Chris’s essay in the Mercury News…

In case you missed it (or want to read it again, like the way some of us watch The Breakfast Club over and over), this was published in the Mercury News on March 22:

As you may know, the President’s first budget draft eliminates funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, and for the Corporation for National Service. His first take on a health care bill – the one designed to replace the Affordable Care Act – slashes Medi-Cal expansion and would leave millions without coverage.

I feel strongly about this. See, not long ago I chaired the board at San Jose Jazz, and today I work closely with Silicon Valley Creates. I know well the good they do, and what will be lost if they go away.

Longer ago I ran City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley, the premiere AmeriCorps program in the South Bay. I know well the good it does. I also know what will be lost if it goes away.

And for thirteen years I’ve run the foundation at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. I’ve gotten my health care at SCVMC that whole time…just like thousands of individuals and families who need primary care or the unique, specialty care our public hospital provides. One in four residents of Santa Clara County have recently used or rely on SCVMC, just like me.

Yes, we very well know the good it does.

You of course remember the “ice bucket challenge” of 2014, a clever idea that went viral and raised tons of well-deserved money for ALS research. Dump ice on your head, film it, post it, and donate to ALS…fun! More than fun in fact: The ice bucket challenge introduced a whole new group of people to the idea that giving to a cause is helpful and even feels good and makes you happy. Again, fun!

Well I think it’s high time for a less-fun, but equally important idea to go viral: Donate now to the nonprofits you love who are under attack. Not everyone is comfortable writing to congress or marching in the streets (which is still vital), but donating to the charities that will be impacted by these proposed cuts is another great way to channel your anger toward something positive.

You ARE angry, aren’t you? This isn’t even political, really: You don’t need to be a liberal or democrat to appreciate jazz, or a museum or the ballet. I served on San Jose Jazz’s board with conservatives and progressives alike. Through City Year, I met Bill Clinton and John McCain and Carly Fiorina, all of whom appreciated the ideals of national service.

And I’ve met Republicans and Democrats whose lives were saved by our county’s trauma team.

I can’t guess about San Jose Jazz or City Year, but here’s something certain: SCVMC isn’t going anywhere. Your public hospital has been here since 1876 and has weathered all kinds of storms. Its leaders and doctors and nurses are a brilliant team, and our county leadership is determined and resolved. This new storm, however, will bring challenges. And simply put, it makes me angry.

Now is absolutely the time for a new wave of viral philanthropy. If you’re angry about any effort to stop federal funding for arts programs that make our communities vibrant and exciting, donate to your local arts council. If you’re steamed about destroying the Corporation for National Service and the democracy it builds in our nation’s young people, give to your local favorite AmeriCorps program.

And if you’re upset about low-income families losing coverage while the wealthy see a reduction in cost, or about the very idea that some deserve quality health care while others perhaps don’t…well, there’s a public hospital foundation that could really use your help.


You don’t even need to dump ice on your head.

Great Highway event raised 100k+ for Neonatal ICU

The Redwood City-based event center The Great Highway hosted their annual Lobster Feed on February 4th with one thing on their mind – babies! Founder Rozalyn Mendence toured VMC in early 2016 and was inspired by the life-saving work of VMC staff of the Neonatal ICU (NICU). As she learned, the VMC Foundation was actively fundraising to replace the Giraffe Bed isolettes that house the newborns during their first weeks of life in the NICU. The machines simulate the safety and conditions of a mother’s womb and help VMC staff save lives. Roz committed to raising $40,000 at her annual fundraiser, almost double what they raised last year, enough to buy a single Giraffe Bed unit.

With her partner Gary Pollack, Roz got to work and organized the most successful Lobster Feed in her company’s history. Over $100,000 was pledged! Which means we aren’t just buying ONE giraffe bed, we’re buying TWO! The event was attended by over 150 of their friends and colleagues and was truly memorable. From giant boats of lobsters to pristine classic cars, a signature drink (the “Oh Baby”) and giraffe themed decorations, this event was eye catching, fun and inspiring. Thank you The Great Highway for a night we will never forget.

