CONCORD -- At the East Bay Leadership Council's Contra Costa/Tri-Valley Philanthropy Awards Nov. 7, individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations were honored for their efforts to improve the lives and futures of residents in the greater East Bay region.

The leadership council is a public policy advocacy group with a sprawling mission including job growth, adequate education, housing, public transportation, safe water, economic business incentives and everything relating to civic life.

The 13 award recipients represent efforts to combat problems suffered by underserved communities, unprotected environmental resources, the homeless, foster youth, children without arts access and citizens whose health education or academic opportunities are limited.

The Outstanding Collaborative Project award went to the Mount Diablo Beacon Restoration Project but honored a number of community and business organizations who raised the $100,000 used to restore the historic Pearl Harbor beacon atop the mountain.

"Can you imagine two oil companies, Shell and Chevron, working together with an environmental organization?" said Save Mount Diablo Executive Director Ron Brown as he accepted the award.

"There was a thread, a light that brought us all together and protected our freedoms.

"It's more than a light shining into the past; it will continue to shine, to remind us of how important it is to care for each other and the health of the world and its people and places."

Sid Espinoza. the director of corporate citizenship for Microsoft's Silicon Valley offices, was tghe keyhnote speaker for the event at the Concord Hilton. He hit the ground running, reflecting on his childhood but wasting no time zeroing in on the day's message.

"My dad was from Mexico and came here with nothing in his pocket, not speaking English," Espinosa recalled. "The power of this nation is that, in one generation, he was watching his son graduate from college. With that gift comes a responsibility to give back, to engage. My parents instilled in me that responsibility."

Silicon Valley was an orchard-filled farming community when Espinosa was a boy, growing up in Gilroy, the son of a teacher and an engineer.

He attended Wesleyan and Harvard Universities before becoming a Clinton White House speechwriter and serving as an aide to Janet Reno in the Department of Justice.

"I always knew I'd come back," Espinosa said about his return to the West Coast in 2000.

"A big difference in the work at the national level is that you can work for 15 years and wonder if you make a difference. On the local level, although someone will want to talk to you about the pothole in front of their house, you can identify a problem and make something happen."

Espinosa made something happen as director of global philanthropy at Hewlett Packard and, beginning in 2008, in Palo Alto, where he won a seat on the city council.

In 2011, Espinosa became Palo Alto's first Hispanic mayor.

Five local libraries he described as "crumbling" have been or are being refurbished.

Invited to speak about partnership-based philanthropy and government gridlock, Espinosa said the power to make change was shifting to the local level. California cities, he suggested, would lead the rest of the country.

"There are so many in this room who have had a lifetime of service to the community," he said to those convened at the Concord Hilton.

"We're seeing a shift to community empowerment from the corporate sector. It's influencing policy and how nonprofits are run."

He said Microsoft matches employees' commitments to nonprofit agencies, up to $15,000 a year.

His company's employees gave $100 million last year to nonprofits, and the company's YouthSpark initiative empowers young people to use technology to address social needs

Espinosa said corporate partnerships to support computer science education are crucial.

"Half of our population in the United States are not prepared for where the jobs will be," he said. "Girls in middle schools are dropping out of math and science at alarming rates. It's appalling and will greatly impact how our business sectors grow."

Contra Costa/
Tri-Valley Philanthropy Awards
  • Outstanding Collaborative Project: Mount Diablo Beacon Restoration Project, Contra Costa
  • Outstanding Corporate Philanthropist (501 employees and above): Phillips 66 Rodeo Refinery
  • Outstanding Corporate Philanthropist (100 to 500 employees): Heffernan Insurance Brokers, Walnut Creek
  • Outstanding Corporate Philanthropist (1 to 99 employees): Brookfield Homes Northern California, Danville
  • Outstanding Corporate Philanthropist (1 to 99 employees): Douglah Designs, Lafayette
  • Outstanding Philanthropists: Wendy and Earl Dunivan, Pleasant Hill
  • Outstanding Foundation or Community Grant Maker: Target Foundation
  • Outstanding Foundation or Community Grant Maker: John Muir/Mt. Diablo Community Health Fund, Walnut Creek/Concord
  • Outstanding Volunteer of the Year: Deborah Jansen, Lafayette
  • Next Generation Philanthropists: Paige Blake and Katie Easterly, Walnut Creek (What's Mine is Yours clothing drive)
  • Lifetime Achievement: Project Hearth (Contra Costa)