Sometime back in early 2012, a handful of Santa Cruz real estate agents were having an office meeting in a local coffee shop. They were discussing the usual array of real estate-related topics ranging from: new listings, current market trends and recent offer prices when, towards the end of the meeting, one agent asked: “What can we do as a small group to make a more significant contribution to the Santa Cruz community?”
It was a question that resonated with the deeper roots of Sereno, a real estate company that had been founded six years before by Chris Trapani and Ryan Iwanaga. The two had been good friends since they first met in 7th grade and recently they had both left their management positions with corporately-owned Coldwell Banker, with a goal of starting a different kind of a real estate firm centered around company culture, community values and social responsibility.
Their original vision incorporated many different sources of inspiration, none more important than Yvonne Chenard, the founder of Patagonia, whose book Let My People Go Surfing became the unofficial roadmap for the company’s desire to become a business with a soul that’s committed to community action.
So it wasn’t a huge leap when Roger Knapp, one of those local agents in the coffee shop suggested: “Why don’t we donate 1% of our commissions to some worthy local cause?” The idea fit perfectly with Patagonia’s 1% for the Planet initiative and within minutes, another local agent, Alistair Craft, had come up with a 1% for Good logo drawn literally on the back of a napkin.
From there, others began listing local organizations they knew about who were doing great work and who might be running a little under the radar in the Santa Cruz community. One suggestion was the SC Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team who was trying to raise funds to upgrade their specialized equipment. It seemed like a perfect match.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Three months later the group had gathered a $5,000 donation based on 1% of their gross commissions for the quarter, to hand to the Sheriff’s Office. Now, ten years later that small start has blossomed into the Sereno Charitable Foundation, an ongoing effort that includes 600 agents in 17 local offices who have contributed over $5 million dollars to more than 350 local organizations in the Santa Cruz, Silicon Valley, East Bay and SF Peninsula Regions.
Along the way, Sereno’s 1% initiative has earned a perennial place on the Silicon Valley Business Journal’s annual philanthropic recognition list even rising to #21st in 2020, right along with some of the largest tech firms in the world.
Three Years ago, Sereno partnered with the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County and the Los Altos Community Foundation to formalize their charitable giving and make it easier for people to donate through a streamlined structure that allows more effort to go towards raising funds rather than chasing the complicated changes in non-profit tax law that occur each year.
“There’s a real joy in giving together. I love seeing local businesses become more familiar with the County through their giving programs. One employee might love animal welfare organizations while another is passionate about climate change mitigation and another cares about kids and another is dedicated to services for seniors. In their giving, they learn from each other and everyone increases their sense of belonging – to the community and to the company. It is truly a virtuous cycle.” Susan True, Chief Executive Officer, Community Foundation of Santa Cruz
The list of local non-profit recipients in Santa Cruz is long and Sereno’s support shows up across a wide variety of community causes throughout the County. Here’s a list of local 1% recipients.
“Sometimes I’ll be caught up in a transaction and my heart center might unintentionally shut down, but when some of our charitable groups come in to talk at our office meetings, share stories and remind us of the needs that are all around us, often there isn’t a dry eye in the house. What a gift to receive those little reminders. I’m very grateful.”
— Scarlett Wolford, Realtor at Brezsny Associates Sereno Group
List of the Local Grant Recipients
- Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Posse
- Cultural Council
- Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project
- Grind Out Hunger
- Camphill Communities
- Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History
- Monarch Services
- Boys and Girls Club
- Oceanseed Project
- Survivors Healing Center
- Meals on Wheels
- Digital Nest
- Coastal Watershed Council
- Watsonville Wetlands Watch
- American Legion Veterans Lunch Program
- 180/2020 Initiative
- The Beat Within
- Loads of Love
- Leo’s Haven
- National Alliance of Mental Illness
- Big Brothers Big Sisters
- Girls Inc.
- Hospice of Santa Cruz County
- Teen Kitchen Project
- Downtown Streets Team
- Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History
- Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter
- Vista Center
- Operation Surf
- Felton Library Friends
- O’Neill Sea Odyssey
- Homeless Garden Project
- Joaquin’s Warriors
- Building for Generations
- Carrie’s Dream
- Starlight Culinary Kitchen
- Mountain Parks Foundation
- Pajaro Valley Sports Foundation
- Adobe Services
- Friends of County Parks
- Community Bridges
- Food What?
- Pajaro Valley Shelter
Sereno’s most recent 1% recipient was Monarch Services, a non-profit that helps individuals and families take action against violence and abuse. Their services include a 24-hour bilingual crisis and support line, emergency shelter, counseling, accompaniment to forensic exams, long-term housing support, legal services, and education to survivors of domestic violence, sexual, assault, and human trafficking, as well as their families. They received a check for $7,500 at a small office ceremony in early April.
Fund Development and Grant Manager Cassie Gazipura: “Monarch is incredibly grateful for the partnership of the agents at Sereno. The past two years have disproportionately impacted our community’s most vulnerable families and Sereno’s 1% for Good program is a beautiful example of solidarity through giving. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank them for standing with us.”
The company’s quarterly Community Impact Grants generally average between $7,500-$10,000 each. When community need grew even greater during COVID, Sereno Agents also created several mini-grant silos for covid relief and fire victims that have now evolved into an Equity and Access Fund and a Climate and Culture Fund. Both have played a significant role in helping small, deserving organizations who don’t have the resources to submit lengthy grant proposals or do significant fundraising.
All of our recipients are deserving. There are people out there doing amazing things and helping lots of people beneath the radar. Through homeownership, our clients are investing in a place they love and it’s important for us to follow suit and give back to the places where we also live and work.
— Terry Ballantyne, 1% Team Leader for Santa Cruz
Here’s a link to Sereno’s Grant Application Process for both larger community grants and smaller Equity and Access, Culture and Climate and Covid 19 grants. Any 501 C 3 in SC County is invited to reach out and put in an application. There are also opportunities to visit local Sereno offices and share a story about the work you do in the local community.
Recently Sereno partnered with @Properties, a mid western real estate firm, to purchase the world-renowned Christie’s International Real Estate brand. This remarkable next step in the evolution of Sereno opens another door to huge opportunities to educate and encourage more than 100 Christie affiliates in 46 countries to join the 1% for Good initiative and find ways to give back through community commitment and action.
Community Impact FundWe believe everyone should have access to clean air and water, live free from hunger, have a safe place they call home and the opportunity to create the life of their dreams. Our grant varies in dollar amount, but generally ranges between $5,000 to $15,000.
Equity & Access FundWe believe everyone should have equal access to economic opportunity, education, healthcare and voting rights. Organizations can apply for one Equity & Access Fund grant for $2,000 per fiscal year.
Culture FundWe believe in honoring the arts and creating safe spaces for people to express themselves. Organizations can apply for one Culture Fund grant for $2,000 per fiscal year.
COVID-19 Relief FundWe believe during the toughest of times it’s our responsibility to step up and support the most vulnerable. Organizations can apply for one COVID-19 Relief Fund grant for $2,000 per fiscal year.
Sereno 1% For Good Charitable FoundationWe believe in giving back to the places we live and love. For every dollar we make from the business of buying and selling homes, we are able to invest a portion with local partners and organizations who are working to create positive change in our communities.