The State of the County 2017

Last night the President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Dave Cortese gave his State of the County Address to a standing-room-only crowd. He spoke for sixty minutes, far longer than his previous SOC address.

…because in 2017, I think you’d agree, there’s more to discuss.

President Dave Cortese (second from  left) with a crew of us who fought for Measure A last year: Ben Field, Betty Duong, Tom Steyer, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, me, Supervisor Cindy Chavez and Derecka Mehrens. 

A reminder: The County owns and operates Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and the Health & Hospital System of which it is part–the busiest healthcare deliverer in Silicon Valley and making up roughly half of the 19,000 employees of Santa Clara County (not including some 25,000 home care workers, according to President Cortese, whom he also praised).

But no matter where in the County one works, Dave’s message resonates and in my view, informs how we must think and act: 2017, Dave proclaimed, will be the Year of Compassion.

I was sitting in a section of the Board Chambers last night reserved for we who helped pass Measure A, the County’s historic supportive housing bond. Along with my colleagues Kevin Zwick and Derecka Mehrens, we applauded throughout Cortese’s speech and took pride every time he referenced the bond measure to upend the housing crisis. And the reason we did, he reiterated again and again, was that ours is a compassionate community.

At times he openly defied recent federal threats to our region’s marginalized and underserved, referencing the recent County lawsuit to defend sanctuary policies. It says a lot about our County that this was the strongest applause line of the night: All the work we’ve done, all the people we’ve helped, all the distance we’ve come… We are not going to turn back and abrogate our responsibilities now.

His message of dogged determination and the need for deliberate compassion certainly resonated with me. See what you think; here is Dave Cortese’s State of the County Address (and it’s been edited somewhat; don’t be afraid). Read it and let me know what speaks to you.

Our new Information Kiosk (yes, it really is a big deal…)

Me, my hat (it was cold), Kim Lopez and two excellent volunteers showing the way.

Santa Clara Valley Medical Center just got a little easier to visit, and a little more welcoming!

We’re so proud of our new information kiosk, purchased through generous donations from VMC Foundation supporters. It’s sturdy, wired for electricity, and expertly constructed. It’s even kinda cute; you can’t see in the photo, but it has a tiny Spanish tiled roof.  I was so thrilled when it arrived last week, and was curious to learn how much of a difference it would make.

So, to find out, I spent time there today volunteering. Wow—what an education I got!

Most hospital campuses are huge and sprawling, and ours is bigger than most…and let’s face it: Most of our visitors and patients would rather be somewhere else. They arrived stressed, sick, confused, emotional—and then suddenly have to decide which building is their destination. Signage can be missed, but what cannot be is a friendly face eager to help. Our volunteers are amazing, speak many languages, and now have a station where they can provide a comforting word, a map, and the encouragement of “You’re in the right place; it’s just there, through those doors.”

In the time I spent with our volunteers today, I watched and helped them direct an elderly couple to the Sobrato Cancer Center. A frightened woman was shown our urology clinic. A man, obviously not feeling well, got to the Express Care center with no trouble. Absent our kiosk and the team inside, I’m convinced their experiences would have been less positive. I mean, it’s hard finding your way around any complex set of buildings (remember your first day of middle school)…and when you’re under the weather, it’s much harder.

That’s why, I’m convinced, that another frequent request is “Can you help me find my car?” When parking in a 5-story garage, and your mind is on a loved one who is hospitalized…well, you get the picture. We’ve all done it, and nothing takes the edge off like having someone there to help you.

This is just one more way that your public hospital is making the experience better for everyone…and we at the VMC Foundation are so pleased to have helped make this possible. If you are a donor, THANK YOU, because YOU helped make this tiny bit of new real estate a reality. And as small as it is, it’s already making a BIG difference every hour, every day.

My final interaction before I left the kiosk was a man who approached and said “This is where I get information?” I told him it was.

“Great. What’s the capital of South Dakota?”

Support the VMC Foundation on Giving Tuesday

November 29th is Giving Tuesday, a national day of selfless generosity around the annual shopping and spending season – and we’re asking for your support.

For today only – all donations we receive, up to $5,000, will be matched dollar-for-dollar by a very generous donor. Click here to donate.


