Since this is my first column for San Jose Inside, I’ll begin by framing my current endeavor, the San Jose Parks Foundation. Some of you may know of my past, as San Jose Rep Founder, San Jose Arts Roundtable Co-Founder and the After School All-Stars Founding Executive Director.
I was brought into this project about four years ago by the city of San Jose’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services (PRNS) to move their project from idea into existence as a viable organization.
I had no formal background in Parks, but the entrepreneurial task of launching a nonprofit is the skill that was needed. I know what parks and trails are, and having lived in San Jose for most of my life, I am familiar with our parks. As an avid cyclist, I know the trails well.
I began by organizing a steering committee, a group of people who cared about parks. We set some goals and created action plans. Along the way, I realized that I could not simply create a plan, launch and then turn over the reigns to someone else, because starting any organization, especially a nonprofit, requires passion and vision. I would do it.
I recruited board members—among the fearless first group were Helen Chapman, Ray Turner, Dan Pulcrano, and Sylvia Lowe—and I informed PRNS when we were ready to go, knowing that they had set aside funding to launch the foundation. This is when the first glitch occurred. Our timing did not match that of PRNS, which was in the process of scrambling through budget cuts and reeling from personnel losses. It was six months before we were finally funded.
We eventually moved forward and began to find donors/members while attempting to define what exactly San Jose Parks Foundation would become, what it would do. I asked lots of questions of PRNS about what they needed us to do and waited patiently for replies, which often took months, due to re-assignments, layoffs and retirements.
In the meantime, a wonderful thing happened—people started calling me, asking for help. Citizens and neighborhood groups contacted us. I began to meet with people who cared about their parks. They gave us direction by expressing various needs, which we addressed as best we could.
We were barely a month old when Nancy Pyle, the previous councilmember for District 10, acted to preserve Almaden Lake’s Swim Program. She contributed $35,000 from her council budget and raised another $35,000. Donors sent checks to San Jose Parks Foundation. We “parked” the funds safely until they were allocated. Councilmember Sam Liccardo did a similar rescue of Biebrach Pool and we fronted the funds, which he later replaced.
We worked with the Martin-Fontana Parks Association (MFPA) to halt the cutting of scores of beautiful native oaks and eventually connected PG&E and MFPA in a partnership to manage the cutting of trees that endangered power lines, while replanting and reshaping these parks.
But it was not until 2012 that I fully understood the vision and mission we now embrace. To be continued.
James P. Reber is the Executive Director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at: http://www.sanjoseparks.org / [email protected] / 408.893.PARK