Just returning from a meet-and-greet with the Board of Directors of the Community Foundation of Sonoma County, 39-year-old Aiko-Sophie Ezaki spoke with the Sun’s Anna Pier about her path in the nonprofit world.
You have just joined the Board of Directors of the Community Foundation.
Yes, I’m the representative from the Catalyst Fund here in the Valley. I will serve on the Foundation’s Community Investment committee and the committee for Diversity and Inclusion.
That’s an impressive role you are taking on. How did this come about?
When the pandemic began, I was working for ReBuild NorthBay. I represented them on the pandemic needs group formed by local organizations, nonprofits, and government to meet the new situation. In September 2020 I had my second baby. Not long after, I left my job with ReBuild, but I asked this pandemic needs group if I could please remain on the committee.
Talk more about this.
Food Security was the first initiative of what has become the Sonoma Valley Catalyst Fund. It was typical gap-funding, stepping in to fill the need, but this was the most exciting trust-based, responsive fundraising I’ve ever been part of. Katherine Fulton and Dub Hay, the co-chairs, developed trusted relationships with the local nonprofit executive directors, and the turn-around time was remarkable.
Previous fundraising experience?
From 2009-2019 I worked in Sonoma and Marin counties for the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund – the philanthropic hub for the Jewish community in the North Bay. My first nonprofit connection here in the Valley, before I moved from San Francisco, was with Impact100, in their NextGen group, and DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) committee. This helped me see what the major needs here were, what the nonprofits were doing.
Professional work currently?
For the last two years working for my husband’s general contracting business. He asked me to help him grow the business. I took a step back from personal career and income, but because he doesn’t mind my taking flexible hours, it has opened up all these leadership possibilities, working on issues I am passionate about. This helps me be a little more sane as I’m raising children in this crazy world. It gives me a place to take all the angst and anxiety, to feel like I’m really doing something. Recently I joined the Sonoma Valley Collaborative steering committee. I also serve on the Community Advisory Committee for The Community Hub at Hanna. You have to start in your own community. You see the need, and can be part of the solution.
Talk about this.
Our Valley is a microcosm of many of the big issues nationally. Like the terrible need here for mental health services for youth. Catalyst seeded the money for growing a mental health program. They started with the Boys and Girls Club, and now there are three practitioners helping young people there. And seed money for the mental health Hub at Hanna. And the Collaborative is trying to address housing.
You’re a Sonoma native.
Born and raised. My mother, Francine Morrissette, a French Canadian, worked all through my growing up as an OB nurse at Queen of the Valley. An amazing role model. My dad, (Dr.) Dean Ezaki, would take my brother and me to her work. And although I had a very privileged life, through my father, whose parents and siblings were sent to internment camps in Arizona during WWII, I grew up aware of suffering from discrimination. And currently I am concerned about AAPI (Asian-American Pacific Islander) hate, and fear for Asian women.
Inspiration to choose your career?
Since I was 16 I have known I wanted to work for a nonprofit. My parents signed me up for Seeds of Learning, a work trip to El Salvador. A huge transformative experience. I loved it so much that I worked that year to pay for the next summer. I learned about responsibility for others – that it’s not just about you. One eye-opening experience was visiting a maquiladora, interviewing some of the workers who were making the Nikes we were all wearing back home. Learning what they got paid, what their life was like. A real “privilege check.” So I studied International Relations, with a focus on NGOs, at SF State.
I hike. With my two-and-a-half-year-old on my back, as a family, and on my own. It’s my time and it keeps me sane. Montini and Overlook. Sugarloaf. SDC. Endless possibilities. It’s part of why I moved back to the Valley from SF in 2013. We were lucky to buy a little house in the Springs. The energy there is such a big draw – family, kids playing, wonderful neighbors.
I’d like for my children to grow up in a Valley that feels more equitable, where there is enough for everyone. More equitable, and more connected. Where all the different people of the Valley feel they have a voice and are valued. I’d also like to see this be a place where it’s not impossible for my peers to live. That goes back to equity.
I’m deeply grateful to the people who saw the potential in me, nurtured me to become a leader, mentored me, gave me the opportunity to serve in these roles. I hope more people in my age group have these experiences.