There are people in every community that stand up and do something to help make their community better. Becky Gray is one of those people here in North County. She is the Executive Director of an amazing local charity called must! charities. They are focused on local issues and have an interesting approach to how they help. You can check out their current projects here and learn about their mission here.
I’ve known Becky for a couple of years and she definitely has a passion for giving back. Learn more about her below in the Q&A and be sure to get involved with must! charities, if we don’t get involved…who will?
Matt: How long have you been in the Templeton/ Paso Robles area?
Becky: My husband and I moved to Templeton in 1998, from SLO. When we first moved here, we did it for 3 reasons: The value we could get in property vs. that in SLO, the quiet pace of life, and the schools. While we didn’t have kids at the time, my husband was a teacher in Templeton and he kept telling me he would love to live here and we should think about laying down some roots in Templeton. Back then the population was less that 3,000 and we had 1 stoplight. Downtown Paso Robles didn’t have much either… it was definitely an adjustment.
Matt: What do you love most about North County?
Becky: I love the un-hurried pace of life and I love the people. I love simple things. I am not extravagant by any means and am a bit of a minimalist and that’s because I love having more free time to enjoy what’s truly important in life. For the most part, the people I encounter in the North County are typically simple folks with caring hearts for others. I am relationship driven, so living and working in an area with people who would drop anything if you needed help, hold the door open for you, and smile & say hi just because… those are my kind of people, and I feel so fortunate, as we’ve got a lot of them in our community.
Matt: If you’re willing to answer, what do you dislike most about the area?
Becky: My dislikes aren’t about the area but rather the changes in society we’ve seen transpire over the years. It’s happening all over not just in our area. Maybe I am getting old and see things from an older perspective… I see social issues that are disheartening – increase in gang activity, increased drug abuse (especially in our younger generations), youth hurting and lacking support, people with a lack of respect of our region and lack of respect for others… but that’s why I love my job, and why I am doing it. I was raised and taught early on in life, “you can sit back and complain; or you can roll your sleeves up and DO SOMETHING”.
Matt: What did you do prior to becoming Executive Director of must! charities?
Becky: Prior to must! charities I was running the SLO Wine Association. It was a great job. I love the wine industry and worked for some incredible people. The Niven family was very instrumental in my love for and all my success in the wine industry.
The last two years that I worked in that industry, I often pondered what my purpose was in life. I had read some books that had me thinking differently about life and the way I was living mine. Upon helping a friend who was about to get a foster-care placement one afternoon, I realized I found such joy helping people in need. As my husband and I hopped in the car to head to San Francisco to pour at a wine event, we began the conversation and I literally said to him, “I wonder if I could ever work in a job helping people and also utilize my business expertise?” On our drive back that same weekend, someone emailed me a job posting about a “start up non-profit” in the North County that happened to be stemming out of the wine industry. They email went something like this… ‘I know you love your job, and you aren’t looking for anything else… but take a look at this”. I would say God was looking out for me and had something in mind. It was a risky move. It required me to get “uncomfortable” and to do something I had never done before – but the way everything was lining up I knew I would regret not going for it.
Matt: How did must! charities come about? What was the catalyst?
Becky: The idea of must! charities came about 6 years ago. A group of friends (who happened to be winery owners) were looking at philanthropy and what was and wasn’t being done in the North County, and the needs our communities faced. The founders of must! charities recognized that the wine industry, being the largest economic engine in our region, had no focused philanthropy. They saw people giving money both locally and nationally and not really seeing tangible results from their giving. Their vision was to create a public gifting organization, where they could pool their giving resources and then give in a way that they couldn’t manage to do on their own all while keeping everything local. It’s a basic principal that you hear over and over, “alone I can only do so much, but together we can do more.” They felt the need to do something about it and created what is now, must! charities.
In Fall of 2011 they realized they needed to put their ideas to action, so they did a national search for an executive director to spear head the organization. February 2012 was when I began working at must! charities. Since 2012 must! charities has grown and is now community driven, not just wine industry driven. In fact about half of our donors come from the wine industry, and the other half is a mix of individuals, families, private foundations, and other businesses.
Matt: Can you describe the main goal of must! charities in one sentence?
Becky: The overarching goal is to raise money for local community needs.
(I will be honest… it’s hard for me to stop at that one sentence. Because it’s so much more than that… but since you asked for one sentence, there you have it. If anyone wants to get a more detailed response, call me and we’ll grab coffee)
Matt: What are some of the issues must! charities is currently involved with?
Becky. We are involved with a few organizations at this time. Our first project was with Boys & Girls Club of North SLO County – we came alongside them during a time in need and helped them turn their club around and currently we are working on an expansion model with the Boys & Girls Club so that we can service more children in the north county. We aligned ourselves with them because there are not enough safe, licensed, afterschool care programs for kids in our region vs. the need.
