Granada Islamic School: A Full Circle Experience

My name is Chafik Ziadeh and I am the Business Development Coordinator for the Granada Islamic School (GIS) in Santa Clara, California. At our school, we instill core concepts that are akin to the founding principles of many other religious schools: Strong moral values, service to our community, and excellence in all that we do. In a time and season where the Muslim culture is often stigmatized, we strive to provide a safe learning environment for our students. The prejudice that adult Muslims face on the streets is concerning enough, but new studies are focusing on how the political climate is affecting student safety in schools. Unfortunately, physical manifestations of our religion can be used to label and even bully students. We provide not only academic excellence, but a haven for our community.

GIS is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). We bolster a strong academic program that uses the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and math. Additionally, we bring the teachings and traditions of Islam to life for our students. And beyond serving as an academic institution, GIS works to cultivate a sense of identity for young Muslim-Americans.

Established in 1988 with 25 students, today we serve over 500 K-8th graders. We have recently opened a high school program and, though our community continues to grow, we still hold true to our original mission: “To provide quality academic and Islamic education in a community that nurtures a strong Muslim identity, fosters brotherhood, and strengthens moral character.”

I started attending GIS in 1999. I was a third grader and admittedly, originally wasn’t a fan of being away from my public school friends or the intimate nature of being in a smaller school with uniforms and rigorous academic standards. But as an adult I’ve come to realize what a privilege it was to be here. Having a space where the symbols of Islam – dress, names, prayer, home language – are embraced instead of being met with suspicion or xenophobia is something I wish for all young Muslim-Americans, and has given me deep meaning in my own life.

Cultural identity is as important as education. We express our utmost gratitude to our friends and supporters at the BASIC Fund for understanding this, and for being key contributors in support of our students. By continuing their mission of providing opportunities for all families, we can continue to bring unity and success to our community.

On behalf of the GIS Community,

Chafik Ziadeh

Business Development Coordinator

Granada Islamic School, Santa Clara, CA

Posted on October 6, 2016 .

A Grandmother's Pride

Dear BASIC Fund

Sophie and her teacher

Sophie and her teacher

I wanted to convey our deep gratitude to your organization for making my granddaughter’s education at St. Basil School possible. Sophie is thriving there, and developing a great joy in learning everything from math to science, especially excelling in Language Arts. She is friendly, self-assured, generous, and will likely contribute meaningfully to our community--she does already!

Sophie came to live with me when she was less than a year old. My eldest daughter, Sophie’s mother, has struggled for many years with addiction and homelessness. When Sophie was born I would go to see them at the motel they were living in, and I’d see Sophie sitting out on the balcony with her feet hanging over the edge and her hands holding the bars. I wanted something better for my granddaughter, so I convinced my daughter to let me have legal guardianship. 

When Sophie was old enough I enrolled her into Head Start, and she loved it. She decided one day that she was going to write a book about the teachers there, she narrated and I wrote it all down, and then she drew all the pictures for it. The Head Start program published it in their newsletter with her picture, it was wonderful. I then decided I’d like to enroll her at St. Basil School where I had sent both my daughters many years earlier, it was home for our family. I found out about The BASIC Fund through St. Basil, I asked if there were any scholarships available because I knew making the tuition would be a challenge. I had to come out of retirement to make ends meet, so I now work a few shifts at Target, but it’s worth every penny and then some. 


The BASIC Fund is the difference between her going to St. Basil and not, and it’s significant. Sophie is now a 4th grader, she likes sports and is very active. She loves to read, there are books everywhere. Whenever she goes to the library they have a room there where they sell books for a quarter and fifty cents, and she’s always buying more books. She is meeting with the principal soon to talk about starting a book club for interested students in 3rd to 5th grades. The last few years her grade didn’t have a basketball coach, so she talked her uncle into coaching, and this year he’s going to also coach the baseball team. You have no idea how persuasive this girl can be!

I told Sophie I was sending a letter to you and she asked what the scholarship meant. I told her that you were investing in her to become a leader. She said to tell you that you had made a good bet on her. She’s already planning on college, but she’s not sure what she wants to do yet. She’s very good at math, and she likes computers a lot. She wants to go to coding camp this summer with one of her friends, so I need to check in to that. They’ve already built a website at school in class, and she’s always the one to help me with my smart phone.

