Napa nonprofit uses wine barrel auction proceeds to benefit youth mental health
Napa Valley Vintners’ offshoot organization raises money to tackle a problem that affects 60% of Napa County’s youth
“We live here and believe in taking care of this special place. We have the same dedication to our community as we do to our wine and vineyards.”
Those are the words of Donna Walker, grants review committee chairperson for the nonprofit Napa Valley Vintners and proprietor of Pulido-Walker Estate Vineyards and Winery.
Since the trade organization started its fundraising arm in 1981, it has distributed approximately $230 million to nonprofits throughout Napa County, with an impact on more than 115,000 individuals a year, according to Walker.
It is strength in numbers that allows the vintners group, which has more than 500 member wineries who collectively raise large amounts of cash for charitable causes.
The Vintners, through its charitable arm Collective Napa Valley, in June raised $3.8 million at what it billed as a summer auction weekend. Since 1981, Napa Valley Vintners has donated over $225 million to the community, focusing on health care and youth development, according to a news release.
That money in large part will go to SHINE Napa Valley, which stands for Student Health Improvement through Nonprofit Excellence. The collaborative is composed of Napa Valley Education Foundation, Aldea Children & Family Services, Mentis Mental Health Services, On the Move, and Up Valley Family Center. It was established in early 2022.
Youth mental health
In the past year, Napa Valley Vintners contracted with an independent third party to spend nearly eight months developing a community needs assessment to determine where to target its fundraising efforts. Youth mental health rose to the top, with the subsequent decision that SHINE would be the primary funding recipient.
“Youth mental health takes on so many facets — school attendance, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harming, depression, anxiety, so many things,” said Michelle Laymon, community investment manager for wine trade association.
Walker said the findings revealed that 60% of the youth in Napa County are struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, while 47% of seventh graders are so concerned about academic success that they are anxious and worried.
“There are implications to school attendance. You see how this domino continues to impact their lives if they are not going to school,” Walker said. “If we can provide resources early on, it can have short-term and long-term consequences.”
The Napa Valley Education Foundation is the lead agency for SHINE.
“We came together knowing there was a huge youth mental health crisis in our nation and knowing that the state was going to be releasing grant funding and that the federal government was interested in funding the issue. Funding is greatly needed in Napa County,” said Jennifer Stewart, executive director of the education foundation.
The individual leaders realized they could better leverage resources by collaborating, while also reducing some overhead and duplicative efforts, and still maintain their specialties.
SHINE was awarded $1.5 million from the vintner group in 2022, with money to be distributed in four installments across two years. Performance measures come with the allocation, along with rigorous oversight to ensure the money is making a difference.
How much of the total raised this year will go to SHINE has not been disclosed, but it is the primary beneficiary and will receive at least $1 million, according to the Vintners.
While the Vintners had provided funding to the individual partners of SHINE in the past, the group reorganized its charitable arm during the pandemic. Collective Napa Valley was launched in January 2022, with the decision to have more fundraisers besides the barrel auction, with changes to that event and how money is distributed.
The goal is to provide sustained, though not unlimited, funding.
Housing was another need that percolated to the top in the needs assessment, with the Vintners likely to keep it in the forefront as an advocacy initiative, according to Walker. The grants chairperson also said fire mitigation is something the group is likely to entertain as a future project.
SHINE has already put the Vintners money to use.
“We’ve expanded services to rural communities in Napa County where they didn’t have any,” said Stewart, the SHINE point person. This includes the schools in Howell Mountain and Pope Valley. “And we expanded case management and have identified kids in need throughout the whole county.”
The Vintners money is paying for youth outreach coordinators at the wellness centers that are now open at several schools.
“We are creating a base line of services so every Napa County school has similar core services,” Stewart said.
This will be done in partnership with SHINE and the school districts.
Youth in Napa Valley, and much of wine country and other parts of the West, have been challenged by fires. The Tubbs, Atlas and Nuns fires burned in the area in 2017, while 2020 saw the LNU Lightning Complex Fire that charred more than a third of Napa County. A month later the Glass Fire erupted.
Stewart said the need for mental services escalated by 30% after the fires.
“That is big,” she said. “It’s hard to come back to school when you are nervous to even be there.”
Then came the pandemic, which only exacerbated things for those already in a precarious state of mind.
Another hurdle for most people no matter their age is overcoming the stigma of mental health. Gradually, seeking mental health is being seen as normal as needing to get help for a physical ailment. A goal of SHINE’s is to normalize seeking mental health help just like one would for a broken arm, the flu or some other issue.
“Our mission is to ensure every student who needs services can get it, whether it’s on a school campus or at a place that is safe to them,” Stewart said.
Mental health issues, though, are not something she believes will ever completely disappear.
As Stewart said, “There is always something to work on.”
Kathryn Reed is a journalist who has spent most of her career covering issues in Northern California. She has published four books, with the most recent being Sleeping with Strangers: An Airbnb Host’s Life in Lake Tahoe and Mexico. She may be reached at kr@kathrynreed. com, or follower her at kathrynreed.com, Twitter @Kathryn0925, or Instagram @kathrynreed0925.