Partnering with Wells Fargo to bring financial education to our families

The BASIC Fund's mission is to help families access schools that are the best match for their children. But in addition to providing scholarships to help bridge the gap for these families, we also provide access to important partners who provide support services to BASIC Fund families.  

On April 28, we partnered with a team of financial advisers from Wells Fargo.  The team, led by Joe Schock, facilitated an evening financial literacy seminars for the parents of St. James school in San Francisco. Sister Mary Susanna Vasquez, Principal at St. James, wrote to us the next day, "We were so pleased with the turnout, and with the ease of presenting in both Spanish and English! The parents were very happy to hear the information that was given." 

The team from Wells Fargo discussed a variety of topics relating to financial literacy and helped parents develop a plan for their own families.  The presentation began with instructions on how to evaluate their current state of financial health by creating a personal balance sheet.  It identified common pitfalls like overuse of credit, "keeping up with the Jones's", and spending cash instead of saving.  

The discussion then turned to goal setting.  Parents were asked to identify simple goals for one year and five years from today. The worksheets provided helped map out spending plans, and even helped create monthly budgets. 

At the conclusion of the seminar, the parents asked that St. James and The BASIC Fund consider working with the Wells Fargo team on a financial seminar targeted towards their middle school aged children, in order to start these students off on the right foot when it comes to financial literacy. 

"On behalf of the Wells Fargo team of volunteers, thanks for the opportunity to spend time with the St. James families. It was a rewarding experience for all!" Schock wrote to us in the week following the event. The BASIC Fund is incredibly grateful to the team from Wells Fargo for their time and dedication to helping this population gain better control of their financial well being. We look forward to working with Wells Fargo and facilitating more financial literacy seminars with parents and students at our schools this coming school year.

Posted on July 13, 2016 .

Why I Give: Investing in our Future

I grew up the son of a dentist and an elementary school teacher.  I never lacked for health, nutrition, education or shelter and was provided the opportunity to attend two of the best secondary and tertiary educational institutions in America.   However just one generation before me, my father’s family lacked access to all but the most pedestrian level of those essential building blocks.  Despite their circumstances, my grandparents’ minimum wages were able to secure a quality parochial K-12 education for my father, in no small part due to external financial support, in his case from the local archdiocese.  That education was sufficient to catapult him into the state university system and subsequently into dental school.  My brothers and I and our children have reaped the benefits of what my grandparents and father had sown.   Needless to say education, and in particular, access to education is very important to my family.

Ben visits St. John Catholic School in Glen Park

Ben visits St. John Catholic School in Glen Park

However, circumstances in America’s educational system have changed significantly over the past 70 years.  Nowadays two parents earning only minimum wages would be achieving a small feat to simply cover nutrition and shelter, let alone health and education.  Public schools’ ability to educate differs widely based mostly on their catchment’s property tax bases.  Local and regional religious institutions no longer have the resources they used to for primary education efforts.  Increasingly (and sadly), access to quality educational resources is largely determined by economic resources rather than raw abilities or work ethic.   To me, this is not a healthy trend for our country’s long-term future.

My colleague Byron Gill initially suggested I review the BASIC Fund as charity worth supporting.   Scanning over the content on its website, I was immediately predisposed to contributing to the BASIC Fund.   Speaking at length to Rachel Elginsmith further confirmed the BASIC Fund’s vision and its ability to execute.   But it was my tour of the St. John School in southern San Francisco which included a lively conversation with the principal Sister Shirley Garbaldi that really brought home the BASIC Fund’s proposition in a living, three-dimensional way.  I very gladly made a multi-year commitment to the Fund within seconds of finishing my tour.

I believe making quality K-8 education available to a group of bright, eager children who are striving to improve themselves is one of the best investments we can make as a society.   So I salute all of you who have made it possible for the BASIC Fund to undertake this critical function.   While I recognize that the BASIC Fund still has unsatisfied demand here in the Bay Area, I am hopeful that one day its model can be “exported” to other communities around the country.   In the meantime, I’ll do my best to support the BASIC Fund as best I can.

Ben De Somma

Posted on July 13, 2016 .

A Message from a New BASIC Fund Mom: Dedication and Sacrifice

Thank you so much BASIC Fund for helping support my two girls in their transition to private schooling. I feel this has helped them both in a major way. Kawai Nalani on the right will be attending private school in order to prevent her from making the wrong choices by hanging with the wrong crowd. She will be in a positive environment where bullying is not allowed and everything is monitored. Kamealoha Nohealani on the left will be able to gain more help with her academics as she is currently in a school where it is a 1:40 ratio. One teacher for 40 children is way too much and my daughter is falling behind. We are forever grateful for what you are able to help us financially.

