Kevin Valine

Foundation investing $1.5 million in Stanislaus’ emerging leaders

The leaders of the Stanislaus Youth Soccer League – which serves hundreds of poor Latino children – wanted their own soccer complex for years so the league could stop scrambling every season to find a place to play and the money to pay for it. But the league did not have the resources or connections to achieve that.

Enter Homero Mejia with Congregations Building Communities. He introduced league leaders to Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow, who sits on the governing board of the 500-acre Tuolumne River Regional Park, and to former Modesto Councilman Brad Hawn, who is board president of Modesto Neighborhoods Inc.

Those connections helped the league find a home. In July, a ground was broken for a 14-acre soccer complex on Tuolumne River Regional Park land in west Modesto. The facility is being built by the league’s parents with help from the city and the community. The complex is expected to open this spring with two of its six fields. The parents will maintain the complex.

This success story is similar to the type of leadership and networking skills the James Irvine Foundation is bringing to Stanislaus County.

The foundation is spending $1.5 million over the next four years to develop the skills of roughly 60 “emerging leaders” throughout the county. They will be given the tools to find solutions to some of the county’s most vexing problems, including poverty and low educational attainment. They also will be taught how to network with people and organizations outside their comfort zones.

“I think it’s great,” said Mejia, who is a member of the first cohort – or class – in the foundation’s New Leadership Network Stanislaus, which brings together leaders from all segments of the community. The members of the first cohort come from nonprofits, government, education and business. There will be four cohorts in all, with the training taking six months for each. The cohorts will then work together for the rest of their training.

The James Irvine Foundation is picking up all the costs, which include partnering with the Stanislaus Community Foundation and paying for bringing in world-class facilitators, and having coaches work with participants, according to Heather McLeod Grant, the lead facilitator in this effort and one of the founders of Open Impact, a strategic advisory firm.

Members of the first cohort recently spent three days together in Twain Harte in September as part of the training. They also will spend three days in the Bay Area to visit Stanford University and learn about similar efforts in San Jose before a final three-day session in Stanislaus County.

The foundation undertook New Leadership Network training in Fresno in 2013. “We have a long-term, vested interest in the San Joaquin Valley,” said Jessica Kaczmarek, one of the foundation’s senior program officers.

Mejia said the soccer complex – which is not associated with the foundation – is a relatively straightforward project, but he said other problems facing the community are not and it can be difficult to reach consensus and that’s why the New Leadership Network is needed. He likes that the training includes working with people he ordinarily would not encounter because they are from another sector of the community.

“That’s pretty cool to me,” Mejia said.

That’s also kind of what Hawn is doing. He agreed to help the league only if some of its leaders went with him to meet with government officials, approach businesses about making donations and work with him on the other tasks for the soccer complex.

“He’s showing us the ropes,” said Teresa Inocencio, a sixth-grade teacher at James Marshall Elementary School and one of the founders and coaches of the 18-year-old soccer league. She said Hawn’s offer appealed to her and other league members. “We are not ‘give us, give us, give us,’ people,” she said. Inocencio added she will pass on to others the skills she is learning from Hawn.

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316

Want To Know More?

Visit the Stanislaus Community Foundation’s website at to learn more about the James Irvine Foundation’s New Leadership Foundation.