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Fund Targeting Latinos’ Needs Seeks Their Support

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A group of Ventura County philanthropists has launched a new Latino legacy fund that it hopes will be well-established by the turn of the century to meet the needs of the county’s growing Latino community.

Calling the new endowment “Destino 2000,” fund-raisers associated with the Ventura County Community Foundation have lined up $92,000 in contributions and pledges toward their goal of collecting $100,000 by the end of this year.

“I’m hoping that we can go beyond our expressed goal and get to $200,000,” said Daniel E. Villanueva, a Camarillo venture capitalist who is chairman of the Destino, or destiny, campaign.

Modeled after the foundation’s successful Women’s Legacy Fund, Destino 2000 hopes to lure more Latino professionals and business owners into the ranks of philanthropists and then dole out dollars to nonprofit groups working on social problems in the Latino community.

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If it evolves as envisioned, the endowment will bring together a racially diverse group to smooth the social wrinkles that pop up as Latinos make up an ever-larger share of the county’s population.

More than a quarter of Ventura County residents are now Latino, up from one-fifth of the population in 1980. And the upward trend continues, the fund’s sponsors said, suggesting a need for a unified effort before problems grow beyond reach, as they have in larger urban areas such as Los Angeles.

“In other communities, there has often been polarization as the population has changed,” said Kate McLean, president of the Ventura County Community Foundation.

“This fund is not an answer in and of itself,” she said. “It creates another platform to keep the dialogue going and bringing people together to solve emerging problems in the community.”

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Although the details have yet to be worked out, the founders of Destino 2000 hope to subsidize various efforts to improve literacy, health care and parenting, and curtail teen pregnancies, drug abuse and gang violence.

The fund-raisers plan to distribute $19,000 in grants next summer. The recipients will be designated by founding members of Destino 2000 and the directors of the Ventura County Community Foundation.

An individual or family can become a founding member by contributing $1,000. Corporations or businesses qualify with $2,500 or more.

“We don’t just want to extend a hand, we want to give a hand,” said Irma Lopez, who is a founding member with her husband, Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez.

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As government cuts social programs and corporate downsizing withers traditional giving, Irma Lopez said, successful Latinos and others are realizing they need to get more involved.

There is room for everybody, she said.

“People talk about our differences, but one thing we all have in common is that we want a better world for our children,” Lopez said.

“If we build upon that, we can make sure all children get a good education, that they get good jobs and keep them away from gangs and drugs,” she said. “We want to be able to feel our children are safe and make us feel safe too.”

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So far, Destino 2000 has attracted more than 35 founding members, including corporate sponsorships by Limoneira Co., Mission Produce, Proctor & Gamble Paper Products, Southern California Edison, Southern California Gas Co., GTE and Ventura County National Bank.

The fund-raisers have divided their prospects into three categories: businesses that market products in the Latino community, companies that rely heavily on Latino workers and Latino professionals.

The call for contributions struck a chord with many donors.

“We have a responsibility as Latino professionals to give back to the community,” said Ray Lopez, an Oxnard chiropractor who handed over the biggest charitable donation of his life.

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“I benefited by getting an education and now it is time to step up to the plate,” he said. “If we invest in the kids and the community, it is going to come back in droves, whether it is in Oxnard, or Ventura or Thousand Oaks.”

As an endowment, the initial donations will be held in perpetuity. Future grant money will come from the proceeds of the endowment’s investments.

Destino 2000 has plans for other charitable efforts too.

The campaign, for instance, will soon adopt a struggling elementary school that teaches poor children, said Elva Lima, a public affairs director for Destino 2000 founder GTE.

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“GTE is going to donate computers and printers to give that school a computer lab,” she said, adding that the school hasn’t been selected yet. She anticipates other contributors also will lend a hand to improve the quality of education.

Villanueva, the campaign’s chairman, said he is “absolutely determined” to make Destino 2000 a success.

Those are not idle words from the dynamic former professional football place-kicker who went on to make a fortune in the television industry, his friends say. With an estimated net worth of $50 million, he was listed by Hispanic Business magazine as the 11th richest Latino living in the United States.

“The reason I proposed the name Destino 2000 is that I wanted to have a sense of urgency,” Villanueva said. “We need to do it in the next year and by the year 2000 have it well-established and making a difference.

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“The problems in Ventura County are not so insurmountable that we cannot change the way we are doing things and work together toward solving problems,” Villanueva said. “But we need to get going.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

FYI

To donate or get more information on Destino 2000 or the Ventura County Community Foundation, call 988-0196.

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