By Lea Goodsell
Photos: Lani Garfield

When it comes to giving – each person has a personal story.  But they all share one thing in common – a passion for helping others and a connection to the charities they support.  When Desert Charities News sat down with a dozen of the Desert’s most generous people, as well as those who direct non-profits and advise those who give, there were common themes expressed among the participants.  As Palm Springs Art Museum Board of Trustees member Annette Bloch said, “My main interest in life is making a difference in people’s lives.”  And when asked how she decides what to put her resources and energy into, Barbara Keller, Co-chair of the Desert AIDS Project Steve Chase Gala advised, “You need to pick something that really touches your heart”.  Betty Wolf, Vice President of the Eisenhower Medical Center Foundation, put it this way. “Philanthropy is emotional.  Philanthropy is something that’s really deep seated in someone’s heart – and it’s the feeling of giving back – that feeling of knowing that there could be someone out there that could be in trouble, may not be as fortunate as you, that just needs a little help.”  And Jim Casey, President and CEO of Integrated Wealth Management, added: “Philanthropy and giving back has to come from the heart and soul, not from the wallet.”

Mitch Gershenfeld, CEO of the McCallum Theatre, which is on the receiving end of an extraordinary level of support in the desert, adds, “I think people give to charitable organizations when they feel a sense of ownership with the mission of that organization.”

And those who are involved with non-profits in the Valley also say they get even more than they give.   Tim Esser, Founder of the Tour de Palm Springs, shares:  “What drives me?  It’s that something inside you that just makes you feel good. “  Kay Hazen, Owner of Kay Hazen & Company and on the board of the Desert Healthcare District Board, agrees.  “It’s really a privilege and a pleasure to give in a wide variety of ways – monetarily, with time, with mentoring, with coaching, with sponsoring.” Helene Galen, who heads a foundation and volunteers with the Barbara Sinatra Childrens Center, Palm Springs Art Museum and others, concurs that giving goes beyond writing checks.  “Giving has many levels and comes in many shapes, sizes and opportunities,” she said.  “Giving is not necessarily money.  In fact, probably it’s even more than money because everybody that can put time in is doing so in this Desert.”

Susan Winer, Senior Vice President and co-founder of Strategic Philanthropic Limited, an advisory firm, helps clients looking to make big changes in their community and is also gratified at the part she plays.  “Every single day I am going to be making a difference in the world, a positive difference in the world, and I get to help make that happen, and that’s an incredibly wonderful, wonderful experience.”

And all agree that the generous nature of the Coachella Valley really helps define it as a community.  As Desert AIDS Project CEO David Brinkman said, “Giving back builds the soul of any community. When you have an opportunity to give back to somebody you’ve never met and you may never meet, it reminds us that we’re all connected, we’re all really one at the end of the day. So in my mind it’s a privilege to be able to give back and it builds that heart of a community and I think that’s why people involved in philanthropy in the Coachella Valley will oftentimes talk about the heart of the Coachella Valley.”

Gary Hall, Senior Vice President of Wells Fargo in Private Banking, explains it this way.  “I think if you love where you live, which I do, it’s important that you make that investment in that quality of the life of that community that you reside in.   Giving is like smiling – it welcomes good things into your life.”

And Jerry Keller, owner of Acqua Pazza and Lulu’s restaurants with his wife Barbara, summed it up this way, “This Palm Springs Valley is just an amazing place where people who have the means, and people who have the time, and even those who don’t, feel a serious responsibility to help other people out who need it. It’s just a great feeling to have and the Valley would be a really difficult, sad place without it.”