By Nora Heston Tarte
Women sit in some of the most influential seats in San Joaquin County, with the premiere goal of creating a better place to live for all its residents. Making decisions to help those less fortunate, less connected, less able to help themselves, these members of our communities hold full-time jobs in nonprofits, spanning efforts such as revitalization, youth services, victim support, and more. But the work doesn’t end there.
Going beyond their day jobs to volunteer in the community, start new initiatives, and work around the clock to produce more positive outcomes for families, these women are transforming what it means to live in San Joaquin County. These inspirations—stewards of our communities, pillars of our neighborhoods—have earned the title of Wonder Women.
Administrative Compliance/HR Coordinator at Delta Health Care & Management Services Corp.
Kandi Howe, 39, is an integral part of a two-person administrative team (with Executive Director Brent Williams) at Delta Health Care. Not only does she handle compliance and HR, Kandi also writes grants to obtain funding for Delta’s health programs—including women’s health womans-health-info.com, nutrition, teen services, health education, and outreach.
“The two of us dedicated ourselves to saving Delta’s services,” she says of herself and Brent. “We gave everything we had and more to see this through.” Thanks to their efforts, Delta continues to serve a caseload of 14,000 per month through their WIC services, operates school-based health centers at local high schools, and offers breastfeeding support for new mothers.
As an avid reader herself, Kandi sees the importance of literacy. “I spent a great deal of time reading as a child,” she says. And that passion, combined with her previous experiences with community youth, led her to help then-Councilmember Moses Zapien launch the award-winning Little Free Library program in Stockton. Part of a national effort—which began in Wisconsin—Stockton has 70 book exchanges suitable for children 0-17, specifically in areas with less access to books. “They were a way to build literacy and community,” she says.
One Man’s Trash
A couple of years ago, Kandi was involved in the We Can project with The First 50, a program set up with Franklin and Edison High School students in Stockton to expose youth to civic engagement and areas such as finance and urban agriculture. A student of the program suggested painting trashcans. The science behind the idea is that people are more likely to throw away their garbage in brightly colored receptacles. So, the group started taking to the parks on weekends painting all of the trashcans. It ended up being a springboard into other community volunteer projects. Kandi became a mentor and took on a logistics/coordinator role with the program. “It’s incredibly meaningful,” Kandi says. “When you’re around that you can’t help but be lifted up.”
Kandi gives her time to many downtown events. She is part of the SJC Pride Center Festival Committee, the Channel Brewing Community Circle, and supports Goodstock Productions events. She also joins local youth and Reinvent South Stockton on the weekends to cover vandalism in the community, using the same creative-driven approach established with the garbage can project years ago (and the little free libraries community kids helped to paint).
Why have you become so focused on community art projects?
“I think I’ve always leaned toward the creative… the more you tap into that, the more it changes your perspective…. That is what will ultimately change our community.”
Community Foundation of San Joaquin, CEO
The forming of the Community Foundation of San Joaquin (CFSJ) in 2008 (one of the last six counties in California to develop such an organization) has helped the region take steps toward betterment; and Linda Philipp, 61, who came on board in 2011 with a unique set of skills she honed in the hospital fundraising space, is leading the charge.
The foundation, which works on long-term projects building funds for donors and other area nonprofits, allows groups to grow money to reinvest in the community. “Our needs are tremendous in this region, and a community foundation can be part of the answer to solving some of our most difficult problems,” the mother of five says.
Through CFSJ Linda is connected to other area nonprofits—such as the San Joaquin County Children’s Alliance and local animal shelters—as well a events like the Community Philanthropy Summit (an annual conference co-hosted by CFSJ and the Lodi Community Foundation) and the annual Super Bowl raffle. She has a hand in just about every area of giving, from children to pets to community.
Always a Girl Scout
One of Linda’s newest endeavors is as a board member of Girl Scouts Heart of Central California. “I was a Girl Scout and I had a wonderful experience,” she says. “I really think those kind of experiences are so important for young girls.”
