General Articles

Share |
E-Mail ArticleE-Mail Article Printer-FriendlyPrinter-Friendly

Neighbor to Neighbor

Author: Jean Saylor Doppenberg
January, 2016 Issue


Family philanthropy in the North Bay benefits causes near and far.

Many successful local companies are inspired to give back to the communities in which they do business. Many do so by devoting time and effort to help the less fortunate and others facing personal challenges. Here are just a few examples of the many North Bay business families that are making life easier for all through nonprofit foundations they’ve established.

Honoring a legacy

Santa Rosa-based Ghilotti Construction Company (GCC) has more than 100 years of engineering experience in Northern California in addition to a family tradition of hard work, dependability and community involvement. It all started when James Ghilotti, started a stone masonry business in Marin County in 1914 after emigrating from Grosio, a small town north of Lake Como in Italy.

GCC has been involved in projects across Northern California, including the Buck Institute for Resarch on Aging in Novato, the 49er stadium in Santa Clara, the new Sutter Hospital in Santa Rosa, Graton Rancheria Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park and Sonoma Raceway. It’s just this type of legacy that led to the establishment of the dg Foundation.

In 2013, just two days after graduating from college, Dino Richard Ghilotti Motta (son of GCC President/CEO Richard Ghilotti) passed away in a car accident at the age of 22. To carry on the legacy of Dino and his mother, Nancy, who passed in 2015, The dg Foundation was established to support students with a passion for academics, athletics and arts. The foundation awards scholarships to students at San Domenico School, Marin Catholic High School and the University of Miami—all schools Dino attended—and improves art programs and facilities that fit the criteria of the foundation’s interests.

“Dino’s constant desire to help his peers inspired his family and friends to carry on his legacy,” says Gregory Choma, his college friend, who is now the social media marketing manager for Ghilotti Construction Company.

“Dino was a great artist, athlete and student, and a passionate friend,” says Choma. “He was exceedingly kind and open hearted. Dino gave of himself freely and used art to express what he saw and visualized of the world.”

In 2014, the University of Miami awarded its first Dino Ghilotti Motta “Canes Care for Canes” scholarship to an art student from California. The dg Foundation, Ghilotti Construction and a generous group of family friends also helped fund the new Dino Ghilotti Motta Stadium complex at Marin Catholic High School. The foundation is a proud contributor to the Dino R. Ghilotti Motta Visual Arts Center and the Nancy Ghilotti Motta Studio at San Domenico School, where Dino developed his passion for art. “The ribbon cutting ceremony for this newly renovated and restored art building was in November. It will be filled with creativity for years to come,” says Ghilotti proudly.

The organization held its first major fund-raiser, the Orange and Blue Costume Ball, in fall 2015 at Castello di Amorosa winery in Napa Valley. The dg Foundation has also held multiple other smaller fund-raising events, including the Golden 8 5k walk, where 150 supporters walked across the Golden Gate Bridge. And this year was the 3rd annual Dino Richard Ghilotti Memorial Thanksgiving Turkey Bowl, a charity flag football game in honor of Dino, played at Marin Catholic with all proceeds benefitting The dg Foundation.

Providing for basic needs

She may be his daughter-in-law—and, therefore, somewhat biased—but Govinda Crozat describes Gene Crozat, owner of Santa Rosa-based G&C Auto Body (which has 10 locations across the Bay Area), as “generous and soft-hearted.” Crozat has become known as a champion of random and frequent giveaways to deserving individuals and families in need. Govinda is outreach program director for the Crozat Family Foundation, established two years ago as a 501(c3) charitable organization.

“Gene was a Santa Rosa High School dropout who returned to Santa Rosa with only a pack of smokes and $1.42 in his pocket,” says Govinda. “He built up his business from nothing.”

That’s why he wants to help others, she explains. In 2012, he started his Car-A-Month Giveaway by purchasing cars that needed some TLC at the Car Mart at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. These days, additional cars are sometimes donated to Crozat from insurance companies, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car once gave him a vehicle as well. The cars are refurbished by G&C technicians and detailers then presented to deserving recipients. The giveaway is promoted on local radio stations. “The recipients are picked at random, but we can’t help nearly enough of those in need,” says Govinda. “I forward other requests for help to the Secret Santa program at the Volunteer Center, and we also refer people to other local charities.”

Crozat’s generosity goes much farther than that. “In talking to people who’d received a donated car, we discovered they needed lots of other things, too,” says Govinda. “So we started giving out gift cards for grocery stores, gas, movie passes and restaurants. We also opened a line of credit at a local department store so we could take families shopping for back-to-school clothes and other necessities.”

The Crozat Foundation has given away 75 cars and vehicles in the past 2.5 years. Approximately $250,000 in cash and checks was also donated in 2014 to people struggling to pay their bills and keep a roof over their heads. And by last October, the foundation gave $349,000 in cash and checks to assist others.

In her role, Govinda sees where the need is greatest. “I’ve learned so much about the lack of resources out there for people trying to make ends meet, including the wait lists for any type of government subsidized housing–and the lack of housing overall. The foundation has been paying so much to put people into hotel rooms, but we’re trying to back away from that, as it’s so expensive.”

