By Vernell Hackett

H.N. and Frances C. Berger established their foundation in 1961 with the goal of “supporting established organizations, particularly ones promoting healthcare, social services and education, in a valiant effort to help people help themselves.” The foundation sees itself as “a catalyst to help others achieve their goals and demonstrate that success can be achieved by mutual cooperation, clear goals and steadfast determination.”

Ronald Auen, president of the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation, says the Bergers would be very happy with what the Foundation is doing today. Auen, who knew the Bergers well, became the chief executive officer of the Foundation in 1988.  After Mr. Berger’s death, Auen became responsible for the guidance and expansion of the Foundation.

One of the programs established by the Foundation has been the Coachella Valley Spotlight, which recently reached its one million dollar mark after three years of awarding $25,000 a month in gifts to local organizations. The Foundation presents the award through a partnership with CBS Local 2. Recipients are determined by the CBS Local 2 Advisory Board, which includes community members and one representative of the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation board.

The award that topped the million dollar donation for them went to Children’s Playtime Productions, the 40th local recipient of the program. In addition to receiving the award in May, the nonprofit organization was spotlighted through coverage by CBS Local 2’s “Eye on the Desert.”

“The Coachella Valley Spotlight has been an exciting way to fund many worthy organizations in our community,” says Auen.  “It’s hard to say what a great feeling it is to reach any goal. This was very important to us as part of the Valley, and is something we will be continuing in the future. It has been very rewarding to see first‐hand how selected organizations are using the gifts through on-site visits and the CBS Local 2 coverage.”

The goal when the Berger Foundation paired with CBS Local 2 was to give to local charities and then have those charities show the public how they are using the grants. After the charity has had the donation for several months, CBS Local 2 goes back and looks at what the nonprofits have done and features them in a story through “Eye on the Desert.”  Not only does that show people what the charities are doing with their money, it also encourages folks who see the show to donate in the future. Auen says the exposure through CBS Local 2 has helped increase giving to those nonprofits selected for the Coachella Valley Spotlight.

This year, Auen was particularly happy to present a Coachella Valley Spotlight grant to the Coachella Valley Boxing Club, the July recipient. Auen is fond of local boxing clubs, which he feels have an impact on younger generations. The Coachella Valley Boxing Club bought new equipment and protective gear for its facility, which offers free programs to underprivileged and at-risk youth of the valley.

Last year, the Coachella Valley Boxing Club’s programs helped more than 25,000 at-risk children in the desert. Many of the members who participate in training and amateur boxing competitions come from low income families that might not otherwise afford gym memberships or other team fees. For some, the Coachella Valley Boxing Club provides an alternative to gang involvement and drug use.

“The relationships that the Club builds with local schools, family support groups and juvenile detention promotes partnerships in steering kids on a positive life path, and that is a benefit to our entire community,” says Auen.

One of the people who has benefited from this type of community support is local boxer Randy Caballero, who is an up-and-coming fighter who got his start at the Coachella Valley Boxing Club when he was five years old. The 21-year old, whose alias is El Matador, fights in the Featherweight division. He made it to number three in the world as an amateur, and is the current WBC Youth Intercontinental Super Bantamweight Champion.

Another recipient in a long line of success stories is the ABC Recovery Center in Indio. The organization, which is a drug and alcohol recovery facility, used Coachella Valley Spotlight grant funds to renovate the original building, to a more usable form. Many of the organization’s clients volunteered to do the labor on the new facility to make the money stretch even further.

Auen is also proud of the Foundation’s support of the national “I Have a Dream” program. The Foundation adopted a combination class of 68 2nd and 3rd graders in Pasadena in 1991 and later a class of 60 1st graders. Through the program, the Foundation supported project coordinators that facilitated a wide variety of supplemental classes for the students and acted as mentors through the 12th grade. Those students that graduated high school were also eligible for scholarships from the Foundation.

“I had a lot of great experiences with that program,” Auen says. “The ‘I Have a Dream’ program is primarily in at-risk schools, where some of the parents are on drugs or alcoholic, and we help the kids reach goals they would otherwise not have reached.”