At a February meeting, Linda recalls a fellow scout received her 75-year membership pin. “She led the whole group in a song,” Linda says. “I swear to God I had not sung that song for 50 years and I knew every word.”
Forever a Powercat
A life-long resident of SJC, Linda is also a proud University of the Pacific (UOP) alum. About 18 months after graduating with a degree in Communication Arts, a former professor, Alan Mikels, suggested a position in the public relations department of Lodi Memorial Hospital. It was here that Linda “found out how rewarding and how fun fundraising was.”
“UOP is near and dear to my heart,” she says. “I went to UOP and I never left.”
Other Supported Organizations:
Cathedral of the Annunciation
Church of the Presentation
Diocese of Reno
Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
Roman Catholic Diocese of Stockton
St. Mary’s Dining Room
UOP Women’s Center
Why have you stayed in Stockton?
“We love this community. It’s very connected and very supportive. Everybody knows about the challenges but people come together to address major concerns… Everybody knows everybody and somebody is connected to somebody else.”
San Joaquin County Family Justice Center, Project Director
Suzanne Schultz’s passion for public service was passed down from her mother, Vi Yip. Suzanne works in the same building her mother worked in for 40 years. “My mother watched the current courthouse be built and completed in 1964, the year I was born. Here I am, the next generation of public servant, working in that same building and I’m watching the next courthouse be built.” Suzanne, 51, says.
Serving as project director of the Family Justice Center, Suzanne and her colleagues are working to create a one-stop-shop for abuse victims—including sufferers of domestic violence child abuse, sexual assault, elder abuse, and human trafficking. The vision is to bring the outstanding service providers of San Joaquin County together under one roof. When victims of trauma decide they can take no more, they will only need to go to a single location for wrap-around services. The ultimate goal is to break the cycle of generational abuse.
For years Suzanne’s husband Chuck was a homicide prosecutor. “Some of his cases were domestic violence homicide cases,” she says. Due to limited space in his office, Chuck would bring files and crime photos home to review. “I remember looking at one particular case…and thinking, she’s just an average girl…who fell in love with a bad boy,” Suzanne recalls. That worst-case scenario—the one she saw laid out on her living room floor —helped Suzanne recognize the true danger as she interviewed abuse victims later in her career as Family Crimes Coordinator. “You should never end up on an autopsy table because you picked the wrong person.”
So many times Suzanne has seen victims recant their statements due to fear. She hopes that a one-stop shop FJC will allow victims to get the help and support they need, and ultimately follow through with the decision to leave.
Suzanne has served as a Commissioner on the Lodi Senior Citizen Commission as well as the AseraCare Foundation Board, a local hospice organization.
Suzanne enjoys providing outreach to the community in the areas of dating violence, elder abuse, and human trafficking prevention. Recently, she has taken up painting and enjoys the experience of creating something beautiful. She says, “I find painting to be very therapeutic, and the completing of something in 2 hours is euphoric!”
Suzanne has been honored to have previously received the Susan B. Anthony Award in 2009 from the Commission on the Status of Women and the 2013 Woman of Distinction Award from University of the Pacific.
What advice would you give to an abuse victim?
“Recognize your value as a human being. Don’t let fear, in any form, take such control of your life that you devalue yourself. Be kind to yourself.”
Mary Graham Children’s Foundation, Executive Director
Amber Saunders, 34, found her passion in high school while she participated in an after-school Junior ROTC Care program that focused on community outreach. The leader of her group was a foster youth. “At the time I decided I wanted to advocate for children,” she says.
At the Mary Graham Children’s Foundation, Amber does just that. The nonprofit, which is focused on filling care gaps for foster youth in the community, works to create better outcomes for children with rough roots, and ensure they never feel alone.
A Career Switch
After receiving her bachelor’s in child development from California State University, Stanislaus and a law degree from Laurence Drivon School of Law in Stockton, Amber began working with an attorney, but wasn’t happy. So, when an executive director position opened up at Mary Graham, she jumped at the opportunity. “I poured wine as a volunteer [in college] and now I’m actually running the foundation, which is amazing,” she says.
