Santa Clara Firefighters Foundation Goes Above and Beyond to Serves the Community

By Melissa McKenzie
Santa Clara Firefighters Foundation Goes Above and Beyond to Serves the Community

A recent phone poll surveying 500 Santa Clara residents found that Santa Clarans overwhelmingly approve of the Santa Clara City Fire Department’s performance. What many Santa Clarans don’t know is that nearly all of the men and women who serve Santa Clara regularly give back to the community through the Santa Clara Firefighters Foundation.

“We have a huge amount of participation from our department and that’s something we’re really proud of,” said Driver/Engineer and Foundation President Cameron Smith. “Not every department has its own certified non-profit that’s as active as we are.”

The non-profit, which is not supported or funded through tax dollars and is entirely self-sustained through donations and fundraising, provides services and support to residents through two main programs—Better Together and Senior Assist—and raises funds for Via Rehabilitation Services, the Santa Clara Schools Foundation and the annual William Purvis Community Service Scholarship.

Established in 1989, the Better Together program provides coaching and mentorship to sixth graders. Smith said the program, which is being led this year by Captain Zach McGhie, teaches leadership, teambuilding and communications skills through participation in activities involving students who come from different walks of life.

“It’s taking kids who wouldn’t necessarily interact together and pairs them up based on strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

The foundation’s Senior Assist program, currently headed by Firefighter Jason Beals, assists Santa Clara senior citizens with certain tasks they may not be able to complete.

“If we encounter anyone who is unable to do house maintenance when we’re on a call we’ll get a group together, go out and take care of it,” said Smith, adding that, in the past, the foundation has installed wheelchair ramps and shower or bathroom grab bars, changed out locks on doors and completed one-time yard cleanups for residents who are often wheelchair-bound and unable to do the work themselves.

Each year the foundation participates in a relay from Calistoga to Santa Cruz to raise funds for Via Rehabilitation Services’ summer camp. In 2015, the foundation organized its first annual Firehouse Run to support the Santa Clara Schools Foundation. Through Turning Wheels for Kids, firefighter volunteers build bikes, which are then distributed to students in need (determined by the Santa Clara School District). The foundation also gives out the $1,000 William Purvis Community Service Scholarship—named after Bill Purvis, a 10 year volunteer and three year paid firefighter with the Santa Clara Fire Department—to community service-driven students to help fund their education. Next year, the foundation plans to use some proceeds from the Firehouse Run for a scholar-athlete scholarship.

Smith said the foundation also helps out with requests as they arise and donates to other local organizations. “The large majority of the things we do,” he said, “come from people who write an email to our foundation board asking for assistance. About once a month we get a request to help out an individual or family, and once a month we get a request for donations to help out other non-profits in the City. Any time a request comes in we’ll try to meet it.”

According to Smith, the foundation is funded through two main sources—donations and its annual crab feed. Held for the past eight years—and always in February—the crab feed is the foundation’s largest fundraiser, of which a portion of proceeds are donated to San Francisco’s Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation. The remainder of the foundation’s $50,000 operating budget comes from citizen, firefighter and business donations.

“We have close to 150 volunteers that donate time and energy throughout the year and I think we do a lot of good,” said Smith. “We’ve been an entity in the City since 1999 … every single person in our department has volunteered in some way. There’s no requirement to be involved, but I think it’s a really good testament to the quality of people our department hires and looks for in its hiring process.”

For more information on the Santa Clara Firefighters Foundation, visit www.santaclarafirefightersfoundation.org or follow the foundation on Twitter, SNCFire, or Instagram, SCFirefightersFoundation.