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Coperachas by The Dozen

By: Guille Gil-Reynoso

I grew up in a traditional, large Latino family with 11 siblings, in a three-bedroom house, “chile con carne,” and a whole lot of love. We grew up knowing that we take care of our elders, the young and our community. We were a very full dozen, so it was pretty natural that my older sisters helped my mother raise the younger siblings in El Sitio, Zacatecas, Mexico first, and then later in Santa Barbara.

When I first started working at the Santa Barbara Foundation eight years ago, my boss, the President & CEO, kept using the word Philanthropy in many of his presentations. I vividly remember listening to him at one event and frankly thinking that I could not relate and/or identify with such a sophisticated word. It had not been part of my vocabulary growing up and was a word that, at the time, felt so distant to me. “Philanthropy” meant money, to me, and what I did know was that we did not grow up with a lot of money. Over time, however, my understanding of philanthropy evolved, and I realized that philanthropy existed in my home ever since I can remember. My family gave to many causes. We gave (and received) in a unique and informal way, and we never put a name to this.

I clearly remember the crinkled envelope that often lay on the dining room table holding $20 bills with names written on it in chicken scratch handwriting. These were the “coperachas” we had in our household. A coperacha basically involves a group of individuals pitching in for a specific need or cause. Sometimes it was pitching in for Irene to see a doctor, or for Alejandro, who was experiencing a rough bump in the road after a lost job, or “mala cosecha,” a bad crop season. Oftentimes, it was also for happy occasions, such as a “Quince” (a coming of age celebration for a young girl) to contribute to the expenses of the Mass, hall or fiesta.

My most gratifying memory of “philanthropy” at la casa Gil was when I was preparing to leave for college at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. My family, friends, and neighbors excitedly pitched in to purchase “el aguacate,” or the “avocado,” for me. El Aguacate was a used 1979 Chevy Chevette that had a few - no actually several - dents on the right bumper! My father proudly presented this college gift to me and assured me that it would help me get around the college campus safely. Later in life, our large extended families jumped in to lend my husband and me money for the down payment of our first home. Upon reflecting back, I truly believe that these giving and receiving experiences were ingrained in my parents’ upbringing and their firm belief in supporting others to attain a better place in life.

Philanthropy -whether it is giving of our time, talents or financial resources - has an undeniable return on investment. I see this time after time. The return on investment is the opportunity to stretch our mental landscape to see a different perspective, one that may be beyond understanding, or the imaginable. As a giver, one is invited to put themselves in another person’s shoes. As a receiver, one is able to see the opportunities and the unthinkable. I believe a philanthropist is a giver and a receiver simultaneously, and that philanthropy begins with commitment and responsibility towards family, friends and community. This is what “philanthropy” has meant for my family all along, and we continue to be excited and energized about passing this on to the next Gil batch.

Guille Gil-Reynoso is a Community Investment Officer at the Santa Barbara Foundation.

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