Alumni Profile: Jacqueline Jacobs Caster '79
“I grew up in a household where philanthropy work was really stressed. Everyone in my family was geared that way from the get-go.”
Jacqueline Jacobs Caster ’79 developed her philanthropic roots in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City. Today, as a long-time resident of Los Angeles, California, Caster continues to develop the charitable habits that began with her parents’ prompting.
Shawnee Mission is a world away from the city of Los Angeles with its 3.7 million people walking its streets every day. The Financial District, the Artist District, Chinatown, Little Tokyo, and the Historic Core all boast the distinct personalities of the people who live here. Considering that diversity and the scale of Los Angeles, it must have been daunting for Caster to develop and implement a plan that would make her parents proud.
Caster graduated from Pomona with a degree in government and continued her education first in a joint degree program at the Boston University School of Law and then with a Master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard. After finding a position as a real estate attorney, Caster moved to Los Angeles in 1983. She’s worked in real estate consulting with the Disney organization and eventually started with her own consulting firm specializing in entertainment retail real estate and real estate development.
One would imagine that a resumé full of such successful endeavors would make a woman happy if not supremely satisfied with her accomplishments, but Caster sought to do still more for the people of her community.
Oddly enough, it was the obituaries in Caster’s local newspaper that helped her to find her calling. She had always been fascinated by how people’s lives and all of their accomplishments could be summed up in one paragraph.
“I was thinking about my own obituary one day and how I would not be happy with the way it would read right now,” she said. “It would say that I was a wonderful wife, mother, and daughter…but I felt like there would have been a little piece that was missing. I hadn’t really made an impact or significantly helped someone outside my own circle. I don’t want to leave this planet without having helped someone outside my own circle.”
In her previous positions with other Los Angeles area charity groups, Caster was frustrated knowing that the only thing expected of her was her help on the fund-raising board.
“I always felt that I wasn’t really asked to use my mind or my professional skills in any way; there was no intellectual component to it, and I felt that the functions themselves were not raising the kind of money that they should be.”
So Caster took it upon herself to develop a new sort of charity group in the Everychild Foundation, an organization comprised solely of women who share in a passion for all children’s causes. As a mother of two (Bryce, age 12; and Jocelyn, age 10), Caster was very much aware of and sympathetic to the needs of children in the surrounding metropolitan area. She rightfully assumed that her female friends and most immediate peers would share in her vision to create an organization dedicated to “easing the suffering of children, whether it be due to disease, disability, abuse, neglect, or poverty.” It became their mission to fund those projects that had the potential to fill a critical, unmet need in the community.
And so it was women reinventing philanthropy. Today, more than 140 members participate in the activities of the Everychild Foundation. Each member makes a $5,000 annual donation to the foundation. The money is pooled and instead of giving a little here and there, a single grant with a major impact is given each year to the most deserving children’s cause as determined by the Everychild Foundation Grant Selection Committee.
There are no salaries paid for foundation or committee participation. All of the women, including Caster, volunteer their time and talents. All of the foundation events including the annual grant hearing, the luncheon and formal grant presentation, salons featuring various speakers on children’s issues, and the annual Family Day event are completely underwritten by conscientious individuals such as Pomona alumnus Minott Wessinger ’79 and local business people who admire what the foundation does in support of Los Angeles’ youth programs.
In its first three years, the Everychild Foundation has given away more than $1.8 million in grant funds. The first $230,000 was given to QueensCare, a mobile dental clinic staffed by the students at the USC School of Dentistry and dedicated to fighting the growing epidemic of dental infections and poor dental hygiene in the Los Angeles community.
After entertaining a diverse group of proposals, the Everychild Foundation elected to give its second gift in the amount of $385,000 to the Wonder of Reading, a project providing for the creation of libraries in area elementary schools. Reports showed that the districts do not budget specific funds for libraries, librarians, or even updated reading material. So with this grant, Everychild was able to fund the creation of fifteen new libraries, stocking them with new books and providing for library volunteer training. Ten thousand of the $385,000 grant was earmarked for the preparation of a basic manual, which describes the details of the process and will help teach other school districts and charitable entities around the country how to replicate the program.
Six hundred thousand dollars was granted to the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) this last year, allowing for a large building renovation which will open up space for an additional three hundred children per year and help to expand the services offered to abused children; services which include but are not limited to counseling and legal advocacy.
Most recently, the Everychild Foundation announced that the 2004 grant will go to the Optimist Youth Home in Los Angeles, a project group working with very troubled children struggling with school, criminal offenses, and drug abuse, who are referred to the youth home by the juvenile system, and who are frequently labeled as “last ditch kids.” The exact grant amount will be determined at the end of this fiscal year.
In addition to Caster, several other Pomona College women have been instrumental in the success of the Everychild Foundation. Nancy Kendall McCabe ’78, Alison Whalen ’79, and Tracy Katayama Esse ’79 were all very active in the grant screening process. Also involved were Sheryl Gross Sokoloff ’80, Jean Moran Kaplan ’83, and founding member Pamela Creighton ’79, who recently passed away but was noted as having “loved working with this organization.”
“We aim to have a really diverse group of women,” says Caster. “We have women who are very dynamic career women; we have entertainers, artists, doctors, and stay-at-home moms. We are very diverse politically, racially, religion-wise, age-wise. But I think what bonds the group together is that we all feel passionate about helping children. We want to write the check and meet the person that our dollar helps.”
Caster makes a point to note that her primary devotion is to her husband and two children, but she explains that the Everychild Foundation works as a perfect compliment to her already busy lifestyle. She feels now that her efforts really do make a difference in the lives of people outside of her immediate circle. She has the opportunity to use her intelligence, to network with an impressive group of dynamic women, and to share in a true feeling of unanimity when working alongside her counterparts of the Everychild Foundation. She enjoys the fact that women are natural consensus builders; and she uses this quality to the community’s advantage. The foundation brings together women with diverse backgrounds, talents, and ideas to help instigate that one significant community project each year that will prove to “set a precedent, address a problem, and ultimately take on a life bigger than just itself.”
—Erika Gamst '01