A 24/7 Position
When Amber isn’t in the office, she’s still on call. The main line is forwarded to her cell phone so she can help youth any time, day or night. “We want them to know that somebody does care about them,” she says. “They’re victims, not criminals.”
This round-the-clock care is especially important for foster youth who have been pulled from their homes by police officers because if they are in trouble or experiencing issues with a roommate, they may not trust the police. This way Amber can lend an ear and intervene how best fit, as well as schedule a time to really sit down and counsel.
Amber’s grandparents played a significant role in her career path, being advocates for youth themselves. “When they were involved in activities… I was always included in it so it showed me what the community really needs,” she says. “You can’t expect everybody else to do it, you have to step up and do it yourself.”
And while their efforts cover more than just youth services, Amber’s grandparents instilled very important values into her about kids. Children, after all, are our future.
In addition to her fulltime job, where Amber admits—as the only main employee—her role is all-inclusive; she is also a sentinel for the Stockton Police, serves on the
Family Justice Center planning committee, and volunteers for the United Way.
Does your law degree still come in handy?
“Yes and no. I think the biggest part is it taught me how to research anything I want to know.”
JobRedi Foundation Grant Manager
As the Grant Manager for the JobRedi Foundation, Frances Richardson, 35, serves youth from both San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties by sharing opportunities for education and career advancement. But that isn’t the only way she impacts local youth. While working with the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce, Frances was introduced to Child Abuse Prevention Council (CAPC), an organization that changed her life.
It started with a trip to The Lisa Project, a multi-sensory exhibit in Stockton where attendees experience the real world of child abuse through audio narration. “It made me decide to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA),” Frances says. “It got to my heart.” As a CASA, “you become the voice of the child in court,” she explains. While she is involved in many efforts within her community—the Business Education Alliance, Little Free Library Stockton, University of the Pacific Beyond Our Gates Community Council, and the Positive Youth Justice Initiative, to name a few—the majority of her time is dedicated to helping foster youth.
With high heels and high hopes, Frances along with some friends started the Women Walking in Purpose nonprofit together where she serves as both the vice president and director of operations. Through annual fundraisers, most notably the Princess Tea Party (second annual scheduled for June), the non-profit raises money to help foster youth. Community members can buy tickets to attend the tea party that will later fund a second similar event for foster youth. Disney princesses (members in costume) serve tea and there are other fun activities like sing alongs and face painting. “It was the best experience I ever had,” Frances gushes. “All the kids were so excited and so happy.”
Money raised is donated to CASA, the Child Abuse Prevention Council (of which Frances is the bylaws chair), and other nonprofits that benefit foster youth.
Frances and her sister launched a line called Mommy & Me Clothing that sells matching outfits for families, pets, and even dolls. “The reason we wanted to do that was to promote relationships with mothers and children,” she explains. Part of the proceeds will be donated to pregnancy crisis centers for ultrasound machines to ensure all women in California can receive free sonogram.
What is one reason you’ve decided to focus on foster youth?
“Every child deserves a hero, but a foster child deserves a superhero! No child should ever feel alone, abandoned, neglected, or abused and I want to do my part to improve that.”
Stockton is Magnificent, President
When Forbes Magazine published its 2011 list of America’s Most Miserable Cities, Stockton ranked number one. Denise Jefferson, 61, along with other residents, just didn’t agree. They didn’t want the ranking to tarnish their beloved city’s outward appearance to the rest of the U.S., or—more importantly—internal feelings. In response, the Stockton is Magnificent event (in its fifth year) was born and has morphed into a nonprofit organization with Denise at the helm. She keeps a hand in all of the organization’s efforts, which include supporting the arts, reaching local youth, and providing support to low-income communities. “We need to improve our image to our own residents first,” Denise says. “How can we expect the outside to see us as great if the inside doesn’t see us that way?”