The Crozat Family Foundation receives 30 requests per week on average from people needing help, she says. “But we can only assist one or two of those, unfortunately. We help pay rent, deposits, utility bills, medical bills and health insurance, among other things. Our foundation is making a difference in the lives of many deserving people.”

Improving quality of life

The residents of the city of Napa have a special friend in the Gasser Foundation. Pete and Vernice “Pat” Gasser were lifelong Napa residents and community boosters who built a multimillion-dollar business empire. Pete got his start in banking, then moved into used car sales, eventually opening a Dodge dealership called Gasser Motors that he ran for 30 years before selling the business in 1965.

Gasser went on to become president of the Napa Chamber of Commerce and a force to be reckoned with, known for having a big personality and bringing city leaders together to improve the community. He invested in Napa real estate and was a cheerleader for numerous civic projects. Pete died in 1982, and Pat passed away in 19

89. After her death, income from properties owned by the Gassers, who were childless, fun

ded the foundation. It amounted to about $16 million at the time.

“Almost all of our assets are what was left by the Gasser family for creation of the foundation,” explains its President, Joseph Peatman. The Gasser Foundation awards numerous grants every year, along with thousands of dollars in scholarships. Since its inception, it’s contributed more than $31 million to local causes aimed at improving the quality of life for Napa residents and helping the underserved. Its many beneficiaries include Queen of the Valley Medical Center, St. Helena Hospital, Justin Siena High School, Boys and Girls Club of Napa, New Technology High School, Napa Valley Hospice, Napa Food Bank, Live Healthy Napa County and Napa Salvation Army, among others.

“All our grant recipients have to be charitable organizations that benefit the people of Napa,” says Peatman. The foundation also donated land over the years, most visibly for the Hartle Court Apartments project, which opened in 2013 to house previously lo3-income, mentally disabled and homeless people. The apartment complex is located on Gasser Drive near the Gasser Foundation-owned South Napa Marketplace and next door to the South Napa Shelter, a respite for homeless people located on land also donated by the foundation.

Last year, the foundation donated land in the same vicinity, along Gasser Drive, where a new medical office building will go up to house Ole Health, formerly known as Clinic Ole. A dramatic increase in patient volume has put a squeeze on Ole Health’s current north Napa facility. The new Gasser Drive location, expected to open in 2017, will provide an additional 30,000 square feet of patient care space.

In 2007, the Gasser Foundation launched an initiative to assist local nonprofits conserve energy and water so their financial resources could go toward helping clients, not paying high utility bills. That initiative soon developed into Sustainable Napa County (SNC), a private nonprofit “dedicated to economic vitality, environmental health and community engagement,” says Peatman. SNC’s efforts include finding methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency and use locally generated renewable energy.


 Researching brain health

Twenty-six years ago, at the age of 18, Brandon Staglin had a psychotic breakdown. The son of Garen and Shari Staglin, founders of Staglin Family Vineyard in Rutherford, Brandon was diagnosed with schizophrenia and began taking antipsychotic medications, some with debilitating side effects.

“That was in 1990, and there was a stigma back then about having mental illness. I didn’t want to admit it,” he says now.

To raise awareness and money for research into developing better treatments for brain disease, the Staglin family held its first fund-raising event in 1995, calling it the Music Festival for Mental Health at Staglin Family Vineyard. Every September since then, the family has presented a music festival headlined by famous performers and renowned chefs preparing sumptuous dinners. Over the years, entertainers have included Gladys Knight, the Pointer Sisters, Dwight Yoakam, Pat Benatar, Tim McGraw and Brian Wilson, among others.

The Staglins’ efforts have brought together showbiz and science to make life easier for people with mental illness, with the goal of eradicating these diseases once and for all.

In 2014, the event was redubbed the Music Festival for Brain Health. The 2015 event showcased Melissa Etheridge as the featured performer and raised $4.8 million. Over two decades, the festival has collected $225 million toward researching brain diseases. The 2016 festival will take place on September 17.

Seven years ago, the Staglins’ music festival evolved into the International Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO), a 501(c3) charitable organization. IMHRO also produces additional fund-raising events around the nation and has increased its reach via additional board members, advisors and global scientists all working to find cures for mental illness within our lifetime. The chief funding mechanism for IMHRO is the Rising Star award, explains Brandon, which gives two $250,000 grants every year to young scientists who are poised to enter their next level of neuroscience research. Brandon is communications director for IMHRO and also a board member in the organization.

Closer to home, The Staglin family has raised funds to start the early psychosis program at Aldea Children & Family Services in Napa through their leadership of the 2013 Auction Napa Valley. “It’s getting a lot of referrals and has now expanded into Solano County,” he says. The program trains clinicians and counselors in public schools to recognize early warning signs of the risk of psychosis in children. “These conditions can start at an early age and, if recognized with confidence early enough, can be treated.”

Private philanthropy is vital for the continued research into brain conditions, continues Brandon. “Government funding for this type of research has recently been cut, and neuroscience has suffered. The annual cost of brain disease in the United States is around $1 trillion, but the National Institutes of Health spent only $5.6 billion on neuroscience research in 2015–or about 0.6 percent of the national cost of brain diseases.”