The women in my family have a tendency to live a long time, so I’m hoping to be around for a while longer. We already have a plan in place with my younger daughter, Sophie’s auntie, and we don’t hesitate to talk about what might happen when I die. Sophie bought me a bracelet last year, I wear it all the time, she says ‘when you die then I’m going to have it, and then when I get old I’m going to give it to my daughter.’ I love that.

Thank you for your participation in her continued successes. Yes, I am a proud grandmother, but Sophie really is special.


Toni Hughes



Posted on August 26, 2016 .

Summer Inspiration

Summer is in full swing!  We've had the privilege of attending dozens of 8th grade graduations for BASIC Fund students around the Bay Area, and even hosting a special celebration for the 8th grade graduates of our San Francisco schools.  These transitions are a point at which we can reflect on the incredible obstacles our families have overcome- and the tremendous opportunity that lies ahead for our students as they enter high school.  

We were honored to have Craig Johnson, BASIC Fund Board Member and member of the Golden State Warriors ownership group, speak to our eighth grade graduates and their families on June 1, when we held our eighth Grade Graduation Ceremony at the Boys and Girls Club Don Fisher Clubhouse.  Craig inspired our graduates with a few words about the energy and excitement surrounding the Warriors, as well the many life lessons their success may illuminate for each of the students in their own lives; the most important one being the opportunity just ahead for them in high school.

While Craig’s championship ring circulated the room during his remarks, he shared the following; "Steph Curry told me that his father said to follow his passion, but that education is most important.  It gives you options.  The more options you have, the more possibilities in front of you.  Five years ago you may have liked one thing, and who knows what you will like five years from now, but a strong educational foundation will give you the best chance to pursue it." 

Craig suggested that as these graduates enter high school, if they see someone sitting by themselves, to approach them and create a relationship.  "Life is not about the stuff. It's about the people you interact with." He said the most important relationships students may build in addition to great friendships can be with their teachers. “Teachers are there to teach, and students who express great interest in learning are a teachers dream student."

In closing before Craig spoke with parents and students, as well posing for a few photos, he talked about a path to success; “There is a lot of fear when you are young about what others think of you. What really makes the difference is what you think about yourself."  In case of the Warriors; “They do well as a team with a simple goal of trying to improve every day.  It's day to day- trying to do the right thing, and with great effort."

And with that he closed with; "Your opportunity is endless. So many kids don't have this same opportunity. Make the most of it, good luck".

As we reflect on Craig's inspiring words over the summer months, we are also processing applications for our 2016 class of BASIC Fund scholars.  We are connecting with donors like Ben De Somma, who are sponsoring students for this fall.  Finally, we are strengthening partnerships, like the one with Wells Fargo, all of which you can read more about in our blog.

Rachel Elginsmith
Executive Director

Posted on July 20, 2016 .

Partnering with Wells Fargo to bring financial education to our families

The BASIC Fund's mission is to help families access schools that are the best match for their children. But in addition to providing scholarships to help bridge the gap for these families, we also provide access to important partners who provide support services to BASIC Fund families.  

On April 28, we partnered with a team of financial advisers from Wells Fargo.  The team, led by Joe Schock, facilitated an evening financial literacy seminars for the parents of St. James school in San Francisco. Sister Mary Susanna Vasquez, Principal at St. James, wrote to us the next day, "We were so pleased with the turnout, and with the ease of presenting in both Spanish and English! The parents were very happy to hear the information that was given." 

The team from Wells Fargo discussed a variety of topics relating to financial literacy and helped parents develop a plan for their own families.  The presentation began with instructions on how to evaluate their current state of financial health by creating a personal balance sheet.  It identified common pitfalls like overuse of credit, "keeping up with the Jones's", and spending cash instead of saving.  

The discussion then turned to goal setting.  Parents were asked to identify simple goals for one year and five years from today. The worksheets provided helped map out spending plans, and even helped create monthly budgets. 

At the conclusion of the seminar, the parents asked that St. James and The BASIC Fund consider working with the Wells Fargo team on a financial seminar targeted towards their middle school aged children, in order to start these students off on the right foot when it comes to financial literacy. 

"On behalf of the Wells Fargo team of volunteers, thanks for the opportunity to spend time with the St. James families. It was a rewarding experience for all!" Schock wrote to us in the week following the event. The BASIC Fund is incredibly grateful to the team from Wells Fargo for their time and dedication to helping this population gain better control of their financial well being. We look forward to working with Wells Fargo and facilitating more financial literacy seminars with parents and students at our schools this coming school year.

Posted on July 13, 2016 .

