Wine Country Philanthropy: How This Young Foundation Supports Sonoma's Youth

Many associate Sonoma County, California's countryside with wine and wealth. A study last decade by the policy research organization New Economy, Working Solutions, though, found that "while economic growth had brought prosperity to some North Bay residents, the dramatic increase of low-wage jobs, the loss of middle-income jobs, and the rising cost of living led to the stagnation of incomes for the bottom two-fifths, and extreme economic hardship for many."

Enter the newly-minted John Jordan Foundation, established in 2012 by John Jordan, 43-year-old wine entrepreneur and CEO of Jordan Vineyard & Winery. Jordan has deep ties to Sonoma County and he attended grade school in the region. After heading to Southern California to attend Occidental College, Jordan returned to Sonoma County to attend Empire College School of Law in Santa Rosa. He later opened a firm before stepping away to manage his family's winery.

So far, the John Jordan Foundation has been laser-focused on arming the "disadvantaged with the tools to succeed educationally and professionally." Much of this work has involved youth and education, a focus area of the foundation which has the aim of addressing the "entire continuum from early childhood education through college and workforce development. The overall goal is to support healthy infant, child, and youth development by mobilizing, strengthening, and aligning systems that affect learning."

In a recent year, the foundation gave away close to $840,000 and in the following year, that sum increased to around $1 million, almost all of which was dispersed on a local level. So far, grantees have included outfits such as 10,000 Degrees whose mission is to "achieve educational equity, and support students with need to access and complete higher education to positively impact their communities and the world,"  Schools of Hope, an "an early grade reading initiative that helps children build the critical reading skills needed to succeed in school and life," and Mike Hauser Algebra Academy, a program of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce that involves STEM learning over a three week period in the summer. Mike Hauser Algebra Academy received a $50,000 grant from the John Jordan Foundation.

The John Jordan Foundation's largest investment to date is a five year $200,000 a year commitment to Social Advocates for Youth (SAY), whose Dream Center aims to provide a space for homeless and former foster youth. According to SAY, by the way, between 2009 and 2013, the number of homeless youth aged 18-24 in Sonoma County grew by an astounding 450% to 1,128, the highest per capita rate in the nation. When fully-operational, the Dream Center will include "63 units of housing for these 18-24 year olds, along with counseling and job training, both for the residents and another 1000 young people using SAY’s effective counseling and job training services."

STEM education appears to be another particular interest of the foundation and apart from the Algebra Academy, in 2013, the John Jordan Foundation and the County Board of Supervisors pledged $505,000 over five years to the Career Technical Education (CTE) Foundation. CTE, in turn, supported 15 Sonoma County High School programs in areas such as engineering.

The foundation also runs the Teacher's Wishes program, which "supports classroom projects for local teachers affected by ongoing budget cuts." In 2014, the program disbursed around $29,000 to fund projects including a family game night at James Monroe Elementary in Santa Rosa. These funds impacted about 10,000 students across 28 districts.

Apart from youth and education, the other focus area of the John Jordan Foundation is income stability. By this, the foundation means supporting programs that provide a path for upward mobility and financial security. A significant project of the foundation is the John Jordan Education Center (JJEC), which houses Youth Connections and Center for Economic Success (CES). Youth Connections is a "work readiness preparation, career mentoring and leadership development program for youth ages 16 to 24 who are no longer in school." John Jordan Education Center includes a training room for Micro Business Development and Financial Literacy classes in English and Spanish, among other important programming and resources.

It's interesting to see the John Jordan Foundation digging into some of the same issues on a local level that giants like Ford have been engaging in on a much larger scale. As it turns out, many funders large and small really do care about STEM, for instance, and really are seeing career success as something that needs to be seeded from the "cradle." As for the John Jordan Foundation, grantseekers working in Sonoma County should keep an eye on this funder. The foundation's application page can be found here.