In what’s become a Pasadena rite of spring, several hundred local ladies donning extravagant hats and fabulous fashions will flock to the Pasadena Hilton on Saturday, April 16, for the seventh annual “Hat-ti-tude” boutique, luncheon and fashion show. Hosted by the Pasadena-Altadena Community Endowment Fund, the benefit will raise money toward PACEF’s Scholar Fund for students in the Pasadena Unified School District. But what’s the story behind PACEF, and who are the founders beneath the brims?
In 1998, 14 local African-American women came together with the mission to provide sustainable scholarship funding for underserved PUSD students. All were members of the Pasadena-Altadena chapter of the Links, a national service organization created and driven by women of color to enrich and sustain the cultural and economic vitality of African-American communities. In order to provide a tax-deductible vehicle for donations to the Links’ scholarship awards program, the PACEF was established as a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation, but its focus later shifted as its directors considered the best ways to make a long-term impact on students’ educational futures.
Rather than simply raising money to give small scholarships each year, the directors decided to focus their efforts on growing the endowment, so that in time, it could provide substantial four-year scholarships to students on interest alone. In establishing the endowment with the Pasadena Community Foundation, the 14 women set an initial goal of $250,000, and each pledged to donate $5,000 over the next five years.
“We started with zero. The money came out of our pocketbooks in the beginning,” said Floraline “Flo” Stevens, a founding director and PACEF’s former president. “This is not an organization of women with tremendous wealth, but this organization’s directors are African-American women who have been successful and have the ability and time to put in that effort. In other words, it’s a payback — they’ve made it, they’re doing well, and they want to make sure that children who are underserved can make it to college.”
Over the years, the endowment continued to grow with support from friends and businesses in the community. To put that $250,000 within reach, however, PACEF’s board decided to streamline its fundraising efforts with an annual event, and in 2009, the first Hat-ti-tude luncheon and fashion show was hosted at the Women’s City Club. After three years of selling to capacity, the event moved to the University Club, where, up until last year, it drew nearly 250 guests, bringing in roughly $30,000 annually. Assistance from the Friends of PACEF, a community support group formed in 2014, has only accelerated the fundraiser’s momentum.
“We’re all focused on the same thing: helping promote and encourage young people from elementary through high school and beyond,” said Brenda Galloway, who heads the Friends of PACEF, serves on the board of directors and co-chaired the first Hat-ti-tude with Stevens. “We want to continue to keep growing, because education is expensive, but it’s necessary, and we want anyone who wants that opportunity to have access to it.”
With the fund now at $220,000, the women of PACEF are primed to shatter their first goal at this year’s Hat-ti-tude luncheon. They’ve also once again outgrown their venue — with some 300 attendees expected this year at the Pasadena Hilton. In keeping with this year’s theme, “Hat-ti-tude and Diamonds,” the event will honor 11 “Community Gems,” women from the community who have given $5,000 or more toward the endowment. Some will be participating as models in this year’s fashion show, which, with its own gems on display, should prove to be a sparkling affair.
Beyond the glitz and glamour, however, there is still work to be done. With the $250,000 milestone in sight, a new goal will soon be set, and when that is met, another will follow. It takes patience and perseverance, but PACEF’s disciplined approach to philanthropy, or “working smart,” as the directors call it, will ultimately yield a legacy of giving that will support generations of Pasadena youth to come.
“The biggest goal is the future — that is to say that when all of us are gone, this fund will be there,” said Yolanda Oliver, PACEF’s current president. “I think we have created a foundation that has stood the test of time. It’s going to be here.”
While PACEF’s directors remain committed to keeping their dainty gloves off the fund’s principal, as the endowment has grown, they have found the ability in recent years to present scholarships to two PUSD students selected by the Links annually. The $1,000 scholarships are modest, but with the cost of books and supplies these days, any bit of help can make a difference.
By providing a pathway to higher education, the PACEF aims to provide disadvantaged youth the opportunity not only to compete, but to thrive in Pasadena’s local economy — a professional landscape dominated by skilled careers in education and technology.
“If they don’t get that leg up, they’re not going to be able to live in Pasadena at the level that we would want them to live,” said Stevens. “Without helping them, we’re condemning them to those low-level jobs, because if they don’t have a good educational background, they’re not going to make it in Pasadena.”
Moreover, rather than losing Pasadena’s youth to opportunities elsewhere, PACEF hopes to draw college graduates back to their hometown, enabling the community to grow and flourish from within.
“If you receive a scholarship from a local organization, it gives you a feeling of value and self-worth, it encourages you in pursuit of your higher education and it tells you somebody cares enough to help support you. That leaves a lasting impression,” said Oliver. “Then, when you get to a place where you can reach back, it becomes a cycle where you continue to help others pursue their educational goals and become contributors to the society here in Pasadena.”
If PACEF’S directors ever needed evidence that their plan is working, they need only read the thank-you letters from the students who have received scholarships so far, or hear them speak at the luncheon about the value of a college education they once thought out of reach.
“You see that something is tangible, that it really does bear fruit, and that’s what motivates us,” said Nell Hollomand, PACEF’s CFO and treasurer. “We’ve done our share of educating ourselves and our children, and now we want to see the community improve. I think we’re on the right track.”