Kawai (11) plans on becoming a singer, and is hoping to attend the Oakland Performing Arts School in the next 2 years. She is currently enrolled at the Academy of Hawaiian Arts to learn the art of hula. Her back up plan is to become a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines and travel the world!

Kamea (9) plans on making it to the Olympics. She is currently in track and field for Full Stride Track Club. She holds the 3rd in Region of the Western Conference for shot put. Her back up plan is to become a Veterinarian.

To be entirely honest, I can’t afford to have either of them in private school. But I am making the sacrifice financially to give them a better education and environment to be in while I am out working 70 plus hours to provide just a regular life for them (that alone Is hard). But with the talent these girls have I want them to be able to progress and have the most opportunity possible. I want them in a safe environment where they are getting the best education possible.

Times are different today from when we all went to school. Kids now have too much access to adult things, sites, media, etc. I know that they will be safer than in the public schooling and have more attention to help them in their struggling areas of education. I was a single mother of 3 kids, in college with 18 units and working 60- 70 hours on my own.  I never thought I would be putting any of my kids in private school because it is way too expensive, however worth the sacrifice. Sure some bills won’t get paid some times and I’ll have to play catch up in order to pay their tuition every month. With the scholarship you have helped me cut my monthly payment almost in half. I am forever grateful that your organization is helping me make this happen.

Thank you so much!

Lori Yamamoto 

Posted on July 12, 2016 .

Addressing educational inequality with scholarships, Byron Gill shares his social investment strategy

Growing up in the public school system without much money, I always thought of education as a great social equalizer that would give me as good a chance as anyone else to get ahead in life. Sadly, the statistics increasingly do not support that view. The economic mobility upon which America thrived as I was growing up is under threat. There is no way to address social and economic inequality without first addressing the issue of educational inequality. There are many equally virtuous ways to tackle this problem. I chose The BASIC Fund for its immediacy of delivery and for the effectiveness of its mechanism.

These schools were chosen by the families. There are any number of reasons that a family might choose a school, such as geography, pedagogy, philosophy or tuition. But each school was chosen as special for that family. Many of our scholarship recipients come from economically challenged neighborhoods with poor public education options and often from homes where both parents are working several jobs. For these kids, the small class sizes, the sense of structure, and the nurturing faculty make all the difference and that impression comes across powerfully at all the schools we have visited.

I especially enjoy sharing our experiences with The BASIC Fund with young families who are just beginning to shape their philanthropic profiles. These people often have young children themselves and are thinking about childhood development and education for the first time. This isn't an abstract investment; young philanthropists can see very tangible, specific results.

There is no doubt that the discussion about education is much broader and extraordinarily complex. But while we are working out policy issues, it is rewarding to know that in the meantime, we are making it possible for families to educate children who will hopefully join that debate and pay forward the opportunities given to them. My involvement with The BASIC Fund has been one of the most personally satisfying experiences I've had since moving to the Bay Area.

~ Byron Gill

Posted on April 6, 2016 .

The Zekarias Family

Our family faced several hardships in 2014, even with my wife working part-time and going to school part-time, life’s financial demands left us falling behind in our mortgage. I was left no option other than to deplete my entire 401K to get caught up with the mortgage, bills, and put a down payment on a much needed used minivan.

With your help my wife and I have been able to provide our children with a strong education foundation. My children have excelled greatly from the support that The BASIC Fund has provided over the years. My oldest son Isaiah has exceed all of our expectations. He has been skipped a grade and has gone on to achieve the Principal’s Citizenship Award for excellence in effort and conduct, and Academic Honors at his school Saint Rose. My daughter Layla has also thrived at Saint Rose, she strong academically and expressively artistic. She won the first prize drawing contest for the Sonoma County AG festival. We are now so happy that you have offered our youngest son Malachi the same opportunity, he started kindergarten this past fall.

Thank you so much for your support from our whole family.

Posted on March 22, 2016 .

Saint Raphael School, building a culture of excellence for all their students

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!”  St. Catherine of Siena

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Imagine the power of hearing such words, from Kindergarten on, in a school that encourages academic excellence for all students.  Since 1889, the Dominican Sisters of Saint Raphael School, provided children with a quality education that enabled those students to be future civic leaders in the local community. Today, with the help of the BASIC Fund, we can provide the power of such a transformative education to families that thought it could only be a dream for their children.

My name is Lydia Collins and I am the Principal of Saint Raphael School in San Rafael, California.  In my 13 years at Saint Raphael School I have seen the demographics of the school change.  With the help of the BASIC Fund, we can invite the new faces of San Rafael to be part of our rich tradition of educating leaders.

Marin County is one of the wealthiest counties in the country.  Ironically, there are also families who live below the poverty level.  We serve a diverse economic and ethnic population and believe that every child deserves academic excellence and the dream of making a difference in this world.  The BASIC Fund empowers our parents by providing a choice in their child’s education. With the financial assistance provided by the BASIC Fund, our families can choose Saint Raphael School and the unique opportunity to be part of our newly implemented Veritas program.

