Beyond her passion for viticulture sustainability as president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, Karissa Kruse is a fierce advocate for homeless youth in the county who, as she puts it, are “willing to work hard and go the extra mile…they just need someone to take a small chance on them.”

In November 2016, Kruse went all-in for Social Advocates for Youth and SAY’s inaugural One Cold Night event during which more than 40 professionals slept outside overnight in the pouring rain and frigid temperatures as part of a 44-day campaign to raise $100,000 for operational support of the new SAY Dream Center in Santa Rosa — as well as to increase awareness of the need to end homelessness in the county, while experiencing what it’s like to be homeless on the street with no shelter.

“I am fortunate. It was just one night for me, but it forever changed my perspective. I am still in awe of these youth, who against all odds, are still able to make positive changes in their lives and contribute to the local community. I was humbled by the amazing support of the local wine and grape growing community.”

By mobilizing her network of contacts as additional donors, Kruse became the number one fundraiser, securing more than $16,000 in four weeks. Top individuals and businesses she rallied included: The Rubin Family of Wines, American AgCredit, Redwood Empire Vineyard Management, E&J Gallo, Kendall-Jackson, Hogan Land Services, Dutton Ranch Corporation, Sangiacomo Family Vineyards, Iron Horse Vineyards, Sonoma County Vintners, Pisenti & Brinker, Bevill Vineyard Management and D.K. Embroidery to name a few.

“By introducing many new community members to our work at SAY, Kruse effectively compounded her fundraising connections and ensured that the impact of their collective philanthropy efforts will endure beyond one cold November night,” said Stephanie Picard Bowen, volunteer and events coordinator for SAY.

SAY needs thousands of dollars per youth per year to cover staffing, programs and housing costs for 40 young people, a figure to rise to 63 within three years. Thanks to Kruse and many donors, the final fundraising total topped $180,000.

Even though SAY youth may not know Karissa by name, Bowen said they will feel the result of her actions, and those of the generous donors she approached, when they successfully finish high school, secure a first job, engage in healthy relationships and have a warm and safe place to call home every night. Last year SAY served 7,777 youth and family members in Sonoma County.