Our team of experienced professionals provides you with the highest level of service and support. Strategic, focused and committed, we are stewards who partner with our donors as they engage in high impact giving that reflects their interests and passions.
President & CEO
Vanessa Bechtel serves as President and CEO of the Ventura County Community Foundation (VCCF), an organization committed to safeguarding the long-term legacies of thousands of generous donors through the careful management of the charitable capital entrusted to them. By promoting philanthropy to improve our community, Bechtel strives to inspire charitable giving that connects philanthropic resources with community needs for the benefit of all.
Prior to her work with VCCF, Bechtel served as executive director of the Santa Barbara City College Foundation. She co-founded Monarch Wealth Strategies in 2008 and was honored as Business Woman of the Year by the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce in 2010. Bechtel was recognized as Nonprofit Leader of the Year by the Ventura County Leadership Academy in 2019 and Humanitarian of the Year by the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation with her spouse, Jim.
Bechtel graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in Law and Society. In 2016, she received her master’s degree from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. She also received her master’s certificate from the International Institute for the Sociology of Law in Onati, Spain.
Director of External Affairs & Strategic Initiatives
Stephanie Bertsch-Merbach serves as the Director of External Affairs and Strategic Initiatives for the Ventura County Community Foundation (VCCF). She helps to oversee the strategic outreaches for the Foundation, applications for outside grant funding, marketing and communications, and provides integral support to the Chief Operating Officer through her leadership and relationships building crucial to the success of the organization, while also managing a variety of special projects.
Prior to joining VCCF in September 2018, she was the Senior Associate for the Medical Outreach Program at Americares in Stamford, CT where she managed donations of medicines and supplies to volunteer medical teams traveling overseas. These donations enabled 800,000+ primary care visits and 40,000+ surgeries while strategically strengthening capacity in areas with little or no access to healthcare. Before Americares, she was the Communications and Program Manager for Bridge of Life, a nonprofit organization founded by DaVita to establish and expand dialysis and kidney care in the U.S. and in 16 low- and middle-income countries around the world.
Stephanie is originally from North Dakota and received her BA in Spanish with minors in Physics and Psychology from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN. She earned her Master’s degree in International Studies with a certificate in Global Health Affairs from the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. She is passionate about the arts, science, and creating equitable access to healthcare around the world. Stephanie is certified in Fiduciary Essentials for Foundations and Endowments (FEFE).
Chief Operating Officer
Jeffrey Lambert serves as Chief Operating Officer of the Ventura County Community Foundation. As Chief Operating Officer, Jeffrey leads the development and stewardship division, program and grants department, marketing and communications, and strategic initiatives.
Prior to joining VCCF, Jeffrey served as Community Development Director for the City of Oxnard and City of Ventura. Jeffrey has a proven track record as a public servant through his career and is recognized as a Certified Planner by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). Jeffrey previously owned his planning and government consulting firm, served as Community Development Director for the City of Santa Clarita and as the Land Use Manager for Kaiser Permanente Southern California. Jeffrey served on the national Board of the American Planning Association (APA) and was President of the California Chapter of APA. He serves as an advisor to the Economic Development Collaborative’s Small Business Development Center. (SBDC)
Lambert graduated from the University of Southern California with a Masters in Urban Planning and previously earned his B.A. degree in Psychology and Government from Clark University in Worcester Massachusetts.
Chief Financial Officer
Bonnie Gilles serves as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for VCCF. Her responsibilities include oversight of the VCCF’s more than 600 donor-advised, donor-designated, scholarship, field-of-interest and agency endowment funds, as well as the foundation’s investment portfolio, its operating budget and its annual grants and scholarship budget.
Prior to joining VCCF in October 2014, Bonnie was the Vice President of Finance for Total Woman Gym + Spa, managing finance and accounting for a portfolio of 16 locations with over $35 million in annual revenues. Before Total Woman, she was Controller for Fore Property Co., a national development/property management firm focused on low-income housing communities, with 40 locations in 15 states.
An actively licensed California Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Bonnie graduated magna cum laude from California State University, Northridge, with a BS in business administration-accounting. Bonnie is Accredited Investment Fiduciary Analyst (AIFA) certified.