The kindhearted donor who offered this match is Judy Cosgrove, the VMC Foundation’s former Major Gifts Officer. Most recently, Judy served as a rockstar member of our Board of Directors. Judy is a dedicated and tireless advocate for Valley Medical Center.

Please take a moment to show your support for the life-saving care provided by Valley Medical Center, home to San Jose’s only Level 1 Trauma Center. This is a service any of us could rely on in case of a serious accident, regardless of where you typically receive your healthcare.

Giving Tuesday is a great way to balance the consumerism marked by Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the rest of the holiday season. Please join us by making a gift to the VMC Foundation today, and have it doubled. Click here to make a secure donation.

Sobrato Pavilion signage unveiled as new VMC hospital wing nears completion

John A. and Sue Sobrato pose with SCVMC CEO Paul Lorenz and COO Benita McClarin

John A. and Sue Sobrato pose with SCVMC CEO Paul Lorenz (right) and COO Benita McClarin at the Sobrato Pavilion signage unveiling on November 22, 2016.

The sign read “Sobrato Pavilion.”  But the message was “progress.”

Eight years after the voters of Santa Clara County overwhelming approved the construction of a new, earthquake-safe hospital wing at VMC, the building is finally taking shape.  And now, it has formally been dedicated for one of the valley’s best known and beloved philanthropists.

In 2012, John and Sue Sobrato made a then record-breaking gift to the VMC Foundation to support construction of the new facility.  The $5 million donation was matched by additional contributions from the community, providing needed resources to help outfit the building with the best equipment, technology and patient-friendly amenities.

A crowd of 100, including Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and Supervisor Mike Wasserman, join the Sobrato family for a special event to formally unveil the “Sobrato Pavilion” signage on the exterior of the building.

“It’s a great day for VMC, and we would not be here without the generosity and support of the Sobrato family,” said VMC Foundation CEO Chris Wilder.

The 370,000 square foot facility will house a variety of services, including VMCs renowned physical rehabilitation center for patients with major spinal cord and brain injuries.  Just as important, it will provide extra security in the event of a major earthquake.

Construction is set to be complete by summer 2017 and open to patients later that year.  For the staff and patients at SCVMC, it can not come soon enough, making this small milestone a welcome bit of news.

For more information about the Sobrato Pavilion, click here, and check out the pictures from the November 22 event below.


Sobrato Pavilion Signage Unveiling

A great victory…and the future it informs.

yes-on-aThere is an adage that goes “success has a thousand parents; failure is an orphan”. This, obviously, speaks to people and organizations who seek credit for a good thing happening. Sometimes that’s unjustified and unfair.

But what about when a great success really does come about because so many stood up and stepped up? That’s powerful and profound, and that’s exactly what happened in Santa Clara County this summer and fall…and the victory came together the night of November 8, 2016, when Measure A was approved by the voters.

…not that we knew it at the time.

We needed 66.67% to win, and it took nearly two weeks to certify that we won with 67.67%. Obviously, we won by a very, VERY narrow margin of a single percentage point.

A reminder, in case you’re late to this party: Measure A provides $950,000,000 to build supportive housing, low-income housing and to help first-time home-buyers.  The lion’s share, paid for with a property tax increase, will kick Silicon Valley’s homelessness crisis to the curb. That crisis is arguably the worst in the nation, and county voters demonstrated on Election Day that they have heart, they want to help, and they embrace the common good. Considering the results at the top of the ticket, this victory and the compassion it reveals is extremely important.

What’s also electrifying is the number of non-profit organizations that got involved, many for the first time. To do that, their leadership needed to confront and reject a myth that 501c3 tax-exempt charities cannot “do politics”. I’ve written about this myth before, and this summer and fall after jumping in head-first to this effort, I worked to educate and urge my colleagues in the “public benefit sector” that contributing time, talent and treasure to Measure A was

  • Perfectly legal;
  • A moral obligation;
  • A path to your own success, and;
  • The only way we were going to win.

Let’s explore these four areas a little…and at the end, I’ll explain why.

