The Stockton Few Have Seen: A Funder Perspective

Thursday, May 10, 2018

by Chet P. Hewitt, President and CEO, Sierra Health Foundation and The Center

The City of Stockton is an example of the resilience and hope that make California a great state.  It is a city known for its diversity and also for its challenges, such as when it filed for bankruptcy in 2011. But like the Phoenix of Greek mythology, Stockton is rebuilding itself as a city committed to setting the pace for how great cities will be governed in the future and what they will do to attract and care for their residents. The city’s extraordinary turnaround is being recognized. As an example, Stockton was named an All-America City in 2015 and 2017 – an award given by the National Civic League annually to 10 communities in the United States. The 13th largest city in California and the 63rd largest city in the nation, the opportunity in Stockton is found in its residents, youth, passionate community-based organizations and its forward-thinking elected officials. It is the convergence of political leadership working in close concert with community leadership that is changing the conditions and narrative of this Central Valley city on the move. 

In 2016, Michael Tubbs became the first African-American mayor of Stockton and the youngest mayor of a city of more than 100,000 people in American history. His innovative thinking, thoughtful risk taking and deep commitment to improving his hometown fuel his ability to work tirelessly to create positive opportunities for Stockton. His focus on economic mobility and community safety is positioning the city for a convergence of funders to deepen and accelerate the forward-leaning system change efforts that have been announced. 

We began working with Mayor Tubbs in 2014, when Sierra Health Foundation became one of the first funders to invest in the Reinvent South Stockton Coalition, a nonprofit working to empower residents to transform their community through economic development as well as improvements in safety, education and health. Our partnership with Mayor Tubbs has grown with our launch of the San Joaquin Health Fund and his leadership in establishing the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund Executive Leadership Committee, a coalition of elected and nonprofit leaders from across the valley who are developing and advancing a collective policy agenda. 

Sierra Health Foundation made its first investment in Stockton in 1986 to the Hospice of San Joaquin. Since then, the foundation and its nonprofit operating arm, The Center, have made 155 grants to nonprofit organizations in Stockton totaling more than $4.5 million. This funding has supported the work of 46 nonprofit organizations including Fathers and Families of San Joaquin, one of our longtime partners.

These investments have supported nonprofits that are delivering needed services and advocating for equity-focused policy and systems changes to improve youth, family and community well-being. We have worked with Stockton-based nonprofit partners through the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund, Leadership Development for Racial Equity program, Health Leadership Program and the Positive Youth Justice Initiative, helping to build the capacity of community leaders to advocate for the change they believe is needed in their city and region. Partner examples include community coalitions that are working to shift the juvenile justice system from being punishment focused toward a system focused on youth development; empowering immigrant youth through advocacy by working with established social justice organizations; and expanding opportunities for boys and men of color. 

For Stockton to fully realize its potential as a national model for what great cities will do to ensure their economic renaissance is shared by all its residents, substantial investments will be required. While the city has benefited from philanthropic presence, there is more that can and must be done. On June 1, Sierra Health Foundation will partner with Northern California Grantmakers, The California Endowment and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to host a reinvention tour of Stockton to familiarize state and national funders with the promise this city holds. I encourage my colleagues to come join us and learn firsthand all that Stockton has to offer. Learn More and Register >