Says Bonnie of her job,
CRISTINA MIRANDA, Ed. D., MPPA
A proud Ventura County native, Cristina has worked in the fields of child welfare and education for nearly 15 years. She began her career as a bilingual and special education instructional assistant at a local school district. After two years in the education system, Cristina transferred to Casa Pacifica working as a frontline staff in the children’s shelter home and residential treatment center. During her tenure at Casa Pacifica, Cristina got the opportunity to advocate for children placed in the foster care system at the local, state, and federal levels. In 2011 Cristina got the opportunity to work alongside members of the County Welfare Directors Association (CWDA) and the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) to develop policies for AB12, the landmark piece of legislation that extends foster care until the age of 21. In 2012 Cristina completed an internship in Washington DC with Congresswoman Karen Bass, she wrapped up the summer by briefing members of the United States Congress on issues within the child welfare system.
In 2017 Cristina joined Child Development Resources as a Family Engagement Coordinator. In this role, Cristina supported the Head Start program by providing resources and supports to some of Ventura county’s most economically vulnerable families. Cristina also served as an independent consultant with the Ventura County Office of Education providing trauma informed trainings to school districts throughout Ventura County from 2015 through 2019.
Cristina earned an Associate’s degree in liberal arts from Oxnard college, and a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from California State University Channel Islands. Cristina also holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from California Lutheran University, and has recently earned a Doctorate degree in Education from Pepperdine University with an emphasis on Leadership, Administration and Policy.
Cristina is passionate about education and creating opportunities for all students, specially underserved populations. Cristina is grateful and excited to be a part of the VCCF team in serving the Ventura County community.
Chief Compliance Officer
Tracy Tagawa serves as the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) for the Ventura County Community Foundation (VCCF). She has over 20 years of experience in Risk Management. She is passionate in developing strong relationships while ensuring compliance and risk policies are being followed throughout the organization. Her responsibilities include the oversight of the VCCF Corporate Compliance Program and the adherence of VCCF’s fiduciary responsibilities with its clients and future fund holders.
Prior to joining VCCF in Sept 2020, Tracy was Vice President – Regional Brokerage Supervisor for Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC for 14 years. Her region included cities within Santa Barbara County, Ventura County, and Los Angeles County. She worked diligently in identifying potential risks in advance, analyzing them, and taking precautionary steps to reduce risk in the future. She was also responsible for all internal and external audits within her region.
Tracy grew up in Marin County, California and graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a major in Business Economics. She enjoys spending time with her husband, daughter, and son. Both of her children play competitive sports and they travel to different states throughout the year to compete in national and state tournaments. Tracy also enjoys spending time with friends and family and they love attending professional sporting events when possible.
Chief Compliance Officer
A life-long resident of Ventura County, Jim Rivera has over 30 years of experience in nonprofit executive management and fund development. He joined VCCF as the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) in June 2015. His prior professional positions include serving as Chief Operating Officer and Interim CEO for the Santa Barbara City College Foundation, Vice President with Netzel Grigsby Associates, Inc., a management and consulting firm; Vice President of Administration for the Santa Barbara Foundation; and President & CEO of Visiting Nurse and Hospice Care of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara’s largest home health and hospice provider. Jim began his career in nonprofit management as a United Way professional in both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.
Organizations he has volunteered for include Mary Health of the Sick, Rancho Camulos Museum, Hutton Parker Foundation, Santa Paula Art Museum, Museum of Ventura County, Cultural Affairs Commission for the City of Ventura, Ventura County AIDS Partnership, Santa Barbara Hispanic Achievement Council, and El Concilio. Jim is certified in Fiduciary Essentials for Foundations and Endowments (FEFE).
VP, Community Investments & Partnerships
Phylene Wiggins (pronounced fuh-LEEN) was born and raised in Ventura County. Prior to joining the team at VCCF, she served in various roles at the Santa Barbara Foundation for 17 years. Phylene has deep knowledge in the fields of health and social services. Most recently, she envisioned and led the Community Caregiving Initiative (CCI) in Santa Barbara County—a county-wide effort to strengthen family caregivers and address issues of care related to an aging population. The CCI garnered the support of AARP due to its innovative, community-based approach and Phylene was a speaker at Stanford University’s renowned Medicine X conference in 2017.
