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Group Helps Lead Way in Latino Philanthropy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the Destino 2000 fund reaches its goal of a $400,000 endowment in the next few weeks, it will become a permanent source of grants for Ventura County charities that serve the Latino community.

The 5-year-old fund represents the successful coming together of the county’s Latino business and political leadership to promote philanthropy within and for their community.

But most significantly, Destino--a modest fund in the big picture of mainstream philanthropy--offers a model for establishing Latino-oriented funds.

Indeed, United Way-style Latino funds are few nationwide .

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Destino, the United Latino Fund in Los Angeles and the Hispanic Community Foundation in San Francisco are the only three in California that raise money to aid nonprofit organizations that perform general social work in Latino communities.

According to philanthropy experts, the three join just four other such Latino funds nationwide--compared, for example, to hundreds of women’s and thousands of Jewish funds.

Meanwhile, Destino’s successful endowment is leading the way in the Latino funds’ attempts to convert themselves into permanent organizations from ones that raise money and immediately dish it out.

In California, the Hispanic Community Foundation has an endowment of $200,000, while the United Latino Fund aims to establish one.

“It is not a stretch [to say] that [Destino] has developed something like a model of what might happen in other communities,” says Henry Ramos, principal in New York-based Mauer Kunst Consulting, who has studied the emerging Latino funds and has urged their nurturing by mainstream philanthropic institutions.

Some founders of Destino, sitting around a table in the offices of the Ventura County Community Foundation--which helped create and administers the fund--are particularly proud of the endowment.

“Money begets money,” says Hank Lacayo, 70, a former national figure in the union movement who retired to Ventura County. “Imagine what we could do with $1 million?”

Reaching the $400,000 goal a year early has given Destino loftier goals. That amount will guarantee that the fund grants at least $20,000 a year.

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So what ingredients made Destino successful?

It started with the Ventura County Community Foundation, where Danny Villanueva--a nationally prominent Latino businessman as head of Bastion Capital and former professional football player--was on the board.

When the community foundation acquired funding to launch two initiatives, Villanueva and others suggested a project targeting the region’s Latino business and political elite.

In 1996, their initiative, formally called Destino 2000: The Hispanic Legacy Fund, was born.

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At small house parties, Villanueva and other leaders, such as Marty de los Cobos, talked to prominent Latinos about the need to give back to their community.

The audience typically included the likes of doctors, grocers and city council members who, like Villanueva, came from humble families and whose parents often had worked in the farm fields.

“I thought it was time for us as a community . . . to step up to the plate,” says Elias Valdes, a longtime Santa Paula merchant. “We recognized there are issues that need to be dealt with in our community.”

It didn’t hurt Destino that Villanueva, widely respected in the Latino community, carried its flag.

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“How could you say no to him?” asks Priscilla Herrera, an Oxnard official with a transit company. “He’s rather charismatic--but a very humble person, too.”

A credible leader is not all that has worked in Destino’s favor, says Ramos, the consultant.

Destino started under the umbrella of the Ventura County Community Foundation. By contrast, some of the other Latino funds that have started as free-standing organizations have not been embraced by the mainstream philanthropic community.

And Villanueva emphasized from the start that Destino could succeed only if it was designed as a partnership in which the county’s Latino leadership would work with other elements of the community.

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To that end, Destino appointed three chairmen representing the sectors where it aimed to raise funds: a leader from the Latino community, one from the corporate world and another representing employers, such as farmers, who draw their labor force from the Latino community.

“If we just go to the Hispanic community, this will not work,” says Kate McLean, the Ventura County Community Foundation president, recalling a conversation with Villanueva.

The help from the community foundation--including early financial support--has allowed the fund to grant $187,000 to community groups that have served 9,000 children and adults, according to the organization.

Now, Destino’s endowment is inspiring leaders of some of the other Latino funds.

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“Ultimately, we all have to have endowments for our future,” says Tony Espinoza, president of Los Angeles’ United Latino Fund. “You can’t be running checkbook operations.”

At a personal level, Destino has provided some of its founders the satisfaction of giving to their community.

“I like to hand out checks, especially if it came from our own folks,’ says Lacayo. “You show the rest of the community that we are not just asking but also giving.”


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