The Youth Factor
While working with Worknet, a program that finds summer jobs for local, at-risk high schoolers, Denise met each day with six teenagers on local cleanup projects spanning six weeks. During an interview with National Public Radio (NPR), the disconnect between Stockton’s youth and its history was brought up. The group of six admitted they had never been to City Hall, thought the Stockton Port was simply a baseball team, and had never visited the Haggin Museum.
“I think it needs to start with the kids,” Jefferson says. “And that’s why we have our outreach to the elementary schools,”—a program designed to teach Stockton history to kids in the community. As part of that lesson, Jefferson pays special attention to the famous faces that have come out of Stockton—like Jose M. Hernandez (astronaut) and Alex Spanos (businessman). “These kids need to know that they can have the dream of becoming someone important in the world.”
Gearing Up for Good
After undergoing a lengthy round of chemo almost two years ago, the Stockton native aims to become even move active. “I try to be involved in as many organizations as I can,” she says. In the past, she’s served on the Tidewater Art Gallery (now Art Expressions) Board of Directors, acted as director of the Miracle Mile Improvement District, and held the Development Director title for United Cerebral Palsy and Child Abuse Prevention Council. So, what’s next? Working on the Stockton revitalization efforts and Save the Delta for starters. “I have to do it slowly,” she admits. “I’m getting back up to speed.”
How does the annual event support Stockton revitalization?
“Pretty much we provide a free booth space for any business that is offering a positive service for the community… We try to support any of the organizations in the community that are fighting to make Stockton a better place… It’s pretty all encompassing.”
Community Partnership for Families of San Joaquin County, Development Director
In 2011, Robina Ashgar, the Executive Director of CPFSJ, offered Meredith Baker, 27, an internship. “She told me to ‘go find what is missing’” Meredith remembers.
“I researched, talked to every person from the city-county-state level and I discovered that what SJC was really lacking was a vehicle to create positive change in at-risk historically disadvantaged youth,” she says. So with funding from Sierra Health Foundation for the Positive Youth Justice Initiative, the CPFSJ youth team got started.
Meredith helped establish youth programming services at CPFSJ that address the root causes of violence and generational poverty while giving purpose to disadvantaged youth, but she and her team strive to help kids by helping their families, as well. “Kids don’t grow in incubators. They go home, or to a friend’s house, or to the street. We can’t help them without helping and addressing the needs of their family.” To achieve this, in her roll as Development Director, Meredith is focused on policy work, revitalizing neighborhoods and working toward violence prevention.
Meredith and her husband are both sixth generation residents of SJC (my husband is 6th generation Sacramento County—but farming family), and aside from college, she’s never left. Meredith credits her family with pushing her to think about change and the ways she can make an impact in her own backyard. “I grew up being actively challenged by my family to think about solutions and to go beyond talking to implementing real transformative change,” she says.
Together with her mother Sandy Huber and Grupe Commercial Company, Meredith is helping create the University Park World Rose Peace Garden, the ninth “World Rose Peace Garden” in the world—a free, public garden—in Stockton. The theme, “Peace Through Non Violence,” is a mission Meredith holds near and dear, and one that is echoed in her work at CPFSJ. This specific project merges many of Meredith’s passions from family, farming, and water to community beautification and early childhood literacy (the latter of which comes from a partnership with area schools to incorporate International Poetry of Peace words into the garden).
The grand opening will take place May 26, after more than 220 roses are planted.
Her Newest Venture
Meredith was recently invited to join the American Leadership Forum, a non-profit organization that joins established community leaders for public good, and will begin her newest journey in June. As an avid runner, she also hopes to start a fundraising run for CPFSJ.
What is some advice that has stuck with you?
“My grandfather once told me, when I thought I wanted to be an international journalist, ‘Before you change the world, change your country, before you help your country help your state, before you help your state help your city, before you help your city, help your community and most importantly before you help anyone or do anything help your family and your self.’”