Phylene has been involved with nonprofit organizations for over 30 years in board, staff and volunteer roles including organizations as diverse as the Los Angeles Project With Industry, Santa Barbara Rescue Mission, Transition House, Santa Barbara Human Resources Association, Hospice of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria State Park, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and Restorative Partners. Phylene has been a member of the City of Carpinteria’s CDBG Committee, as well as the County of Santa Barbara’s Adult and Aging Network and Continuum of Care.
Prior to her philanthropic career, Phylene was a local leader in the field of human resources, working on employment policy issues at the state and national levels and educating various audiences about the importance of strong HR practices. Phylene has a deep concern for the human condition and a passion for support and empowerment of disadvantaged populations. She values workforce development and has created numerous award-winning hiring programs. A lover of beauty and the outdoors, she is also passionate about environmental conservation and stewardship of the region.
Phylene holds an Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) designation from the Human Resource Certification Institute and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Azusa Pacific University. As of March 2019 she is certified in Fiduciary Essentials for Foundations and Endowments (FEFE).
Building Services Coordinator
Jessica Proctor is the Building Services Coordinator for the VCCF Nonprofit Center, providing information on the center’s resources and tenant services. Aside from greeting and directing visitors as they arrive at the building, she also manages meeting space and room reservation requests for over 125 eligible nonprofit organizations in Ventura County. In March of 2019 she became certified in Fiduciary Essentials for Foundations and Endowments (FEFE).
Prior to joining VCCF in 2012, Jessica was a graphic artist for 16 years in Los Angeles county, digitally coloring children’s cartoons for daytime television. Her credits include “Strawberry Shortcake”, “Horseland”, “Liberty’s Kids” , “Dino Squad”, “Sabrina the Animated Series”, and Emmy Award winning “Madeline”.
Jessica recently received her AA in Anthropology with Highest Honors from Oxnard College in 2015 and plans to transfer to a CSU Channel Islands in the future. When she is not working or studying, Jessica enjoys spending her free time with her son and creating art.
Claudia was born and raised in Germany. She fell in love with a US Army officer in 2002, got married, and moved where the Army stationed her husband whenever she could. Since she left Germany in 2006, she moved to Texas, England, Virginia, and now California. That makes 3 trans-Atlantic and 1 cross-country move.
Claudia also likes to be active and is quick to try new sports depending on where she lives. So of course, she recently added surfing to her list of sports. She also enjoys roller derby and has been playing for 1 ½ years. She loves how derby provides a balance of exercise, excitement, and a feeling of community among the league. She started training in Virginia and is now plays for the Ventura County Derby Darlins in Camarillo.
Claudia has a German CPA license and has worked in CPA offices in Germany and Texas. She enjoyed CPA work, but once Claudia found her first employment with a non-profit organization in England in 2012, she never looked back. She has been working in non-profits ever since. Claudia said that it is very rewarding to help support a team that is truly trying to make a difference in people’s lives and to witness the positive impact. Claudia is certified in Fiduciary Essentials for Foundations and Endowments (FEFE).
Donor Relations Officer
Amber Landis serves as the Donor Relations Office for the Ventura County Community Foundation (VCCF). Prior to joining VCCF in December 2018, she was the Director of Development at Rubicon Theatre Company and before that she was the Development Manager at Casa Pacifica Centers for Children and Families. She brings over a decade of non-profit fundraising experience with her. In March of 2019, she became certified in Fiduciary Essentials for Foundations and Endowments (FEFE).
Amber is a Ventura native and received her BA in Dramatic Arts from University of California Santa Barbara. She earned her Master’s degree in Theatre Arts from California State University Northridge. She loves living in Ventura County and working in the non-profit sector. Helping donors with their philanthropic goals, hearing their personal connections and stories to their non-profits is what she likes most about her work and finds it very rewarding. Amber is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Santa Barbara/Ventura (AFP SBV) chapter and served on their board for eight years, just ending her term in December 2018. When time allows she loves going for hikes and enjoys time with her family, friends and two pets (a cat and rabbit) but most of all Amber loves being a mom to two little ones who keep her very busy!
Roseannah MillsGrassin is the the Database Manager for the Ventura County Community Foundation. At VCCF she is responsible for the behind the scenes analytics and data integrity that can help facilitate the generous philanthropy of our community members. Roseannah has been with the Foundation since 2014 when she relocated to the Conejo Valley from the East Coast. She has past experience working for animal rescues, grass roots organizations, and a state University system. Passionate about making a lasting difference, Roseannah loves focusing on the little things we can improve each day to make life better for all of our neighbors here in Ventura County.
