The end of the year is always a time for reflection. As our team at the Central Valley Community Foundation prepares for the year ahead, we’re also taking time to pause and reflect on what 2017 looked like for us. With a new President and CEO at the helm and a new team brought on to complement the stunningly adept individuals already on board, 2017 was a year of changes and transformation. We believe the work of CVCF over the past year is indicative of those transformative changes. Keep reading for what is only a small sampling of a very busy, productive year!

In the first of many community investments, CVCF partnered with the Howard K. Watkins Photo Archive Fund in February to award $100,000 to Fresno State’s Henry Madden Library. The funds established the Howard K. Watkins Photographic Archive, an online photo collection documenting the greater Fresno/Clovis area since the 1970s. The Howard K. Watkins Photo Archive Fund was created at CVCF in 2006 and has received donations from over 900 donors with the goal of making the photographs of Howard K. Watkins accessible to the public. The permanent photo archive at Fresno State’s Henry Madden Library will be available to students and members of the general public for research purposes and to experience a visual history of the community over the last forty years.

Fresno State President Joseph Castro, CVCF President and CEO Ashley Swearengin, Howard K. Watkins, and others pose for a photo at the February 28, 2017 event at Fresno State’s Henry Madden Library.

In April, CVCF joined Catholic Charities, a community benefit organization serving the needs of those in crisis, to announce a community effort in response to a tragic shooting in Downtown Fresno. Two of the victims were clients of Catholic Charities – two of the tens of thousands of people who receive aid from the organization each year. Through the generosity of our community partners, CVCF donated $15,000 to support Catholic Charities’ efforts in aiding our community’s most vulnerable. Despite the tragedy surrounding the incident, the community response instilled a sense of hope. “It’s just been a very difficult few days,” began Catholic Charities’ Executive Director Kelly Lilles during the announcement, “but we know that we are strong in our faith, and we know with people like you guys on our side that [we will] get through this.” The funds donated by CVCF helped Catholic Charities continue its programs and provided assistance to the families of the two victims.

In June, CVCF welcomed Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to Fresno for “A Washington Report.” The luncheon event was held at the DoubleTree hotel in Downtown Fresno and was attended by over 400 community leaders, residents, elected officials, educators, and law enforcement officials. At the event, Senator Feinstein presented a local law enforcement hero, Mariposa County Sheriff Deputy Rudy Mirelez, with the Local Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery. Guests were then treated to a question-and-answer session between CVCF President and CEO Ashley Swearengin and Senator Feinstein on issues affecting the Central Valley. Ticket sales from this event benefited the Central Valley Promise Fund at CVCF, a joint initiative of our region’s higher education institutions to provide college scholarships for thousands of Valley students. In total, over $10,000 was raised to support higher education in the Central Valley.

CVCF President and CEO Ashley Swearengin interviews U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein at “A Washington Report.”

In July, CVCF took time to celebrate the release of our 2016 annual report during our 50th anniversary party. Approximately 100 community members gathered at CVCF’s offices on July 18th to celebrate 50 years of philanthropy. Guests enjoyed food and beverages from local vendors and were treated to art and music from CVCF’s talented Board members. The celebration also honored the Lyles and Woodward families for their generosity and significant contributions to their communities. President and CEO Ashley Swearengin awarded the Woodward Family with the inaugural CVCF Founders Award, accepted by O. James Woodward III, and the Lyles Family with the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award, accepted by brothers Bill and Gerald Lyles.

CVCF staff, Board members, and guests at the 50th anniversary party. (Photo Credit: Howard K. Watkins)

October was all about The Big Tell: Undiscovered Stories from the Central Valley. This first-of-its-kind film contest offered a unique opportunity for local filmmakers to create original mini-documentaries about life in the Central Valley. After the program’s launch in April, ten winners were chosen out of nearly 90 applications to each receive grants of $5,000 to produce their short films. Through collaboration with CMAC and partnership with Bank of America, the winning filmmakers received mentorship advice from acclaimed, Emmy-nominated documentarian Sascha Rice and Academy Award-winning visual effects artist Professor Michael Fink. The Big Tell came to wrap on October 20 with The Big Tell Showcase, held at Downtown Fresno’s historic Warnors Theatre. Hundreds of guests attended the showcase to view the winning films for the first time on the big screen.

The audience at The Big Tell Showcase views one of the ten winning films.

Also in October, CVCF kicked off its “Friends of the Foundation” initiative, an exclusive, roving underground supper club. CVCF has partnered with Fresno’s Underground Supper Series to create a unique and immersive culinary experience, with food, conversations, and locations inspired by the Central Valley. The locations and dinner themes will be announced 48 hours in advance of each event, meaning each date will be an exciting surprise! In addition to seating for two at three members-only gourmet experiences, members also gain VIP access to all CVCF events for 2018. Membership for this unique supper club is limited to 100 and slots are filling up fast. If you’re interested in saving your seat for the most exclusive tables in town, please contact Claudia Ruiz-Alvarez, Director of Donor Services, at 559-825-6182, or at

In November, CVCF furthered its commitment to supporting the Central Valley’s youth and disadvantaged populations. On November 7, CVCF and The Lyles Foundation announced a major investment to support responsible, safe lending to disadvantaged communities in southeast Fresno and Porterville. Over $2.5 million in cash was deposited into yield-bearing money market accounts at Self-Help Federal Credit Union (SHFCU) in Fresno. This investment will provide enough capital to a diversity of borrowers to finance the equivalent of 19 affordable mortgages, 1,300 personal loans, 217 responsible car loans, or 3,642 credit-builder loans.

Days after the announcement of the investment at SHFCU, CVCF awarded over $500,000 to seven community organizations for our 2017 Transformative Opportunities for Youth (TOY) grant cycle. TOY provides funding to organizations and programs supporting teens by providing youth leadership development, reproductive health services, comprehensive sexual education, and teen-parent educational support. Since the program’s inception in 2008, CVCF has awarded over $2.7 million in funding to nonprofit organizations in the Central Valley, through a partnership with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Anthem. The 2017 TOY grantees included: Teen Success, Inc.; The Foundation at FCOE, Inc.; the California State University, Fresno Foundation; Boys & Girls Clubs of Fresno County; The Latino Commission – Nuevo Comienzo; Woodlake High School; and the UCSF Fresno Medical Education Program. The seven awarded organizations have demonstrated a commitment to supporting youth in the Central Valley through comprehensive youth development initiatives.

Fresno City Councilmember Luis Chavez (District 5) with representatives from CVCF, The Lyles Foundation, and Self-Help Federal Credit Union during the November 7 check presentation.

Attendees at CVCF’s 2017 TOY grant reception on November 9. In addition to representatives from CVCF and the grantee organizations, Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D-31) was also in attendance.

The aforementioned programs, initiatives, and events are not, by any means, an exhaustive list of CVCF’s activities this year. 2017 was a year full of excitement, change, and most of all, a reaffirmation of CVCF’s commitment to building stronger communities through effective philanthropy – a promise that, thanks to our donors, staff, Board, and community partners, we’ve honored for over half a century. CVCF looks forward to the year ahead with a new promise: we’re just getting started!