Brandon’s parents and IMHRO co-founders, Shari and Garen Staglin, raised their commitment to eradicating brain diseases when they partnered with former Congressman Patrick Kennedy in 2011 to co-found the One Mind for Research Campaign. The campaign has united industry, academia, government and advocacy groups across the international neuroscience spectrum in a collaboration aimed at significantly reducing the burden of brain disease for people in all walks of life.

“One Mind grew out of IMHRO and is now an independent nonprofit, but they still work very closely together,” says Brandon. “One Mind aims to make the research more efficient and effective by enabling scientists to work together. To that end, One Mind is in beta testing right now with an online portal site where scientists can share data and collaborate with one another.”

Brandon, now 43, works closely with his parents to further the cause of finding better treatments and medications for those living with brain diseases. “The most rewarding thing about my work is being able to interact with families and people who live with these diseases and are helped by the programs we fund,” he says. “Adversity can motivate people to do great things and, in fact, it may be the primary motivator. And people sharing their stories is the most powerful means to reach out to the public, which is why I have shared my story with so many. It’s been a journey for me.”

Personal adversity, unexpected tragedy and a lifelong love for one’s hometown are all powerful reasons to establish a family-based organization aimed at improving the lives of North Bay residents.


Sutter Home Supports Breast Cancer Research

Vera Trinchero Torres, a beloved member of the family that founded Sutter Home Winery in St. Helena, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001. To help raise money for research of this pervasive disease, the Trinchero family established the Sutter Home for Hope initiative, becoming one of the first wine companies to commit to the fight against it. Now in its 15th year, the initiative raised nearly $1 million to support breast cancer research.

Though Vera died in 2014, her enduring spirit continues to move the Sutter Home initiative forward. Late last year, the company launched a “Selfies for Hope” campaign to fund the work of the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF). The four-month-long campaign encouraged Sutter Home fans to take a selfie with a bottle of its wine and post it to their public Twitter, Instagram or Facebook pages. For every valid selfie posted, the winery donated $1 to the NBCF, up to $50,000.

“This collective effort should help us reach our goal of $1 million in total donations since 2001,” says Wendy Nyberg, vice president of marketing for Sutter Home.

Sutter Home’s partnership with the NBCF aims to educate women on the importance of following an early detection plan. “We know we can save more lives when breast cancer is detected early, and that’s our goal,” adds Nyberg. “We’re honored to be a part of this worthwhile cause. For us, it’s personal.”

The Lucas Force

On 60 acres in Nicasio, surrounded by thousands of additional acres of protected open space, Halleck Creek Ranch quietly goes about its work giving rides on horses to youth and adults with physical limitations and war veterans with disabilities and PTSD. What was once a ranch belonging to the organization’s founder, the late Duane Irving, has been a nonprofit for more than 30 years, home to the Halleck Creek Riding Club.

“When Duane first got it into his head that he could help people with disabilities by giving them rides on horses, I don’t think anyone else was doing that type of thing,” says the ranch’s Executive Director, Barbara Hill. “It’s safe to say that, after all these years, thousands of people, young and old, have benefited from our program.”

An early supporter of Irving’s riding club is George Lucas, whose Skywalker Ranch shares a fence line with much of the Halleck Creek Ranch property. At one time, Lucas’s son, Jett, was a volunteer at the ranch.

When Irving’s ranch was first parceled out, he wanted to make certain there would always be a home for his horse-riding program. So when the note came due, Duane really struggled to raise the money and preserve a 60-acre site for us. George Lucas had been supporting our efforts for a permanent home for years with funding as well as helping negotiate with the county and other landowners.  Through his efforts and a grant from the Buck Trust we received title in the summer of 1989.  Now we own the land free and clear,” says Hill.

In the first years of operation, the club charged no fees or tuition. Today, the ranch is busy giving rides to approximately 85 men, women and children every week. Tuitions are affordable, and at least 30 percent of the riders receive scholarships and discounts. “The goal is make our services available to a broad population of youth and adults with special needs” says Hill.

The George Lucas Family Foundation continues to make grants to support the ranch’s programs, she adds. “And our 40th anniversary is coming up. We would love to honor George at our annual fund-raising dinner, and that would be a good time to do it.” 

A representative for the George Lucas Family Foundation declined a request for an interview.










In this Issue

Are You Covered?

It’s one in the morning and you wake to see the red glow of fire through the window, or you’re driving in rainy conditions, and your car skids toward an oncoming car. Are you covered? Ca...

Family Roots

One of the oldest wineries along West Dry Creek Road in Sonoma County is A. Rafanelli Winery. Nestled on a knoll that offers a sweeping view of the valley, the rustic winery is still family-owned an...

Harvest Tunes

For those in the business of wine, music can be essential to the winemaking process. This year we asked a number of notable winemakers in Napa and Sonoma counties to share their music playlist prefe...

See all...



Upcoming Events

18-Oct-2019 06:00 pm

20-Oct-2019 12:00 pm

20-Oct-2019 01:00 pm