The Veritas vision helps students identify and develop the unique strengths that God has given them so that they can build self-confidence and pursue their highest level of academic success. Veritas is building a culture of excellence at school and at home.   As part of the program, Saint Raphael teachers explicitly teach and cultivate 21st century skills: Innovation, Adaptability, Critical Analysis, Cross-Cultural Communication, and Teamwork. We are seeing phenomenal results.  For example, transfer students in the lowest quartile in reading in third grade were brought to grade level by October, increasing their STAR reading score by 52% in that period.

We see parents stand in awe of their child giving a student council speech in front of the student body.  “I can’t believe that is my daughter,” cried one mother who long ago dreamed of attending Saint Raphael School herself. The BASIC Fund has taken the dreams of the parents and made them a reality for their children.

Saint Raphael School is grateful to the supporters of the BASIC Fund for empowering our children to dream big; to see themselves as excellent students and leaders who will “set the world on fire!” 

Lydia Collins

Principal, Saint Raphael School

Posted on March 16, 2016 .

First Republic Bank and James Herbert: Making a difference for the Bay Area

I have always believed that education is the single most important, potentially life-changing opportunity any person can have to improve his or her situation. All young people should have equal opportunity, regardless of their home life, to better themselves and to achieve their goals.

When Jim & June McCarthy and Jim Conn approached me in 1998 about becoming an initial Board member of their organization to provide scholarships to underserved families in the Bay Area, I knew this was an opportunity to truly make a difference.

In those early days, we housed The BASIC Fund for about a decade in the basement at First Republic Bank – it was, and still is, an extraordinary experience. The BASIC Fund is the single most focused, efficient, and productive non-profit that I’ve ever been associated with. I support the BASIC Fund unequivocally and without hesitation – it has been and continues to be life-changing for thousands of young people and their families.

Posted on February 16, 2016 .

Fatima: Well Prepared and Well Supported

Fatima Montano

St. Peter School (San Francisco)

St. Ignatius College Preparatory (Class of 2019)


I come from a family of humble beginnings. We don’t have much in material possessions, but we have more than we could ask for in love for one another. Everything we do, we do knowing that it benefits one another.

My brother has been such an enormous influence in my life. He attended Saint Ignatius as well, where he was able to maintain exceptional grades and take part in varsity soccer, and worked his way to becoming a current sophomore at Yale University. It’s through seeing what such a good person and student he is, that has motivated me in becoming the same.

The BASIC Fund is the reason why I am where I am today. My parents didn’t have much when they initially moved to California from Mexico. They didn’t know what jobs to get or which ones were even available to them, but they did know they wanted a fine, Catholic education for us. We did get that education with the assistance of The BASIC Fund.

St. Peter’s prepared me well for most of the academic challenges I have faced thus far. One very valuable lesson I learned at St. Peter’s that will always stick with me is to never back down from challenges or give up when things get hard, but instead face them head-on and work to overcome them.

It’s pretty overwhelming going from a school where the entirety of it equals the same as the freshmen class. However, the students are incredibly welcoming and the teachers always try to make themselves available to help me on whatever it is I need. I am looking forward to stepping out of my comfort zone a bit and exploring the diversity of the school through clubs and sports. The last three months have been incredible. I can’t wait to see what the next four years have to offer.

My favorite subject right now is World History. There’s something about understanding and viewing other cultures, learning from the mistakes of the past, and discussing ways to better our current society that I find very intriguing.

I hope to go to Stanford or UC Berkeley and study medicine. Honestly, I’m both afraid and excited to go on to college. It’s something that I have wanted for so long, but the fact that it’s all happening so soon leaves me speechless.

Posted on December 18, 2015 .

Local and Immediate: Supporting Education


After offering support to some more national efforts for charters and education reform, my brother and I started looking for opportunities to support education efforts in our own SF Bay Area.  In the late '90's, we were introduced to Jim and June (McCarthy) who had recently started such an effort. We immediately signed up behind them and Arthur (Rock).  We've been a strong supporter ever since.  

Giving money to education reform efforts that might one day take hold is important but takes many years to see results. Money we contribute this year to the BASIC Fund offers lower income parents in the Bay Area an opportunity to make a difference in their children's lives right now! 

When friends ask about our philanthropic efforts, The BASIC Fund is always at or near the top of the conversation. I explain it's a unique opportunity to do something local and with immediate impact in education.  The funds they contribute are leveraged: every dollar goes towards a child's superior education that they couldn't otherwise afford. The Board covers all administrative costs of a great team of professionals.  

~ Eric Schwartz, The Bern Schwartz Family Foundation

Posted on December 8, 2015 .