Calleen O’Neall, Executive Assistant to Vanessa Bechtel at the Ventura County Community Foundation, recently relocated to Ventura County in June 2019 from Arizona. Born and raised in Mesa, she sees the importance of being involved within the community.
Her interest in working with nonprofits all began with her internships during college with nonprofits around the including supporting small local businesses and educating youth on conservation of wildlife and the environment. She plans on continuing her education and getting her masters in nonprofit management.
In her free time Calleen loves to travel the world, from studying abroad in Australia to vacationing in Thailand, being outdoors whether in sun or snow, and exploring with her dog, Cleo.
Alyssa Torkelson serves as the Junior Accountant for the Ventura County Community Foundation (VCCF), where she works closely with the VCCF team to accomplish its mission to promote and enable philanthropy to improve our community. Alyssa has worked in a variety of fields and positions. She started her career working in Higher Education first at the University of Maryland University College – Europe in their European Division located in Heidelberg, Germany, and then at the University of Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, California. Alyssa then moved into the non-profit field working in Research and Mental Health where she discovered a passion for non-profit work and the helping professions. After spending some time working in Human Resources and Accounting positions in the Utility and Specialty Veterinary Medicine Management fields, she decided to return to the non-profit world and is proud to be a part of the VCCF Team. Alyssa holds a BA in Psychology with a concentration in Child and Adolescent Development from Southern New Hampshire University.
TARA DE BORTNOWSKY
Administrative Programs Assistant
Tara de Bortnowsky serves as the Administrative Programs Assistant for the Ventura County Community Foundation. Prior to joining the team, she worked in estate planning and tax law, but was drawn to the meaningful opportunities that the non-profit world presented.
Tara was born and raised in Ventura County, but moved to Seattle to pursue her Bachelor’s degree. During her academic career, she worked as an Assistant Athletic Trainer, facilitating medical care and treatment for over 400 Division 1 student athletes, and as a Writing Center Consultant, where she advised both undergraduate & graduate students on academic and professional writing for essays, applications, research, & proposals. While pursuing her degree, she studied abroad at Freie Universitat in Berlin, Germany, where she focused on German language and environmental policy in Europe. She graduated cum laude from Seattle U in 2019 with a B.A. in English Literature with Departmental Honours, and a minor in International Studies. Following her graduation, she presented her senior thesis research on literature as a means of cultural survival for Indigenous Peoples at the 2019 NAISA conference held at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, NZ.
In her free time, she loves to read, play with her two dogs, sail, or find anything to get her close to the ocean. She also loves to travel as much as possible – so far, she has been to 22 different countries and is a dual citizen of both the U.S. and New Zealand! She has a passion for social justice and advocacy in marginalized communities and strives to find innovative ways to engage with those who have been rendered voiceless in her community.
Tiffany Elliott is the Administrative Assistant for the Ventura County Community Foundation. With most of her life living in Ventura County, she has always seen the value in giving back. Prior to joining the team, she has had much involvement and interest in community-based work.
Born and raised in Ventura County, Tiffany was familiar with participating within the community – usually volunteering with her family on the weekends. As she had gotten older, she pursued and received her Associates Degree in Communication Studies at Moorpark College. After this, she moved to Fullerton to pursue, and receive her Bachelors of Communication Studies at California State University, Fullerton. During her academic career, she brought her passion for service with her. She served on the executive board for two community-serving organizations on her campus. Through these roles, she accrued experience in advertising, event planning, crucial decision making and leadership. As well as this, she worked in the Department of Outreach and Recruitment as a Student Ambassador – where she gave campus tours to prospective families, students, and hires. Apart from giving tours, her job entailed participating in helpful student panels, and serving as an Administrative Assistant for the department. This positioned her as the liaison between the school and the public, answering questions about the institution, and providing any information needed for prospective families or hires. After graduation, she was involved with a nonprofit whose purpose was to increase civic engagement among young adults.
Tiffany finds her passion, and has dedicated much of her work to advocating for social justice, building communities and finding ways to create spaces that will help us all thrive.