Subscribe for 33¢ / day

It was billed as an event to meet Jenny Ocon, the new executive director of the Up Valley Family Centers. It turned out to be much more than that.

On Wednesday, March 12, at Vineyard 29, the McMinn Family Foundation pledged $25,000 a year for four years as a challenge grant. The Jones Family Foundation matched it. Elaine Jones, who serves as vice president of the Up Valley Family Centers, said the two grants “should encourage the rest of the community to put their support behind the newly merged Up Valley Family Center.”

The grants are unrestricted and “show a lot of trust in the board and new leadership” of the UVFC, which is the new entity of the former Calistoga and St. Helena family centers. Its board is made up of a dozen people, 10 who had served on both boards previously and two people from the community. In Calistoga, the staff is made up of eight people, although not all are full time; the St. Helena staff includes four full-time people. Ocon and a new staffer with training in Early Childhood Education split their time between the two centers.

Rick Jones and his wife, Elaine, are behind the Jones Family Foundation and, on March 12, Rick announced the matching grant. Two days later, Elaine spoke about the Jones Family Foundation. “It has a history and background in supporting the family center, both directly and through the Napa Valley Community Foundation,” she said. The McMinn Family Foundation, run by Vineyard 29 owners Chuck and Ann McMinn, has a history of supporting with Calistoga’s preschool program, “Summer Bridges,” and with Napa Learns. Both foundations have a great deal of interest in education and families, Jones said.

Both Jones and Kristen Georges served on the merger team that put together the St. Helena and Calistoga family centers. Currently Georges is president of the board, and was former executive director of the St. Helena Family Center and interim director of the Calistoga Family Center.

What does the $200,000 mean to the UVFC? Jones said, “It allows us to be very, very smart about the programs we offer and provide. One of the things that is very important when delivering programs is to make sure programs are meeting a need and showing a difference. In my book, evaluation is absolutely important.”

Georges said there’s a lot of work to be done, very critical administrative work that includes bank accounts, financials and bringing two offices into one, that will set the UVFC up for success going forward. “The other thing we’re doing is talking to community members about the current programs we offer and where are there ‘blank spaces’ (programs) that we’re not offering that we could offer,” Georges said. The process will not be simple nor quick, but with time, the staff hopes to learn what the community needs. And “hopefully, with community support, we can raise additional funds,” she added.

Two open houses are scheduled and Georges said she would love to have people come to both centers to visit. In St. Helena, the open house is 2-4 p.m. Tuesday, March 25, at 1440 Spring St. In Calistoga, it will be held from 2-4 p.m. Wednesday, March 26, at 1500 Cedar St. “We would love to see people come in and talk about our upcoming programming,” she said.

Finally, Georges said she was excited to report on the 10th annual April Fools Challenge, which will begin Saturday, March 29, and end Saturday, April 27. During the challenge, bicyclists throughout the valley ride as much as they can, gather pledges from family and friends, and ride for one of four family centers (St. Helena, Calistoga, American Canyon and Cope.) The winners, those who have ridden the most miles, will be announced at the Napa Bike Fest, to be held April 27.

The event is being coordinated by the Napa County Bicycle Coalition (Napa Bike) and registration is open at

This year Napa Bike is using the new National Bike Challenge online mileage tracking tool. The April Fools Challenge is recognized as an official local challenge, and so when you register, your ZIP code will automatically place you in the April Fools Challenge and associate you with a “Team” consisting of all riders who live in your town. To participate, cyclists need to register by April 10.

To kick off the monthlong challenge, the Eagle Cycling Club will lead a ride at 8:45 a.m. Sunday, March 30, starting and ending at St. Helena’s Velo Vino, 709 Main St. For information contact Meg Barkley, or 968-0625.


Load comments