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Santana Opens Doors

Carlos Santana counts his Milagro Foundation as a greatest hit



Carlos Santana on a box built last January 18, MLK Day, when over 300 volunteers showed up to build planter boxes, make pathways and plant fruit trees for the Martin Luther King Jr. Academy garden.

Photo by Tim Porter

As Carlos Santana, longtime Marin resident and acclaimed musician, looks forward to a new album release next month and upcoming wedding, he is also celebrating another success, the achievements of his children-centered Milagro Foundation.

The studio album featuring songs chosen by Santana and producer Clive Davis from Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time,” includes compilations of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” with Yo-Yo Ma and India Arie; “Sunshine of Your Love,” with Rob Thomas; and “Dance the Night Away,” with Pat Monahan from Train. It will also include artists such as Joe Cocker and Chris Daughtry.

The 12-year-old foundation, meanwhile, can chalk up its own collection of good works, from child nutrition to literacy efforts, that have brightened the lives of kids in the Bay Area and beyond.

“To me, making music wasn’t good enough,” Santana says. “It doesn’t mean that much to win eight or nine Grammys in the same night and then the next day I am like, ‘so what.’ I am so grateful to play my music and share my music, but I started realizing that I get more joy helping children than I do being number one on the radio.”

Santana credits his parents with giving him the work ethic needed to become an award-winning musician, and for teaching him to be prepared to walk through each new door of opportunity. “What I learned from my mom is that when I show up for something, I’m bringing it all with me … the voices of all the (struggling and less fortunate) people I can represent.”

When it comes to providing open doors to the children served by his San Rafael–based foundation, he credits two dedicated staffers in charge, Ruthie Moutafian and Shelley Brown. It was Brown who answered the phone in February 2008 when Ricardo Salvador, program officer for W. K. Kellogg Foundation, called to ask if Milagro would be interested in a partnering arrangement. Months later, after an extensive application process, he told her the foundation had been selected to receive a three-year $720,000 grant to help low-income communities develop healthy alternatives for child nutrition and health.

“Ruthie and I were completely surprised and incredibly honored that they contacted us, had thoroughly researched our work and felt that we were the kind of organization they wanted to partner with because we shared the same mission for serving vulnerable children,” says Brown. Up to that point Milagro had given around $3.5 million in grants since its inception in 1998. Along with public support in the form of proceeds from sales of Santana concert tickets (50 cents on every ticket purchased) and Santana-licensed products, Milagro also partners with companies like Samsung, Best Buy, nonprofit OneXOne and the San Francisco Giants to raise funds.

Brown met the Santana family when she was principal at their children’s school, San Pedro Elementary. Moutafian, in turn, was Brown’s son’s second-grade teacher. Schools have been a major priority in Milagro’s work: “The more we invest money in education,” says Santana, “the more we will have choices (as social beings) so we can choose compassion and mercy instead of an eye for an eye.”

Milagro is now supporting such Bay Area agencies as Bridge the Gap College Prep in Marin City, the church-based college preparatory Hannah Project in Marin City, Parent Services Project and Marin Literacy. The Kellogg grant, meanwhile, is going to four groups—one in Marin City/Sausalito and three out of state. In New Orleans, an “Edible Schoolyard” program at Samuel Green Charter School seeks to integrate organic gardening and seasonal cooking into curriculum and food programs. Another grantee, the Sankofa Market Place in New Orlean’s Ninth Ward, will provide year-round access to healthy food for more than 300 underserved children. In New Mexico, the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health is creating culturally based nutrition programs for neighboring American Indian communities.

In Marin City and Sausalito, the Milagro Kellogg grant is helping to fund Intergenerational School Gardens and nutrition programs through the Sausalito Marin City School District. With the support of groups like the North Bay Conservation Corps and GrowingGreat Marin City/Sausalito, school gardens were planted at MLK Middle School, Bayside Elementary and Willow Creek Academy, where the students grow and harvest their own produce. To help support access to healthy food for southern Marin communities, a weekly farmers’ market on Saturday mornings was established by the Marin Agricultural Institute in the Marin City Gateway Shopping Center.

Already, at Bayside, there are signs of success. During the last few weeks of school the food services director was thrilled to announce they ran out of food in the salad bar. “We all thought, ‘yahoo! It’s working!’” Brown says.

But Milagro isn’t resting on its laurels—much remains to be done, both with the Kellogg projects and the hundreds of other programs the foundation serves. Santana cites a favorite quote from John Coltrane that keeps him going. “‘One positive thought creates millions of positive vibrations,’” he says, adding, “If you plant something with love, it will grow strong.”

Here’s how you can help with the Marin City/Sausalito garden and nutrition projects or others supported by Milagro in Marin:

• Volunteer to help in any of the four gardens at the schools.

• If you’re an interested chef, assist with cooking lessons in the classrooms.

• Come to the Marin City Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings in the Gateway Shopping Center (near Best Buy).

To volunteer, make a donation, watch informational videos, find a grantee or get more information, visit milagrofoundation.org or call 415.460.9939.

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