Why I Give: Investing in our Future

I grew up the son of a dentist and an elementary school teacher.  I never lacked for health, nutrition, education or shelter and was provided the opportunity to attend two of the best secondary and tertiary educational institutions in America.   However just one generation before me, my father’s family lacked access to all but the most pedestrian level of those essential building blocks.  Despite their circumstances, my grandparents’ minimum wages were able to secure a quality parochial K-12 education for my father, in no small part due to external financial support, in his case from the local archdiocese.  That education was sufficient to catapult him into the state university system and subsequently into dental school.  My brothers and I and our children have reaped the benefits of what my grandparents and father had sown.   Needless to say education, and in particular, access to education is very important to my family.

Ben visits St. John Catholic School in Glen Park

Ben visits St. John Catholic School in Glen Park

However, circumstances in America’s educational system have changed significantly over the past 70 years.  Nowadays two parents earning only minimum wages would be achieving a small feat to simply cover nutrition and shelter, let alone health and education.  Public schools’ ability to educate differs widely based mostly on their catchment’s property tax bases.  Local and regional religious institutions no longer have the resources they used to for primary education efforts.  Increasingly (and sadly), access to quality educational resources is largely determined by economic resources rather than raw abilities or work ethic.   To me, this is not a healthy trend for our country’s long-term future.

My colleague Byron Gill initially suggested I review the BASIC Fund as charity worth supporting.   Scanning over the content on its website, I was immediately predisposed to contributing to the BASIC Fund.   Speaking at length to Rachel Elginsmith further confirmed the BASIC Fund’s vision and its ability to execute.   But it was my tour of the St. John School in southern San Francisco which included a lively conversation with the principal Sister Shirley Garbaldi that really brought home the BASIC Fund’s proposition in a living, three-dimensional way.  I very gladly made a multi-year commitment to the Fund within seconds of finishing my tour.

I believe making quality K-8 education available to a group of bright, eager children who are striving to improve themselves is one of the best investments we can make as a society.   So I salute all of you who have made it possible for the BASIC Fund to undertake this critical function.   While I recognize that the BASIC Fund still has unsatisfied demand here in the Bay Area, I am hopeful that one day its model can be “exported” to other communities around the country.   In the meantime, I’ll do my best to support the BASIC Fund as best I can.

Ben De Somma

Posted on July 13, 2016 .

A Message from a New BASIC Fund Mom: Dedication and Sacrifice

Thank you so much BASIC Fund for helping support my two girls in their transition to private schooling. I feel this has helped them both in a major way. Kawai Nalani on the right will be attending private school in order to prevent her from making the wrong choices by hanging with the wrong crowd. She will be in a positive environment where bullying is not allowed and everything is monitored. Kamealoha Nohealani on the left will be able to gain more help with her academics as she is currently in a school where it is a 1:40 ratio. One teacher for 40 children is way too much and my daughter is falling behind. We are forever grateful for what you are able to help us financially.

Kawai (11) plans on becoming a singer, and is hoping to attend the Oakland Performing Arts School in the next 2 years. She is currently enrolled at the Academy of Hawaiian Arts to learn the art of hula. Her back up plan is to become a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines and travel the world!

Kamea (9) plans on making it to the Olympics. She is currently in track and field for Full Stride Track Club. She holds the 3rd in Region of the Western Conference for shot put. Her back up plan is to become a Veterinarian.

To be entirely honest, I can’t afford to have either of them in private school. But I am making the sacrifice financially to give them a better education and environment to be in while I am out working 70 plus hours to provide just a regular life for them (that alone Is hard). But with the talent these girls have I want them to be able to progress and have the most opportunity possible. I want them in a safe environment where they are getting the best education possible.

Times are different today from when we all went to school. Kids now have too much access to adult things, sites, media, etc. I know that they will be safer than in the public schooling and have more attention to help them in their struggling areas of education. I was a single mother of 3 kids, in college with 18 units and working 60- 70 hours on my own.  I never thought I would be putting any of my kids in private school because it is way too expensive, however worth the sacrifice. Sure some bills won’t get paid some times and I’ll have to play catch up in order to pay their tuition every month. With the scholarship you have helped me cut my monthly payment almost in half. I am forever grateful that your organization is helping me make this happen.

Thank you so much!

Lori Yamamoto 

Posted on July 12, 2016 .

