The Inland Empire Community Foundation (IECF) celebrated Latino Heritage Month with the launch of the Cultivating Inland Empire Latino Opportunity (CIELO) Fund. One of eight signature funds IECF launched this year in celebration of its 80th anniversary, the fund had a goal of raising $80,000.
A launch party for the CIELO Fund took place Sept. 24 at The Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art & Culture of the Riverside Art Museum. At the event, IECF board member and CIELO Fund founding chair Jesse Melgar announced that the fund had met and exceeded their goal by raising $300,000 in the seed-funding stage thanks to generous support from the Weingart Foundation, Inland Empire Health Plan, Bank of America and UC Riverside, among dozens of others. The funds will support grants to be distributed in 2023.
The goals of the fund are to uplift and invest in Riverside and San Bernardino counties through growing a culture of philanthropy and investment in Latino-led organizations as well as programs and initiatives that support Latinos. As the son of a father who fled civil war in El Salvador and became a naturalized citizen, Melgar imagines more support and opportunities for families like his own.
Born in San Bernardino and raised in Riverside, Melgar became interested in government in high school, working on local campaigns, including a community college trustee race for Jose Medina, now Riverside’s Assemblyman. After high school, Melgar attended the University of California, Los Angeles, receiving multiple scholarships, including one from IECF, then known as The Community Foundation. He majored in political science as well as Chicano studies and later earned a master’s degree in public policy from the University of California, Riverside.
Since graduating, Melgar has served as communications director for the California Latino Legislative Caucus, the state senate and Alex Padilla who is now California’s first Latino United States senator. Melgar also served two and a half years as press secretary and communications director for Governor Gavin Newsom. Returning to the Inland Empire, Melgar wondered how he could use his experience, network and communication skills to create opportunities for the Latino community and joined the board of IECF.
According to Melgar, while almost 52% of the region’s population is Latino, the region historically has not seen the level of investment proportional to this population. He felt that the needs of this community would continue to grow and that there was a gap in the infrastructure of support to help frontline organizations meeting these needs. Helping underserved Latinos will help the entire community, Melgar said.
“Working with regional leaders, we decided to do something about it by launching an effort that would be intentional about both raising the dollars and investing resources throughout the community,” he said.
Melgar envisioned a fund created by Latinos for Latinos and began reaching out to Latino leadership in the community, building a committee that includes Helen Torres, Tomás D. Morales, Diana Z. Rodriguez, Elizabeth Romero, Silvia Paz, Luz Gallegos; Angel Rodriguez; Sergio Bohon; Marisa Valdez Yeager and Marco Robles.
The committee worked on raising funds while also partnering with the UC Riverside Center for Social Innovation to publish “Aqui Estamos: A Data Profile of the Inland Empire’s Latino Community.” The report examines the strengths and challenges of the Latino community and will provide guidance for the CIELO Fund’s grant making initiatives.
“It’s been so humbling and exciting to see the momentum, and it all goes back to our extraordinary leadership committee and the staff at IECF,” Melgar said. “We are on to something, and the community recognizes the need for grassroots philanthropic effort that centers and uplifts the Latino community.”
While Melgar is encouraged by the fund’s initial fundraising success, he noted that there is more to raise to have a greater impact. Those wishing to support the fund can find more information and give through the fund’s page on IECF’s website. Melgar also hopes the community will help spread the word to organizations of which they may not yet be aware when the call for grant applications goes out later this year.
“Donate whatever you can at any level because there is power in the number of people who give, not just in the amount,” Melgar said. “As the Latino community in the Inland Empire grows, so should investments in the frontline organizations providing critical resources and support to our families daily.”
For more information, visit iegives.org/cielofund.
Inland Empire Community Foundation works to strengthen Inland Southern California through philanthropy.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: CIELO Fund launches to invest in Latino-led and -serving organizations