San Diego Giving Stories

San Diego Grantmakers regularly publish a feature called San Diego Giving Stories. These profiles of local grantmakers offer a glimpse into the many ways institutional philanthropy is making a difference in the community. Even here in Virginia, separated by the width of the country, these stories are still touching and encouraging. It’s amazing how an individual’s story with its specificity and own quirks can bring the idea of philanthropy to life.

After the jump is latest San Diego Giving Story: The Kenneth A. Picerne Foundation.

Senior Artists Give Back: A Win-Win Situation

At age 15, guitar and bass player Johnny “V” Vernazza fronted his first band–and went on to play with Steve Miller, Chuck Berry, and other music legends, scoring a #3 hit song with the Elvin Bishop band in the 1970s. Now, Johnny wants to give back. As a musician supported by the Kenneth A. Picerne Foundation’s Artist Outreach Project, Johnny “V” taught guitar to Marines and their families at Camp Pendleton. He is just one of many local artists aged 55 and older with a wealth of talent to contribute to our communities. Plus, like all seniors, he knows that he too benefits from civic engagement.

However, while many artists have the desire to give back, they don’t often have the resources. At the same time, local organizations serving people in need are struggling to keep the lights on. Because arts programming is often a low priority, the Kenneth A. Picerne Foundation developed a way to engage senior artists like Johnny to provide meaningful services to people who otherwise could not access the arts. It’s a win-win situation.

Diverse Projects

Since the project began in 2007, the foundation has given 52 grants enabling artists to serve over 4,500 people through 64 nonprofit organizations in North San Diego and Orange Counties. Artists of all kinds design their own year-long programs to benefit a variety of populations. Examples include Salvador Barajas’ work designing murals with kids and parents in Logan Heights, painter Kathleen McVey providing “art-on-wheels” to the homebound elderly in Encinitas, and Grace Songolo, who created a visual art, writing, and photography project at a shelter for families impacted by domestic violence. Today, 30% of artist grantees are minority and bilingual.

Ripple Effects

The Picerne Foundation helps senior artists translate their passion and commitment into programs that provide real community benefits, and to develop plans for sustaining the programs after the grant period. Picerne is also seeking to replicate this program with partners in other cities across America.

The foundation has been pleased to see how many people being served are paying it forward by helping others. Lucie Lukens developed a knitting program at the Vista Senior Center whose members now knit caps and blankets for people in local hospitals. Sue Diaz led a writing workshop at the San Diego Vet Center and then created a website called The Warriors Wall that enables veterans from all over the country to connect with each other.

What Does This Mean About Philanthropy?

The Artist Outreach Project illustrates how innovative grantmakers can create opportunities. Victor Nelson, executive director of the Kenneth A. Picerne Foundation, says that it is “a creative and relatively inexpensive way to benefit multiple groups all at the same time: senior artists find fulfillment in giving back, the people being served wouldn’t otherwise experience the arts, and nonprofits can provide quality artistic experiences without incurring extra costs. The community also benefits, as the artists have volunteered over 12,000 hours.”


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