VCCF Donor Spotlight: Interview with Meryl and Jonathan Chase

 In Blog
Meryl, Jonathan, and Kyler Chase sitting outside with their goldendoodle Teddi Bear

Meryl and Jonathan Chase with son Kyler and family dog Teddi Bear

Whether you’re a member of VCCF’s Donor Peer Network, a VCCF Scholarship Reader or an involved volunteer in Camarillo, it’s likely you’ve witnessed the inspiring generosity of Meryl and Jonathan Chase.

VCCF Board member Meryl was born in San Mateo and raised by a family whose sense of giving back to the community was second nature.

“(Community service) was such a part of our family that it wasn’t something separate from us or something that special thought was given to,” Meryl said. “So, the example set by my parents makes giving back feel natural.”

Some of her earliest memories were of teaching children good oral hygiene habits through puppet shows, being the daughter of an orthodontist. She and her family would also help with the Elks Club fundraisers and donation drives for San Francisco’s unhoused community.

Meryl attended graduate school at University of California, Los Angeles, then later owned a small film production company. After Meryl and Jonathan married, they moved to Camarillo to raise a family, their son Kyler. Today, Meryl considers serving the community to be her primary vocation.

Jonathan is a Ventura County native, born in Oxnard and raised in Ojai through his early life. He earned his bachelor’s degree from California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, then moved back to Ventura County to work in his family’s business, Chase Brothers Dairy. The company’s Ventura County roots stretch back to his grandfather establishing the business in 1927.

“The land that has provided for our family for four generations gives me a feeling of gratitude and a desire to help the community and to create opportunities,” Jonathan said.

The company was known not only for milk deliveries and school field trips, but also for caring for its employees. His father joined with other local agricultural families to create the Heritage Fund at VCCF. Jonathan said that this background instilled an “enduring love of agriculture, long days and hard work” in him, and he feels deeply connected to Ventura County and its history.

The two are inspired by Ventura County’s nonprofit community, particularly the work of kidSTREAM, Women’s Economic Ventures, Women United, the Boys & Girls Clubs, Teens4TeensHelp, Ventura County Pregnancy Center and the Ventura County Rescue Mission. They are also dedicated to supporting Kyler’s school, where Meryl happily volunteers. Their Christian faith their philanthropy and service, not only locally but also globally in their sponsorship of children in Guatemala, Rwanda and Sierra Leone through World Vision.

Meryl, you were Vice President of Finance on the founding board of kidSTREAM Children’s Museum. What does the organization’s work mean to you?

MC: I’ve been a strong believer even before having Kyler that hands-on learning opportunities children inspire lifelong learners and better life trajectories. Ventura County is the only county this size in California that doesn’t have a children’s museum, so only people who can afford the time and expense to drive up to an hour and a half can bring their kids to somewhere like that.

When I was approached to get involved, I was excited to jump in and apply my interests and experience to build the organization during those founding years. Something meaningful to me is the community outreach from day one: kidSTREAM has equitably reached over 55,000 children and families throughout the region, and once doors are open in early 2025, it’ll be over 200,000 families every year.

VCCF was one of the early supporters. After Vanessa (Bechtel, VCCF President & CEO) toured the property and saw the vision, VCCF funded research with Dr. Jamshid Damooei that supported the case statement of why the resource is vital, both for the social and educational development of children, and the region’s economic vitality. There’s been a lot of great news lately where individuals and families and foundations and companies have jumped on board, seeing the vision, wanting to support it. Amgen came through with a $2 million grant, the Rotary Club of Camarillo Sunrise pledged $500,000, and the City of Camarillo gifted the former library building and the 3 acres it sits on. It’s gone from an extraordinary, exciting idea to where the museum is on the cusp of reality, poised to break ground this summer.

 

How do you two hope to pass down your spirit of philanthropy to the next generation of your family with Kyler?

MC: We try to lead by example. Our son has resigned himself to having serial volunteers for parents; he sees the tops of our heads a lot of times while we’re working on projects or preparing for meetings. But it’s good; this has become a natural part of his childhood. We’re blessed to have a boy who’s naturally compassionate, so he’s already looking for ways to help and support others. He’s always given a large percentage of his earnings to nonprofits. He served as a volunteer at school as a tutor, as well as the Camarillo Library and kidSTREAM.