Perfectly Legal. That is, if you follow the rules. No big deal; we do it every day. It’s legal to drive your Corvette 70MPH. But only on some roads. If you’re sober. And you’re a licensed driver. Rules…we learn them and abide by them. In the case of charities and elections, California’s rules are quite clear: Your charity cannot officially support a candidate, but you can support a non-partisan initiative or measure so long as it relates to your mission (why homelessness and health care are related should be evident, but if it’s not don’t worry: It will be by the end of this essay).

The general rule is 20%–that is, a nonprofit charity can donate 20% of their annual budget to a ballot initiative in California, and spend right around that much staff time advocating. There are reporting requirements that get a little complex, but not nearly as complex as, say, your annual audit!  Again, it’s a matter of learning the rules and following them. If you’re lucky and can afford it, a nonprofit or election lawyer is smart to engage…or better yet, talk one into joining your board!

Here is a great place to start to learn the details of campaign/lobbying rules…and remember, rules change all the time, so don’t just rely on one source of information.

A Moral Obligation. Those who work for/run nonprofits do so to get rich and buy jet airplanes. Kidding! We are fiercely dedicated to the idea of reconfiguring parts of the world for the betterment of others. We love animals and want them safe. We detest prejudice and injustice. We want to slow climate change so it doesn’t destroy Florida.  Or, in the case of Measure A, we feel that everyone deserves a place to live and that homelessness is worth fighting.

None of that makes us saints or even unusual. People who run hotels and who sell falafel for a living also care about these things…if they didn’t, Measure A wouldn’t have passed. But here’s the difference: If you work for a homeless shelter or a food bank, you understand the issue WAY better than the average person. If you and your agency sit on the sidelines while the community discusses supportive housing, the issue and level of discourse is short-changed. Your voice is necessary. Your opinion piece in the newspaper is vital. Your agency’s money is a bit greener. Your endorsement counts…more than that of others. Not getting involved is simply not okay.

A Path to Your Own Success. Homelessness, for example, is sad and awful. That’s why people are compelled to help. Also, homelessness is expensive. I knew the number was big, having spent time with so many providers, but even I was shocked when I learned that Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (the hospital my agency supports) spent nine hundred million dollars over a four-year period providing care for people who are homeless. Add in other county (tax-payer provided) interventions like law enforcement and social services, and you’ll find we spend over five hundred million in just one year, not counting the program budgets of the dozens of nonprofits on the front lines.

And the real tragedy? People are, generally speaking, NOT getting better. How could they? Managing people’s chronic health conditions while they’re living in a creek bed? Helping people with mental health conditions while they’re living under a freeway overpass? What the ping pong balls do we expect? This is why the housing first model makes logical sense, and why so many nonprofits ultimately came aboard the Measure A Campaign: Working hard to serve people whose lives aren’t measurably improved by your service is soul-crushing—among people like doctors, nurses and social workers whose hearts and souls are huge.

Fundamentally, the heroes of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center—along with my colleagues who run nonprofits like HomeFirst, The Health Trust, Destination Home, Momentum for Mental Health, Catholic Charities…they care about people. When asked why a hospital foundation was all-in on a homelessness measure, I would often site those great agencies and say “I want their work to work better.”

The Only Way We’re Going to Win. Like it or not, campaigns are expensive. Cheap compared to the homelessness crisis, but still. We faced the longest ballot in California history, and local measures are way, way down near the bottom. To earn the attention and vote of enough Santa Clara County residents this year, we figured we’d need to raise a million and a half bucks. At least.

But here’s the problem, which is really the central message of this rambling treatise: Lots of nonprofits didn’t even know they could get involved! What an untapped resource (I reasoned), and opportunity to exceed those fundraising goals. By the time I jumped in, our badass County Supervisor Cindy Chavez had already convinced several charities to give big, and the VMC Foundation immediately endorsed and gave (gulp) $100,000. This was not funny-money; this was operational reserve. This was a risk.

cookieNow, we’d done that before and more than once, so I also saw that my obligation was to help educate other 501c3’s that they needed to ante up. Boy, did they ever! By November the Measure A Campaign had raised a whopping $2.3 million. There has never been a time in Silicon Valley where more nonprofits joined housing developers, wealthy progressives and other stakeholders to amass such a war chest. All that money was turned into direct mail to voters, radio, TV, YouTube, and (not making this up) 15,000 cookies given out on college campuses…anything really, to rise above the Clinton/Trump noise and Be Heard. We also hired seasoned campaign professionals – the best we could find.

