A Brief History

The Early Days

In 1994, a unique scholarship program was born from the desire of a group of committed community members. These people were concerned about the same things many other communities face such as abuse, gangs, violence, drugs, and dropping out among our youth.  Many of these “Founders” were the leaders in organizing community forums to address the issues mentioned above. During one of these forums, a young man stood up and spoke. He voiced his appreciation for our concern and the attempts we were making to address these issues.

He then said something that became the seed for this scholarship program. He said, “I really do think it is great that you care and that hundreds of you are here. But, you are here because of what we did wrong, the mistakes we have made. I have to ask, how many of you would be there if we did something right? How many of you would notice?”

We took this idea and formed the If Given the Chance Scholarship Program. We not only wanted to recognize special youth and assist them in furthering their education, we wanted to show them that the community would turn out to honor them as well. All of our recipients have overcome tremendous obstacles. Some of these obstacles were of their own making but often they were victims, courageous ones.

On May 19, 1995, we celebrated 12 high school seniors with a $1000 scholarship each at our first annual awards dinner. Senator Mike Thompson was the keynote speaker, Judge Ron Young awarded the scholarships and Dan Corsello, retired Director, Napa County Health and Human Services, was the master of ceremonies. In addition to the scholarships, each of the young people received a Certificate of Honor from the State Senate, Assembly, and the U.S. Congress.
The first cohort included teen moms, ex-gang members, a cancer survivor, a young man with cerebral palsy and a young lady who raised her siblings after her parents died and still managed a 4.0 G.P.A. These recipients attended Brigham Young, St. Mary’s, Napa Valley College, Cal Poly, UC Davis, UCLA, and UC Santa Barbara.

If Given A Chance has continued to identify students at risk and support them from high school through college completion for 27 years!

Increased Scholarship Funding

Our desire to truly give these young people a chance prompted us over the years to increase the amount of the scholarships to $2,500 per year. We have implemented these continuing support scholarships as a permanent part of our program for those students who continue in school and make satisfactory progress. We’ve added services for our students such as mentoring, college and life skills workshops, mental health referrals, and information about financial aid / scholarship opportunities. The students have told us over and over again how much they appreciate the help of the Student Services Manager and other professionals on our volunteer team who support them all the way through college. Since supporting that first successful cohort of students we have celebrated over 400 students who graduated from college.

Many Supporters from Across Napa County

We have been honored with an excellent response from the community. The original financial supporters included; the Gasser Foundation, Vintage Bank, Sutter Home and Robert Mondavi Wineries, Nova Group, Napa Pipe, PG&E, The Doctors Company and many more. In more recent years our major donors have included the Warren Winiarski family, Elizabeth Glenn O’Dell & Patrick O’Dell, Steve Montgomery & Cynthia Buttita, Ruth Epstein Schuler Foundation, Choix De Vie, Napa Valley Community Foundation, St. Joseph Health, Quest Foundation, and Rotary Club of Napa.

In 2020, our donor base grew with the generous support by State Senator Bill Dodd, who named If Given A Chance as the recipient of proceeds from his annual holiday party, raising over $270,000. That year we raised an additional $170,000 from our annual awards ceremony and Fall newsletter drive. That year reflected an incredible demonstration of community support, considering both events were virtual due to the COVID Pandemic shutdown!

We award an average of $100,000 per year. In 2018, the Bob Almeida and Harry Price families established a scholarship fund for students who are interested in business, finance, and the arts. Bob and Harry were longtime business developers in our community and well-loved by all who knew them. After his sudden death in 2021, Bill Chiat’s family established a fund in his name to support LGBTQ+ students. With the continued support of ongoing donors and the addition of the new scholarships, we know we can meet this goal year over year.

This will allow us to continue awarding at least 15 new scholarships and to support new and continuing students. In 2022, we selected 17 new students – rising high school seniors – increasing from 10 students in the previous year, bringing the total students served to 47. Our board has set a goal to expand the program to serve a total of 100 students a year in high school and college by 2024. In September of 2022, IGAC established a partnership with Students Rising Above and all college students in the program will participate in their Students Online Achieving Results (SOAR) program. Read more about the partnership here.

This program was truly a grassroots effort. As it gained notice and momentum, agencies, political leaders and corporations played a direct, personal part in its success. Everyone was deeply affected by what this program produced. In Judge Young’s words after the first awards dinner, “I wish I had brought my family; this was the most moving event I have ever taken part in.”