We’re in the process of creating a family scholarship fund at VCCF, so we’re engaging his thoughts on it and encouraging him to think about long-term investment and giving. He just turned 15, so it’s a little early for him to have a lot of clarity on specific qualifications for students, but we want him thinking about it: What do you think is important? Who would you like to see have their education supported this way? We trust our son; he has a good mind and a kind heart. So as he matures, he’ll become more involved in our family’s donor advised fund at VCCF. He has a real heart for animals, and I have a sneaking suspicion that, in time, he’s going to add a focus on nonprofits who are friends of furry friends.

Jonathan, as immediate past president of Rotary Club of Camarillo Sunrise, how does the motto “service above self” play a role in your life?

JC: My eyes have been opened to an organization that reaches the world through 30,000 community clubs in 220 countries. I never thought I’d be part of a “club,” but as I learned more about the people involved and their generous and giving hearts for their community, I was hooked. Rotary has a trusted name, and with seed donations from sponsors and hours of volunteer work, we create events that multiply those funds into substantial donations for community projects and charities.

Rotary has given me the tools to do what I do best, and what other people can do best, and puts us all together to create something that makes a big change in the community. Rotary’s motto “service above self” reinforces our belief in creating a better community.

 

Meryl, how did you first get connected with VCCF and what led to you becoming one of our board members?

MC: It was Sean Leonard (VCCF Board Chair), who has been kidSTREAM’s project manager since the early days, who introduced Kristie Akl (kidSTREAM founder) and me to Vanessa and Jim Rivera (VCCF Chief Philanthropic Counsel) back in 2018. I felt like I was talking to kindred spirits. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and VCCF’s work is excellent.

Once I stepped back from the day-to-day work at kidSTREAM and moved into emerita status, Vanessa and Scott Hansen (VCCF Past Board Chair) invited me to lunch to discuss joining VCCF’s Board. I considered it such an honor, because I looked at who was on the board and I said, “Oh my goodness! Sean Leonard, Jack Edelstein, Geoff Dean, Leah Lacayo, Catherine Sepulveda,” all the big names and little me. So, I was—and am—honored and humbled and grateful. It’s been such a wonderful experience to come alongside this team. VCCF donors are also such a special group of people and extraordinary individuals, as are the VCCF staff, and the local nonprofits are so inspiring as well. It’s truly been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

What advice do you have for anyone who’d like to make a difference in their community?

MC: Jump in! The word “passion” comes to mind. What type of good work are you passionate about in the community? Which nonprofits are doing the work you feel enhances our community the most? The more time I spend with VCCF and look at the nonprofit community, I see that we are gifted with this organization because it’s growing, it’s thriving, it’s deeply invested in supporting all the nonprofits and it comes alongside the donors in such a personal way. That makes it easy for someone who wants to make a difference in the community: set up a donor advised fund; or become a scholarship reader or have a conversation with Vanessa, or Mike, or Bonnie, or me, or anybody on the team and say, “Where do I start? Because I want to make a difference, and this is what I care about.”

VCCF is also very diligent about vetting nonprofits, so a donor knows their gift is going not only to the organization that’s doing the best work in that arena, but also that it will be wisely stewarded and their wishes will be fulfilled. That gives us comfort, because we know our giving is going to make the greatest impact now, and will also be safeguarded in the future. Having been involved in the marketing process with VCCF which clarified the organization’s core values, the mission and the vision, I have found that it’s easy to live it. It’s easy to love this work we do.

JC: She’s the real deal – always thinks of others before herself.

Anything else you’d like to say that you didn’t get a chance to during this interview?

MC: I’m in awe not only of VCCF, but of the Ventura County nonprofit community. It is so uplifting. I love that there’s a cooperative spirit, and any event we go to, all the nonprofit leaders are there, and everybody’s hugging each other, asking questions and caring about the answers. It’s truly a community where all boats rise with the incoming tide, and the community itself, I’ve noticed, personifies what God wants us to do, which is to love your neighbor.

Then that leads me to think about the Donor Peer Network and how special that is too. It’s rewarding to be in a room with other donors and people of service. We’re all like-hearted; some will have the same passions, and then we’ll learn about organizations donors are supporting that we’d never heard of. Then we catch the inspiration that comes from their passion. It’s a blessing to share the joy of giving.

 

Learn more about the Donor Peer Network.

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