Annual Tequila Tasting raises money to improve the community

Published in the May 17 – May 30, 2017 issue of Gilroy Life

By Marty Cheek

Photo courtesy Latino Family Fund
Ernie Oliveras, a founding LFF member, with some students at California State University, Monterey Bay.

The Latino Family Fund knows that many excellent leaders make their home in the Gilroy community. And that’s why this year it awarded two prestigious awards to couples who have worked hard to make a positive impact on the South Valley’s quality of life.

“Every year we give out an award for Philanthropist of the Year,” Edwin Diaz, a co-chair, told the guests at the May 6 Tequila Tasting fundraiser in presenting the honors. “It’s been getting harder and harder to make one choice. So we decided to make it easier on ourselves and give out more than one award. There are just so many people in Gilroy who have been contributing back to the community for so many years. My wife, Delia, and I would really like to be around to recognize all of them, so in order to do that, we’re going to have to give out more than one a year.”
Couples John and Rachel Perez and Jaime and Evelia Rosso were both presented the honor of Philanthropists of the Year. At the LFF’s annual meeting earlier this year, local woman Eleanor Villarreal was honor with the group’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Her efforts are recognized throughout the community,” Diaz said. “Those of you who know Eleanor are aware of the contributions that she has made politically, socially, and the impact that she has had on so many people in Gilroy.”

Photo courtesy Latino Family Fund
Ernie Oliveras, a founding LFF member, with some students at California State University, Monterey Bay.

The Latino Family Fund was formed by 10 families in 2006 who each gave money to the Gilroy Foundation to set up the special Donor-Advised endowment funding mechanism. The group has grown to 84 members and its endowment is now $135,000. Every year, it gives 5 percent of its growing endowment to locally-based organizations that are helping the Latino-community, Diaz said. During the years, about $37,000 has been awarded as grants to nonprofits.

“Our partnership with the Gilroy Foundation has been extremely positive,” he said. “As the foundation grows, we want to ensure that the Latino Family Fund grows so that we are really focused on helping everyone in the community.”

The main fundraiser is the Tequila Tasting held annually on a weekend near Cinco de Mayo. The organizers also put on an annual appeal to the public for fundraising, which starts at the beginning of the year and ends at the Tequila Tasting event.

“People are generous not only with their money but with their resources such as donating items to the silent auction and the live auction for volunteering to host meetings and host events. Everybody just kind of chips in,” he said.
Those active with the LFF include not just Gilroy leaders but prominent citizens in Morgan Hill such as John and Vivian Varela and Adam and Laura Escoto. And membership also includes residents of ethnic heritages besides Latino as well, Diaz said.

“We have a particular interest in generally giving back to the community, to the whole community, and because in many ways Latinos are under-served and have some particular needs, we try to meet those needs,” he said. “But the bottom-line is, it takes everybody to build a healthy, inclusive community. So we have a lot of people who are not Latinos.”

This year, the LFF members focused on the expansion of the Youth in Philanthropy program, working with 50 students at South Valley and Ascension Solorsano middle schools to inspire them to find ways to provide financial aid organizations in Gilroy that help the community. The group hopes to eventually find enough volunteer mentors to bring the YIP program to Brownell Middle School as well as Gilroy and Christopher high schools, said LFF founding member Ernie Olivares. The program is a partnership with the Gilroy Unified School District. Counselors work with sixth-, seventh- and eight-grade students to decide on which organizations receive $500 each in funding.

“These young and impressionable students learn to determine and advocate and discuss who they want to support with those monies that we provide each school every year,” he said. “It’s about really inspiring and engaging them and making them learn about themselves — that they have the potential to be leaders and really get serious about their education and take that positive road as opposed to other options.”

The students presented $2,500 in five grants at the Gilroy Foundation’s annual awards event. The young people raised $1,500 of this money themselves. Students in YIP do not need to be Latino to get involved, Diaz said.
“It’s important to us that we’re seen as a group that is not only supporting the Latino community but also trying to support the community of Gilroy as a whole to improve the quality of life for everybody,” he said.

Diaz said his passion as co-chair comes from working with youths.

“Gilroy has always good to me. I was able to achieve things that most people in my family thought were unachievable, and now we’re in a position to give back,” he said. “We have the resources and we have the time and this is what we want to do. We have a passion for youths. My career was education, so I’m always looking for a way to impact young people and give them an opportunity and the inspiration to achieve.”

Delia Diaz, his wife and co-chair, said that the YIP program has proven to be a success in helping young people learn to be generous leaders of tomorrow.

“We go to the school sites and work with the kids and they advocate who they want to give the money to — it’s quite a process,” she said. “It’s about giving back to the community. I’ve had great teachers and great mentors when I was growing up — so now it’s our time.”

The middle school students this year learned the process of raising funds to help nonprofits, she said.

“They’ve had their own fundraisers. They’ve had carnivals and events to raise money,” she said. “They’re really shy when they come in, and then when they finish, they’re raising their hands and excited. We’re teaching them to be leaders who give back to the community.”

Marty Cheek