It’s the fundamental rule of city life: You get the community you make.
I spent Monday morning in the presence of Fresno State students determined to turn that truth into an opportunity.
About two dozen students in the university’s Humanics Students4Giving Philanthropy Project gathered at Arte Americas in Downtown to award three grants of $5,000 each to a trio of local nonprofits.
Check that – I meant to say community benefit organizations. I’m slowly learning the industry’s new lingo.
Humanics is part of Fresno State’s Sociology Department. According to the university’s website, Humanics “offers students specialized training in administration and leadership for community benefit organizations (CBOs) and works with hundreds of CBOs in the region to prepare leaders for service to humanity.”
The grants went to the Art of Life Cancer Foundation, Focus Forward and the Poverello House. The Art of Life Cancer Foundation’s name pretty much explains its mission. We all know of the fine work done at “The Pov.” Focus Forward, according to the program I got at Monday’s ceremony, helps young people in the juvenile and/or child welfare systems.
An official from each CBO was on hand to receive the grants. An audience of about 75 was generous with its applause.
To me, Humanics sounds like a tough academic discipline. I take Humanics to mean learning how to advance the art of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” in a world that’s often harsh and unforgiving.
In a word, philanthropy.
The $15,000 was real, acquired in part through student/faculty fundraising, in part through the help of the Central Valley Community Foundation.
The students’ philanthropic decision-making was real, as well. Students were divided into three teams, or “boards of trustees.” Each board awarded a grant designed for a specific aspect of a smooth-running and effective CBO.
Art of Life’s grant is to improve that CBO’s board and staff development. (This grant was awarded in memory of Philip T. Manoogian.)
Poverello House’s grant is focused on volunteer management/technology.
Focus Forward’s grant is directed toward advocacy and public policy.
Trustees from each of the student-run boards had to perform all of the usual administrative chores: Interview officials from prospective CBOs; cut a long list of possibilities down to a short list; debate the merits of the finalists; choose one recipient when no doubt many deserved the money.
Again, in a word, philanthropy.
Officials from the three CBOs were grateful to be picked. They’re veterans of the process. I’ll let someone else record their words for posterity.
I preferred the words from – or about – the Humanics students.
Samantha Hernandez, a senior, kicked things off with a few words about the essence of Humanics. She and her colleagues, Hernandez said, “are proud and excited to be social entrepreneurs.”
Hernandez introduced Liz Garvin, who kept the rest of the show moving at a swift pace. Garvin is Fresno State’s director of planned giving.
“This year I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with these young scholars,” Garvin said. “What most impressed me about them is that while they spent time at Fresno State just like any other scholar – learning, focusing on their majors, writing papers, spending hours and hours in the library – these students were up to something a little bit more. They were caring about our community. They were thinking about the future not only of their lives and their professions. They were also thinking about you and they were thinking about me. They were spending hours of time committing themselves to the lives of people that they haven’t met, that they don’t know – and may never meet.”
Daniel Gonzalez, a junior, received the Harvey Milk Humanics Scholarship.
“I am proud to not only stand before you as a young philanthropist, but as an inspired activist,” Gonzalez said. “It’s difficult to stand here and see my name next to Harvey Milk. I obviously don’t feel worthy. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Harvey Milk is a hero of mine. He was not only the poster child for career mobility and acceptance, but he was an honest man who cared about his community.”
Gonzalez spoke of Milk’s legacy of inspiration and hope.
“Each of us, with our own intersecting identities, has the power to emit hope to a younger generation,” Gonzalez said. “My own long-term goal has always been to tell at least one LGBT kid that it gets better. And it does.”
Evelyn Gonzalez, a senior, presented the grant to the Art of Life Cancer Foundation.
“We are part of the reason our community is moving forward,” Evelyn said, referring to Humanics students. “To my fellow scholars, we did it. We’re philanthropists.”
Jasmine Leiva, a senior, presented the grant to Focus Forward. She noted that Focus Forward helps get young people connected to public issues that affect them.
“We believe this to be an important piece of their project, the fact that young people will be using their experiences and developing skills to be effective agents of change,” Leiva said. “As a board, we see this as an important investment for young people and our community.”
In my opinion, the most encouraging words for the future of Fresno came from Mark Pittenger, a junior who presented the grant to The Pov.
Two of the key professors in Fresno State’s Humanics’ discipline are Dr. Matthew Jendian and Dr. Don Simmons. Those names should be familiar to City Hall watchers. Jendian is active in housing policy. Simmons is active in historic preservation policy.
That means both are fighters when it comes to revitalization of Fresno’s urban core.
I’ve seen Jendian and Simmons in action at City Hall. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t. That’s democracy – it’s a rough game.
So, too, is philanthropy.
Pittenger said Fresno State’s Humanics students can handle the heat.
“This semester my team and I learned from each other and experience what it takes to make hard decisions,” Pittenger said. “We wrestled through healthy conflict and in the end we came out with a more confident view of philanthropy and the effect that good governance can have on a community such as Fresno.”
Wrestling through healthy conflict – that’s how you make a great community.
Photo: Humanics at Fresno State