Belle Haven Action: Engaging the community

Volunteers check in families at a COVID-19 test site in Belle Haven on December 13, 2020. Photo by Magali GauthierVolunteers check in families at a COVID-19 test site in Belle Haven on December 13, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier

From spearheading COVID-19 vaccination drives to helping senior citizens sign up for housing, Belle Haven Action is a catalyst for projects that serve the community.

The group works in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park, and its mission statement says it advocates for “equity, inclusion, and acknowledgement of the diversity that makes our neighborhood unique.”

Belle Haven Action is one of the 74 grantees from the California Black Freedom Fund’s (CBFF) latest grantmaking round. CBFF is a five-year, $100 million initiative to ensure that Black power-building and movement-based organizations have the sustained investments and resources they need to eradicate systemic and institutional racism. This round of grants focused on Black-led organizations with operating budgets of less than $1 million.

The CBFF provides flexible operating support to its grantees — something that is particularly valuable to Belle Haven Action.

“Having grants that don’t come with barriers – no strings – is helpful to an organization that is small and mighty,” said Cecilia Taylor, the group’s founder and executive director. “It gives us flexibility.”

Belle Haven Action CEO Cecilia Taylor celebrates Juneteenth 2021 at the Karl Clark Park Storyboard Unveiling. Photo courtesy of Belle Haven Action
Belle Haven Action CEO Cecilia Taylor celebrates Juneteenth 2021 at the Karl Clark Park Storyboard Unveiling. Photo courtesy of Belle Haven Action

For example, the group was looking at providing dumpsters for a neighborhood street cleanup, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented it. They were able to pivot, though, and help a resident who asked for assistance disposing of unneeded items. “It was nice to be able to say yes,” Taylor said. “It is important to have flexibility with funding, because things change.”

The grant to Belle Haven Action is one example of how CBFF’s work aligns with SVCF’s goal of being an equity-centered organization, supporting historically under-resourced communities.

“The CBFF focus is on power-building – how groups are organizing the local community, what issues they’re trying to advance in the state, and what public policies they’re paying attention to,” said Stuart C. Burden, vice president of corporate and foundation relations at Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which provides administrative and fiscal management of the fund.

As of August 2021, the statewide CBFF funding initiative has raised $50.2 million and has distributed more than $15 million in the past year. It is aiming to raise $100 million over the next five years from foundations, corporate donors, and individual donors. The fund plans to do two or three rounds of grantmaking each year, with a different focus for each round.

Filling Gaps

When the Belle Haven community needs assistance, Belle Haven Action steps up. For example, Belle Haven Action helped local senior citizens sign up for a newly built senior housing complex, that had otherwise been inaccessible to them.

“Housing, access to food, employment – it’s about making sure people had a voice where they needed it most,” Taylor said.“If we found out something needed to be done, we figured out a way.”

Often, the group acts as a catalyst for broader actions. When they realized that some students in the community were riding buses 1.5 hours each way to school with no food, they organized a pilot program to give the students bag breakfast and snacks. They then talked to another nonprofit who galvanized a group along with the county Office of Education about how to implement the program more broadly. “All students having access to food is now a statewide action– we are so excited,” Taylor said.

The group has also pivoted to providing COVID-19 testing and vaccination, moving nimbly to meet needs as they arose.

“We weren’t set up to do COVID testing, but with the support of the County of San Mateo Public Health Department, we trained a team and started doing COVID testing in November 2020, and we’re still doing it today,” Taylor said. At the testing site, they provided information on health resources, rent relief and other timely topics. Belle Haven Action is working to offer these resources regularly.

A family self-administers swab tests at a COVID-19 test site in Belle Haven. Photo by Magali GauthierA family self-administers swab tests at a COVID-19 test site in Belle Haven. Photo by Magali Gauthier

My community is the only area of Menlo Park with no pharmacy or medical facility, Taylor said. Having the trust of the community from previous activities was crucial in getting buy-in for testing and vaccines.

“We didn’t just show up with COVID – we were here before and will be here after,” Taylor said.

A Positive Partnership

SVCF has been a key partner to Belle Haven Action.

“When we first started doing testing, SVCF stepped in to offer some operational support,” helping with procurement and contract issues, Taylor said.

A previous SVCF grant, from SVCF’s COVID-19 Nonprofit Emergency Support Fund, has also allowed Belle Haven Action to pay its workers above minimum wage – and to keep paying them during the pandemic.

“They’ve been responsive,” Taylor said of SVCF. “We’re in constant communication. They keep themselves aware of what’s happening so they can figure out how to shift funding or expand it. They stay in the know.”

Learn more about the California Black Freedom Fund and contribute to power-building in our state here.

Check out other current and upcoming SVCF grantmaking programs here.

Support organizations in SVCF’s Black-led Organization Giving Guide here.

Learn more about Belle Haven Action here.