One of the by-products of this program is the rehabilitation of some of the other family members when they see what their kids are doing. “We have about a 90 percent high school graduate rate of kids through this program,” Auen says proudly. “One grandmother of a student that went through the program later started working for the ‘I Have a Dream’ program in Pasadena!”

Since 1988 the Foundation has contributed more than $350 million to charities throughout Southern California and the U.S. Beyond the many local charities the Berger Foundation has contributed to over the years, support to national organizations include the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation, Katrina Relief and Mexicali Earthquake Relief. Dozens of grants a year are given by the Foundation to those who need help and support. The Foundation also gives gifts world-wide in the case of disasters. They committed one million dollars to Haiti in 2010 by working through U.S. agencies that were already on-site, helping in those areas.

The original creed of H.N. and Frances Berger was to help people help themselves. Auen says when they are approached or they are given the name of someone who needs help, they look at the job they are already doing and what they are involved in. “I look more at something we’re interested in, and we look at people who run those organizations, people who know their business and have dedicated their lives and are doing the job that is needed in the area they are located. If we see a way to improve them, we do it. We are hands-on with the people we work with.”

The hands-on work might include members of the board who are experts in certain areas, such as setting up a business, helping with the financial end of the organization or other endeavors, meeting with the people who run a charity to see if they can help or any other help and  information they can contribute.

Another great example of the Foundation at work is Xavier College Preparatory High School. The Foundation donated about 100 acres to the valley’s first Jesuit high school to give it the initial start. “We wanted to create an educational corridor, and we had been looking at partnering with another school. Xavier contacted us, and it was a good match. We worked with them on details and development of the property and financed the school buildings.”

Eighty percent of the grants from the Berger Foundation are given to nonprofits in the Coachella Valley and Southern California. “After I started running the Foundation, we decided the Coachella Valley was a good place to move headquarters. Foundation board members like to give in the community where they live, so they can see things happening first hand with the grant money.”

Auen admits there has been an increase in requests during the past few years. “We just do what we can for the organizations that need it the most. We haven’t been able to keep up with the requests and demands, but we do the best we can. We take every day one day at a time. What we’ve been doing for the past 25 years is productive and rewarding for us.”

Olive Crest

“Before coming to Olive Crest, many of our kids live in harsh realities that include things like drugs, abuse or abandonment. But it is through the compassion of people like those at the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation that we are able to help these children experience the healing power of family and lead productive, successful lives.”

– Angela Allen, Development Coordinator, Olive Crest, October 2009 Coachella Valley Spotlight Recipient

Animal Samaritans

“The services we provide improve the lives of animals and the people who love them. We are incredibly grateful to have been chosen for the $25,000 Berger Foundation grant. The money helped us offer affordable spay and neuter services to control pet overpopulation, rescue animals and find new homes for them, and teach children about compassion and respect for all living things.”

–          Fred Saunders, Executive Director, Animal Samaritans SPCA, November 2011 Coachella Valley Spotlight Recipient

Baseball Buddies

“We were absolutely blessed with the gift from the Berger Foundation. This program touches children’s lives in ways you can’t imagine. Watching self-confidence blossom is incredibly rewarding. There is so much pride in families watching their kids from the stands.”

John Manning, Co-founder, Baseball Buddies, April 2012 Coachella Valley Spotlight Recipient

Coachella Valley Rescue Mission

“The Coachella Valley Spotlight grant helped us continue to provide services that change lives in our community. Homelessness is a serious problem, and the gift from the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation has directly impacted people and improved lives.”

Darla Burkett, Executive Director, Coachella Valley Rescue Mission, August 2011 Coachella Valley Spotlight Recipient

ABC Recovery Center

“The Berger Foundation’s generous support allowed us to renovate our original 49-year-old building both inside and out. Now our clients have first-rate facilities and accommodations to ensure their successful transition to a substance-abuse free life.”