Addressing educational inequality with scholarships, Byron Gill shares his social investment strategy

Growing up in the public school system without much money, I always thought of education as a great social equalizer that would give me as good a chance as anyone else to get ahead in life. Sadly, the statistics increasingly do not support that view. The economic mobility upon which America thrived as I was growing up is under threat. There is no way to address social and economic inequality without first addressing the issue of educational inequality. There are many equally virtuous ways to tackle this problem. I chose The BASIC Fund for its immediacy of delivery and for the effectiveness of its mechanism.

These schools were chosen by the families. There are any number of reasons that a family might choose a school, such as geography, pedagogy, philosophy or tuition. But each school was chosen as special for that family. Many of our scholarship recipients come from economically challenged neighborhoods with poor public education options and often from homes where both parents are working several jobs. For these kids, the small class sizes, the sense of structure, and the nurturing faculty make all the difference and that impression comes across powerfully at all the schools we have visited.

I especially enjoy sharing our experiences with The BASIC Fund with young families who are just beginning to shape their philanthropic profiles. These people often have young children themselves and are thinking about childhood development and education for the first time. This isn't an abstract investment; young philanthropists can see very tangible, specific results.

There is no doubt that the discussion about education is much broader and extraordinarily complex. But while we are working out policy issues, it is rewarding to know that in the meantime, we are making it possible for families to educate children who will hopefully join that debate and pay forward the opportunities given to them. My involvement with The BASIC Fund has been one of the most personally satisfying experiences I've had since moving to the Bay Area.

~ Byron Gill

Posted on April 6, 2016 .

The Zekarias Family

Our family faced several hardships in 2014, even with my wife working part-time and going to school part-time, life’s financial demands left us falling behind in our mortgage. I was left no option other than to deplete my entire 401K to get caught up with the mortgage, bills, and put a down payment on a much needed used minivan.

With your help my wife and I have been able to provide our children with a strong education foundation. My children have excelled greatly from the support that The BASIC Fund has provided over the years. My oldest son Isaiah has exceed all of our expectations. He has been skipped a grade and has gone on to achieve the Principal’s Citizenship Award for excellence in effort and conduct, and Academic Honors at his school Saint Rose. My daughter Layla has also thrived at Saint Rose, she strong academically and expressively artistic. She won the first prize drawing contest for the Sonoma County AG festival. We are now so happy that you have offered our youngest son Malachi the same opportunity, he started kindergarten this past fall.

Thank you so much for your support from our whole family.

Posted on March 22, 2016 .

Saint Raphael School, building a culture of excellence for all thier students

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!”  St. Catherine of Siena

hedgehog photo.jpg

Imagine the power of hearing such words, from Kindergarten on, in a school that encourages academic excellence for all students.  Since 1889, the Dominican Sisters of Saint Raphael School, provided children with a quality education that enabled those students to be future civic leaders in the local community. Today, with the help of the BASIC Fund, we can provide the power of such a transformative education to families that thought it could only be a dream for their children.

My name is Lydia Collins and I am the Principal of Saint Raphael School in San Rafael, California.  In my 13 years at Saint Raphael School I have seen the demographics of the school change.  With the help of the BASIC Fund, we can invite the new faces of San Rafael to be part of our rich tradition of educating leaders.

Marin County is one of the wealthiest counties in the country.  Ironically, there are also families who live below the poverty level.  We serve a diverse economic and ethnic population and believe that every child deserves academic excellence and the dream of making a difference in this world.  The BASIC Fund empowers our parents by providing a choice in their child’s education. With the financial assistance provided by the BASIC Fund, our families can choose Saint Raphael School and the unique opportunity to be part of our newly implemented Veritas program.

The Veritas vision helps students identify and develop the unique strengths that God has given them so that they can build self-confidence and pursue their highest level of academic success. Veritas is building a culture of excellence at school and at home.   As part of the program, Saint Raphael teachers explicitly teach and cultivate 21st century skills: Innovation, Adaptability, Critical Analysis, Cross-Cultural Communication, and Teamwork. We are seeing phenomenal results.  For example, transfer students in the lowest quartile in reading in third grade were brought to grade level by October, increasing their STAR reading score by 52% in that period.

We see parents stand in awe of their child giving a student council speech in front of the student body.  “I can’t believe that is my daughter,” cried one mother who long ago dreamed of attending Saint Raphael School herself. The BASIC Fund has taken the dreams of the parents and made them a reality for their children.

Saint Raphael School is grateful to the supporters of the BASIC Fund for empowering our children to dream big; to see themselves as excellent students and leaders who will “set the world on fire!” 

Lydia Collins

Principal, Saint Raphael School

Posted on March 16, 2016 .