By Stephanie Metzinger
Education is an engine of possibilities. It has the power to create change, generate new career opportunities and result in economic development for future generations. That is why, throughout the United States and around the world, many have invested in education through philanthropic efforts.
According to a study completed by the American Council on Education and funded by the TIAA Institute, in 2017, total giving by Americans surpassed $410 billion for the first time. Education was the second-largest sector of philanthropic contributions in the United States, after religion.
The sheer magnitude of American giving demonstrates how education is seen as a valuable investment opportunity. Among the investors, Western Growers (WG) members play a vibrant philanthropic role in educational improvement. WG members understand the value of the next generation, as a large majority of the association is comprised of multi-generational farms and have made giving back to youth a keystone in their organizations. Over the years, farm principals and their teams have funded and provided invaluable support toward achieving profound shifts in postsecondary education.
Most recently, HMC Farms donated a jaw-dropping $1 million to found the Reedley College Center for Performing Arts. The generous gift made by Harold McClarty and his family farm will allow Reedley College to further its art education programs and facilities as well as provide students with advanced tools to prepare them for a world where performing arts intersects with technology.
“Our family feels that any time we have the opportunity and resources to make a difference, we should do what we can,” said McClarty. “What better way than music and art to make our community a more enjoyable place to live.”
In addition to supporting student achievement, the building, which has since been renamed the McClarty Center for Fine and Performing Arts, will contribute significantly to the arts offering in Reedley and the Central Valley at large. Reedley College serves a largely rural, high minority area and the new world-class facility will help provide intentional and equitable access to the arts, resulting in improved educational attainment and better regional economic vitality. The McClarty Center for Fine and Performing Arts is slated to be completed in late 2022.
Nearly 250 miles south, another state-of-the-art facility launched by a significant donation from a WG member is in the midst of construction. Dan Andrews, the owner of Dan Andrews Farms LLC, pledged more than $500,000 to improve the athletic facilities used by the baseball program at his alma mater, Cal Poly Pomona (CPP). Andrews’ generous gift was used to commence CPP’s baseball stadium revitalization project in 2015 which, when completed, will bring a wide range of benefits to the university, community and athletics department.
“When Coach John Scolinos passed away in 2009, a lot of the former student-athletes started to think of ways we could honor him while also improving the community of Pomona and the university,” said Andrews. “This baseball stadium project is a perfect opportunity.”
His pledge was used to initiate phase one (of three) of the project, focusing on the construction of new lights. A brighter, more welcoming stadium would encourage youth teams and other outside groups to gather at the university; enrich the university experience by encouraging CPP students to engage in campus functions after class; and provide additional hands-on experiences and opportunities for student-athletes. With support from generous donations such as Andrews’, the renovation project recently completed phase two and will be moving on to phase three in the coming year.
Contributing to hands-on learning is a common theme among WG’s membership. In 2017, Bee Sweet Citrus donated a citrus packing line to Fresno State University. The packing line provides students with access to an industry-like laboratory experience, ultimately affording them a competitive advantage when they graduate into the workforce. The equipment, valued at $600,000, also gives students studying food science, plant science and industrial technology hands-on instruction for mechanical systems and industrial maintenance as it applies to food processing and safety.
“Utilizing this packing line, students can take their food science, food safety, business or management skills and apply that to the real world,” said Monique Bienvenue, director of communications at Bee Sweet Citrus, in a recent WG video campaign. “The citrus packing line gives students a taste of what it’s like to work in production agriculture. From packing the fruit, to sorting it, to grading it, students receive ample hands-on experience.”
Bee Sweet furthered their partnership with Fresno State in 2019 when the citrus giant donated an advanced robotic palletizing arm to move and arrange boxes of produce, adding to the cache of learning tools available at the Fresno State Bee Sweet Citrus Processing Laboratory. Students now can learn how to operate and program the arm, improve their skills and knowledge of automated equipment and become savvier with agriculture technology.
“It is great exposure, especially since a lot of the industry is moving to new technology like this robotic arm,” said Noe Toribio, a Fresno State industrial technology major, during the WG video campaign. “It’s going to be a great experience for us to learn. Especially since it’s on our campus!”
By investing in higher education, WG members’ philanthropic efforts have and will continue to play a significant role in bolstering workforce development and career readiness. Though these are just three examples of charitable giving, they reflect how countless WG members are committed to improving human welfare through the cultivation of tomorrow’s leaders.