J. David Likens, JD, CATC IV, CEO, ABC Recovery Center, January 2011 Coachella Valley Spotlight Recipient

Mizell Senior Center

“We are grateful for the support we received from the Berger Foundation through the Coachella Valley Spotlight. The funds provided direct support to our award winning Meals On Wheels Program as well as our music, exercise, and social programs designed for the active senior population throughout the Coachella Valley.”

Ginny Foat, Executive Director, Mizell Senior Center, August 2010 Coachella Valley Spotlight Recipient

Well in the Desert

“We are grateful to the Berger Foundation for all of its support. The Coachella Valley Spotlight grant allowed us to provide even more people with a ‘hand-up’ including meals and social services at a time when they may have had nowhere else to turn.”

Arlene Rosenthal, President, Well in the Desert, October 2009 Coachella Valley Spotlight Recipient

Gilda’s Club

“It is difficult to express just how much the Coachella Valley Spotlight made a difference in the lives of so many local families faced with the effects of cancer. We are forever grateful to the Berger Foundation for its support of our services that assist anyone coping with cancer.”

Paula Kennedy, President CEO, Gilda’s Club, November 2010 Coachella Valley Spotlight Recipient

AIDS Assistance

The grant provided by the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation through the Coachella Valley Spotlight went directly to food vouchers for men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS in our community.  These funds helped us to serve the 500 clients we assist monthly with vital nutrition, and help us to reduce our waiting list for services.”

Mark Anton, CEO/Executive Director, AIDS Assistance Program, May 2011 Coachella Valley Spotlight Recipient

Christopher’s Clubhouse

“The Coachella Valley Spotlight was an incredible boost for us that allowed us to grow in so many ways. The funding helped our local organization with program costs while the media exposure is priceless. All recipients of this award have been elevated thanks to the generosity of the Berger Foundation and the partnership that was created with CBS Local 2.”

–  Mika Moulton, Founder, Christopher’s Clubhouse, June 2009 Coachella Valley Spotlight Recipient

Alphabetized CV Spotlight Recipient List & Date:

ABC Recovery Center, January 2011

ACT for MS, December 2011

AIDS Assistance Program, May 2011

Angel View Crippled Children’s Foundation, October 2010

Animal Samaritans, November 2011

Baseball Buddies, April 2012

Big Brothers Big Sisters, April 2010

Boys & Girls Club of Cathedral City, August 2009

Boys & Girls Club of Palm Springs, September 2011

Boys & Girls Clubs of Coachella Valley, March 2010

Braille Institute, December 2010

Cathedral Center, January 2012

Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, April 2009

Children’s Playtime Productions, May 2012

Christopher’s Clubhouse, May 2009

Coachella Valley Boxing Club, July 2012

Coachella Valley Rescue Mission, August 2011

Coachella Valley Symphony, June 2012

College of the Desert Foundation, September 2012

Desert Cancer Foundation, February 2010

Desert Samaritans for Seniors, February 2011

Desert Women for Equality, October, 2012

Family YMCA of the Desert, January 2009

FIND Food Bank, February 2009

Friends of the Indio Senior Center, July 2010

Gilda’s Club Desert Cities, November 2010

Hanson House, May 2010

Humane Society of the Desert, November, 2012

Jewish Family Service, March 2012

Joslyn Center-Cove Communities Senior Association, October 2011

Martha’s Village & Kitchen, March 2009

McCallum Theater Institute, December 2009

Mizell Senior Center, August 2010

Mourning Star/Visiting Nurses Association, January 2010

Olive Crest, September 2009

Pathfinder Ranch, June 2010

Pegasus Riding Academy, July 2009

USO Palm Springs Center, June 2011

SafeHouse of the Desert, February 2012

Shelter from the Storm, June 2009

SMaRT (Science Math and Robotic Technology) Education, August 2012

Stroke Recovery Center, November 2009

The Living Desert, December 2012

Variety Children’s Charity of the Desert, April 2011

Well in the Desert, October 2009

Western Coachella Valley Police Activities League, December 2008