We assisted The Food Bank in creating a designated children’s program, making sure kids had access to healthy, nutritiously dense food when not in school. In 2015 we launched a second collaboration with the Food Bank investing funds into their children’s program. We committed $27,000 to expand their Children’s Farmer’s Market into 9 new site locations in the north county, doubling the number of sites overall. Sites range from servicing anywhere between 30 to 150 kids with children taking home upwards of 15 pounds of fresh produce, much of it gleaned right from our region. So, not only are we feeding children through the summer lunch and after school snack program, we are now wrapping it around to the entire family making sure all of our local children have access to fresh produce and healthy food options.
In 2015 we also launched a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters, to meet the call to action in our community in the form of a four-year, $253,000 commitment to Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Luis Obispo County. Must! charities has come alongside Big Brothers Big Sisters with financial & business expertise that will allow them to have a greater impact in the region where it is needed most. The goal is to expand youth mentoring in an underserved region, making sure children, who ask for assistance from an adult, receive the help they need. In just the first nine months alone, we have had 24 matches, versus 2 in 2014. We are now servicing 40 kids in the north county. I personally embarked upon this adventure recently and have enjoyed the gift of having a little sister through this organization. It really is so easy to invest in someone else’s life, and the rewards of doing so are beyond measure.
We recently launched our latest collaboration in the form of a four-year, $262,000 commitment to CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates). At present there are 460 children in the county who have been abused and neglected and fall under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Dependency Court. 110 CASA volunteers are providing advocacy for 149 of these children. However, that leaves 311 children on the waitlist to be assigned to a CASA volunteer. In the North County alone, that equals 120 kids waiting! Pursuing the four year plan, CASA will not only be able to help more children in the North County find safe, nurturing and permanent homes, CASA will be able to sustain this program, at the end of year four, once support from must! charities is complete.
Matt: What are some of the other issues you foresee must! charities being involved in?
Becky: There are so many issues that our communities face…We are just beginning to scratch the surface, but we are seeing incredible results and so we will continue to move forward. Every organization we have aligned ourselves with stems from a local statistic. We steer away from pet projects and we look at true social issues our community is faced with. We then look to the organizations that service those issues and go from there.
Matt: Do you feel it’s been difficult to get people involved and motivated in the community?
Becky: Yes and No. Remember when I said the one thing I love about the north county is the people? Well, we have some very generous people in the North County. I am constantly in awe of the generosity of people and I love the surprises. I literally get so excited when people give back and partner with us. I love it when a business comes up with a creative plan to give – that was the whole concept of giving when must! charities first began. We realized the pool of funds in our region was only so big, so we challenged partners to come up with new ways to create new money. This is where the “buck-a-bottle” stemmed from – we literally have quite a few winery partners who donate $1 for every bottle they sell. That is outside money coming back into our region. And it’s not just the wine industry whose caught on, we have a few restaurants, realtors, retail businesses, etc… who are all getting creative with how they can generate money to give back to our community. It’s so easy, and it makes total sense, but that concept is harder to sell and I get it, it’s asking someone to change their business model to include giving. But, wow – when they get it and start doing it, the feedback from them is incredible and they are so stoked to do it and we are high-fiving them and doing a happy dance!
I also learned really quickly that philanthropy isn’t like selling wine – while both are difficult, philanthropy is such a decision of the heart… I don’t cold call people trying to sell it. It’s relationship driven. It can’t be forced, but if it’s meant to be it will happen. People are either philanthropic with a generous heart, or they aren’t. I think a lot of it stems from their upbringing in life, it’s pretty interesting to watch and observe how or why people give; it fascinates me.
What I love about the must! model is that it doesn’t matter what you give – because collectively we have the power to give BIG! You don’t have to be wealthy to give, you just have to want to give and then make the decision to do it. We’ve got some donors who give on a monthly basis, and it is their commitment to give that brings the biggest smile to my face. So many people associate giving with the affluent, or they say, “when I get to a certain point in my life, then I’ll start giving”. What I have found is once you start and you make it a habit, you really don’t miss the resource, but instead you have a fulfillment within your heart that money can’t ever fill. It’s crazy but it’s true. We are human, and we tend to hold tight to things – but the freedom we have when we start letting go is pretty powerful.
Matt: When you’re not working on must! charities, how do you spend your time on the central coast?
Becky: I am all over the place… I try to live a balanced life. And I think I do a pretty good job of it. I learned early on that I didn’t want to lead a life that runs me ragged and I didn’t want to be a work-aholic… I love order in my life as well as peace and quiet, but I truly believe that “variety is the spice of life”. I also married “Mr. Adventure” who lives by the saying, “work hard, play harder”. So I definitely spend my time diversified. Family is important to me. Friends are important to me. My faith is important to me. We love giving back too, so we spend time volunteering & helping others. We love hiking and Randy, my husband, is a surfer so the ocean is our frequent get-away. We love to travel and you could say we are foodies (often our trips revolve around people, food and anything outdoors). Right now we have 2 teenage daughters, so our lives are busy with all their activities and things we can do as a family. They are a hoot to be with, so we are relishing in their company, while they are still under our roof.