do that anymore. I’d been a consultant with other police agencies and I didn’t want do that any longer.
I really had no plan. I’d always been interested in kids, worked with child abuse, taught classes about child abuse. I’d been engaged with kids throughout career, coached soccer for 13 years with my own kids, coached other sports as well. I didn’t think I’d be doing what I do now.
What’s next for you? I don’t know. I’ll probably continue doing what we’re doing. The Make it Real Foundation is going to Southeast Asia with GoPhilanthropic in the spring, but we’re not going. I think we’ll stay focused on M-Lisada until their sustainability gets a little better.
We’re going to focus our travels in the United States. …
And there’s probably another project around here.