It can be the simplest of things which are often taken for granted. A trip to the beach, a desk for homework, a pair of shoes or a bed to sleep in; all things most are able to enjoy, yet some are not as fortunate.
A vivid reminder of this, by way of an endowment, was recently experienced by Oakdale Center for Human Services Program Director Tamberly Stone and her staff as recipients of a $55,000 grant via the Francis Noz Fund.
“It was placed in Sacramento, but it is very specific. It is for underserved children in Oakdale,” Stone said of being contacted by Stanislaus Community Foundation regarding the funds. “It has to be Oakdale.”
Stone additionally shared that the center had benefited from the grant several years ago, as Sacramento Regional Community Foundation awarded it to Stanislaus Community Foundation, which in turn gave it to Oakdale CHS.
“What they realized was our county foundation has a lot more of a pulse on what’s happening in Oakdale than they do,” she said of the partnering Foundations.
As a result, Christmas came a little early for clients of CHS, as well as friends or family they might know who could also benefit from the grants. Stone shared she and her staff looked for the best way to make an impact on as many local families as possible, with the focus being on their children. In so doing $50,000 of the grant amount was awarded to 100 families through distribution of a hundred $500 Visa Gift Cards, the remaining $5,000 used for administrative costs.
“We didn’t just want to help a hundred families we knew. We wanted to touch every corner of Oakdale,” Stone shared, “because the people that are connected to us aren’t just the people who have needs. They have needs, yes. But they’re connected; they know how to get their needs met. These other people aren’t.”
Stone and her crew decided to choose 20 clients they were already serving and ask them to refer someone they knew to Oakdale CHS without disclosing ‘why.’
“Every person we have a gift card to, we asked them to give us another person, and then we asked them to give us another person. And it just kind of went,” she said.
The requirements for gift card recipients were pretty simple. The money was to be spent in a manner which would benefit their children. Receipts were not required. Instead the CHS team requested they tell them how they thought they would spend the money. They were additionally asked to follow up with a phone call on how the money was spent and how it made them feel.
“They want to know that we trust them,” Stone said. “Totally honor system. It was by far the coolest thing we’ve ever done.”
And learning how the funds were spent was evidence that the honor system worked.
“How the money was used is just phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal,” Stone said, reading from a list which included: a trip to Oakland to pick up new hearing aids for one’s child, gas to cars, diapers, shoes, first time trips to the beach.
“Every family has a story. Every single family was touched by the generosity of Francis Noz and the impact he had on their lives, by providing this grant for their children,” Stone noted, emotion filling her voice.
The generosity of the endowment left by Francis Noz prompted Stone to try and find additional information about the Oakdale resident, yet she came up empty. Stone shared the outcome was so impactful, she felt it important for his family to know how his generosity lives on.
Stone further shared, five families took their children to the beach. For each family it was the first time their children had put their feet in the sand.
A total of 243 children were served with the grant money, with the average age being eight-and-a-half years old.
“When we shared with dad about the gift card, he was overwhelmed,” Stone recounted of a recipient who would have had to wait to buy his son new shoes which fit, as he had to pay rent first. “When he came to pick up the card he told us how happy he was that his son wouldn’t have to wait two weeks for new shoes. He also shared it was his son’s birthday next week. Dad cried and told us he planned to use the money wisely.”
That father not only bought his son pair of shoes, but a future pair as well and took his son to John’s Incredible Pizza for the first time to celebrate his birthday.
“These are like really amazing things,” Stone said, after sharing messages of gratitude by several recipients. “Most of the people have never taken their kids to the zoo or never been able to go to the beach and this allowed them extra gas money and what not to take them to do that. They just don’t have extra. It allowed them to do something they’d never be able to do.”
It was a great way to jumpstart the season of giving.
“All of it was so amazing. I mean it was amazing, heartbreaking in a way, because what a gift $500 was and how far it went for these families,” Stone said. “It was such a domino effect of kindness and goodness and I love that.”