The nonprofit community stepped up in other important ways. Many of us are members of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, and together, we convinced them to withdraw their initial opposition to Measure A. We wrote letters to editors, penned opinion pieces for every newspaper in the valley, and spoke at every community gathering we could find. Closer to November 8, we got on the phones and never stopped dialing. We pounded the pavement with literature. We went bananas on social media. If not bananas, then


Election Night, November 8, 2016. The shock of Donald Trump’s victory muted what would have otherwise been a great celebration: Measure A passed—by a hair. This is revealing on a number of fronts. First, we needed every agency, every donor, every dollar to win. Had any of our handful of six-figure contributors sat on the sidelines, we likely would have lost. And because giving means commitment, agencies that contributed were also there with volunteers walking and phoning. It took every one of them to get us across that goal line.

Second, this victory speaks to who we are in Silicon Valley. With civility and compassion in short supply nationally, we dig deep and find it here. We’ve done it before, many times, for similar reasons: If Washington won’t help us solve problems, we’ll solve them ourselves. For example, with the election of George W. Bush in 2000, Santa Clara County leaders realized no one was going to help us provide care to underserved kids. Thus, the Children’s Health Initiative was created by county officials, labor leaders and funders who responded to the problem and built an innovative solution to it. Years later, it would be replicated by most counties in the state. Years still later, Governor Brown made it the law of the land. As a result, every child in California has access to health coverage.

That’s a major triumph, right? That’s why my third and final point is that we must keep the band together. Pundits and newspapers described Measure A as “game-changing”, a “hail Mary pass”, “staggeringly ambitious” and “unprecedented.” Every nonprofit who joined the coalition should feel proud and electrified, because all of us, together, made it happen. I’ve already described how every ounce of energy and every dime donated was necessary to win, so now let’s ask the obvious question: What’s next?

Keeping a coalition together is never easy, but the “other” major event of November 8 reveals that we simply must. If Trump’s promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act is actuated, if persecution of specific religious groups is encouraged, if trickle-down economics widens evenangela further the economic canyon swallowing more and more in our community…well, you get it. We’ve got our work cut out for us.

So, even loosely, we nonprofits have to stay united to further the progressive policies on which we agree. We have become a multi-celled customizable action tank for addressing needs. As the greatest needs emerge, and as solutions are proposed, and to the degree those solutions require a massive coalition of idealistic leaders, we must be ready and be together. If you’ve read this far, you may very well be one of those idealistic leaders. We’ve proven we can do amazing things. You are awesome. We are awesome. Let’s meet for coffee soon. I’ll buy.

VMC and Ekso: Helping patients walk again!


STACIE BYARS taking steps forward in the Ekso robot

VMC is one of just 60 rehabilitation programs nationwide utilizing Ekso, a revolutionary exoskeleton robot, to help patients with brain and spinal cord injuries. With its motorized legs and backpack computer, Ekso gives hope to patients who fear they will never walk again.

This technology recently made a difference for Stacie Byars, a 52 year-old Seattle-based marketing consultant. While in Redwood City on business, Stacie suffered a stroke which left her paralyzed on her left side. She was brought to VMC for acute rehabilitation.

Stacie’s rehab team used Ekso early in her therapy program. Her physical therapist, Amy Millan, DPT, explains, “Ekso can help patients like Stacie walk earlier, gain confidence and develop muscle memory.” Amy adds, “Many patients like Stacie are afraid to take those first steps. In Ekso, the robot supports them and they learn about the movements of walking with confidence.”

Stacie shared, “The first time I used Ekso, it was rough. After that, there was a big leap forward. I felt powerful! It was definitely the beginning of my walking.”

The VMC Foundation has provided nearly $75,000 for Ekso upgrades and staff training. Read more about how charitable donations are being put to good use at VMC in our Fall 2016 Impact Report.