Business / Economy

Monterey Peninsula Foundation focuses on charitable giving in San Benito County

Organizer of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am has worked with SBC since 2003.

The three Rs of education—reading, writing, and arithmetic—are just as important as ever. Yet these days, students at San Benito High School forego the standard marble composition book in favor of more modern technology: they read articles, write essays and solve math problems on brand-new Google Chromebooks.

“It has made it easier to turn in work and to communicate with teachers and explore topics that you can’t normally find in a book,” said a student reviewer, one of 114 respondents in a survey of the efficacy of conducting school business on computers. 

“This technology makes learning more efficient and accessible to every student, especially those with disabilities and language barriers as well,” said another reviewer.

But the technology comes at a cost. Chromebooks, which typically retail for around $200, only have a four-year life cycle when used in the classroom, according to San Benito High Director of Technology John Frusetta. Such an expense would be too great for most public schools.

That’s where the Monterey Peninsula Foundation comes in. The Chromebooks—which are in virtually every SBHS classroom—were made possible by a $120,000 grant from the foundation, which disburses charitable funds in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. 

“What we’re looking to do is help communities become vibrant places,” says Mary Gunn, director of philanthropy at MPF. “We’re unique in the funding world in that we support everything from soup to nuts—the arts, food banks, and news organizations. Our model is that if we support a basic community in what it wants and what it dreams for itself, that we enhance the well-being of the residents.”

MPF is best known for organizing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the PURE Insurance Championship, golf tournaments that raise millions of dollars which are earmarked for charitable giving. Founded in 1937, MPF’s giving power has grown tremendously, providing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to nonprofits working to improve the lives of the residents of the Central Coast.

In 2003, the foundation expanded its purview to include organizations based in San Benito County, and has disbursed over $2.5 million to date. That amounts to almost $150,000 in annual giving to recipients including the Community Food Bank of San Benito County, the City of Hollister, the San Benito Arts Council, El Teatro Campesino, as well as BenitoLink, which received a $25,000 grant from MPF in 2018.

While the foundation has been serving San Benito County for almost two decades, it recently noticed that nonprofits operating in the county weren’t as likely to seek support as those in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

“We really tried to do more reaching out to understand those needs and encourage people [from San Benito County] to apply for grants,” said Gunn. 

To that end, MPF appointed Margie Barrios, a former San Benito County supervisor and accountant by trade, to the grant committee. 

“We want to make sure the committee understands the needs of the county from the perspective of a resident,” Gunn said. The grant committee decides who receives funding—and how much.

One longtime recipient of MPF largess is the Hollister Youth Alliance, a nonprofit whose mission is to “provide innovative and culturally relevant services that strengthen and enrich youth, families and the community,” which they pursue in an afterschool program that serves almost 1,000 young people a day. 

“It’s our way of engaging young people in safe activities—activities that are expanding their horizons and supporting their educational success,” said Diane Ortiz, Youth Alliance’s executive director. 

One of the most challenging aspects of running a nonprofit organization, is obtaining support that will last more than a year or two. In addition, nonprofits, especially those operating on a smaller, community-based scale, often have difficulty finding—and retaining—top talent. Without the guarantee of more than a year’s work, employees tend to seek opportunities with more job security.

MPF is an exception, as it’s willing to make longer commitments to its recipients.

“Very few organizations look at San Benito County as a long-term investment, and the Monterey Peninsula Foundation is one of those prioritizing San Benito County,” said Ortiz. “They are dedicated to giving consistently, and for organizations like the Youth Alliance, that multi-year support, which allows you to pay your staff next year, is a big deal.”

Youth Alliance received a $150,000 grant in 2016, allowing it to fund operations for three years. This year, MPF will assess the impacts of the grant, at which point Youth Alliance will be eligible to apply for additional funding. 

While charitable organizations might set strict criteria for achievement, MPF works with their partner organizations to course-correct when there is a need for improvement. 

“Learning what didn’t work is more important than telling your funder that you hit all of your goals,” said Gunn. “We view our work as facilitative in that we ask the organizations that we’re funding to tell us what they’re measuring to gauge their success, and we work with them to achieve those goals.”


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Matthew Koller