A local nonprofit has dedicated its time and energy by focusing on preserving Ventura County and giving back to its residents who were affected by two recent tragedies.

The Ventura County Community Foundation was founded in 1987 and builds philanthropy through charitable donations for scholarships, grants and community partnerships. Two of the most current active funds through VCCF are the Conejo Valley Victims Fund and the Hill Fire/Woolsey Fire Sudden and Urgent Needs Effort Fund.

Vanessa Bechtel, president and CEO of VCCF, says with the two funds alone, about 25,000 contributions were received worldwide. In the first three weeks, VCCF received more individual contributions than in the past seven years combined. Between fundraisers and donations, funds totaled more than $4.8 million to-date.

“We’ve never experienced anything like this in terms of a response; it’s been a global effort,” says Bechtel. “It is heartwarming to see how many people really care and just want to help. We’re able to serve as a vehicle to help them contribute; it’s remarkable.”

Conejo Valley Victims Fund

The Conejo Valley Victims Fund helps benefit Borderline Bar and Grill shooting families and victims. Three different applications were available for residents to fill out for deceased victims, physical injury victims or for victims present inside the establishment. Since the shooting in November, more than $2 million has been raised. To date, VCCF has paid out $240,000 in cash for memorial services and $70,000 in prepaid Visa cards valued at $500 each.

“Many were left without purses, wallets, phones, keys and identification. It was a crime scene,” says Bechtel. “The prepaid Visa cards supported impacted victims that needed immediate financial support. We are now working to get the remaining funds to those who had loved ones taken from them and were present at the time of the tragedy”

Hill/Woolsey Fire

The Hill Fire/Woolsey Fire Sudden and Urgent Needs Effort Fund raised $2.8 million for short- or long-term needs. More than $1.3 million has been distributed to nonprofits serving impacted individuals and families, colleges and organizations for needs such as adult daycare, damaged transmitters, evacuation expenses for horses, feeding and housing college students, childcare needs, and emergency response equipment.

“The work of our local nonprofit sector to help our community recover has been tremendous,” says Bechtel. “We are so fortunate to live in such a compassionate community.”

VCCF also partnered with mental health nonprofit organization Give an Hour, where clinics were held for eligible claimants to receive help in completing their applications and access resources for their recovery. 

“Give an Hour has more than 130 licensed trained clinicians in Ventura County and many experts in trauma care,” says Bechtel. “With Ventura County Community Foundation’s support, Give an Hour is providing free, no-cost assistance and therapy by trained trauma experts.”

Bechtel explained that working with national community foundations provided critical guidance for managing two different but significant community tragedies simultaneously.

“We realized there’s no way VCCF could have responded in the way we did if we hadn’t been part of a network of other community foundations,” says Bechtel. “They shared how to best help a community and their own lessons learned. It was a team effort, locally, nationally and worldwide.”

Payment distribution to approved claimants began March 1. Bechtel says the funds will be kept open online for future events and the anniversary of both tragedies. An independent auditing report will also be available on the VCCF website for transparency purposes and to show that every dollar went to the intended purpose.  

“We know people want to continue to show love and support,” says Bechtel. “We also believe in complete transparency. We know financial support doesn’t alleviate the pain, but if we can remove obstacles out of their [victim’s] way to promote some peace and recovery, that’s what this is for.”

To donate to the Conejo Valley Victims Fund and the Hill Fire/Woolsey Fire Sudden and Urgent Needs Effort Fund, visit VCCF.org.