About Strive for Change Foundation


Strive for Change Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to supporting innovative local programs that help the working poor in the East Bay achieve economic self-sufficiency.


Strive for Change Foundation began in 2006 as the 1200 Foundation. The vision of the 1200 Foundation was to create a base of donors who would contribute $100 per month, $1200 per year, to create an ongoing commitment to the Foundation. With that funding, the Foundation would make grants to local non-profit organizations that offered innovative, successful programs designed to help the working poor gain the training, tools and improved opportunities to support themselves. During its first year, the organization awarded its first six grants to nonprofit organizations  in Alameda and Contra Costa counties that provided job training in computer programming, office skills and construction. The Foundation was started by Lester Ellis, a lifelong East Bay resident and Orinda businessman.

In 2010 the organization changed its name to the Strive for Change Foundation to more clearly convey its mission.   In 2016, the Foundation celebrated its 10th anniversary and bestowed grants totaling more than $102,000 to 10 organizations.  Click here for more information on our grantee organizations.

Board of Directors

The Board of Directors is comprised of East Bay community leaders and residents who want to help create positive long-term changes to help prevent the cycle of poverty in our own community.  Board members are all working volunteers and there are no paid staff. As a result, all operating expenses are covered by the board to enable 100% of donations to go directly to the grantee organizations that we support.

Board of Directors, 2018


Kim Kellogg, President

Maria Winston, Vice President and Fundraising Chair

Miriam Mangini, Treasurer

Megan Nakahara, Secretary

Cathie Geddeis, Database Manager

Debra Constantine, Events and Recruiting

Victoria Robinson Smith, Grants

Kevin McGourty, Webmaster

Board Members:

Debra Constantine

John Cooper

Cathie Geddeis

Kim Kellogg

Andi Kosich

Cathy Meyer

Kevin McGourty

Megan Nakahara

Victoria  Robinson Smith

Maria Winston

Founding Member:
Les Ellis

The Founder’s Story

Lester Ellis

Lester Ellis, Founder of The Strive for Change Foundation

When I was growing up, my family would have been labeled “the working poor.”  We lived in public housing in Richmond.  My father worked in an “ice house” making ice.  We had one used car that my father serviced and repaired himself.   My mother stretched my father’s small check as far as she could.  She made shirts for me and skirts and blouses for my sisters.  We rarely ate out.

My father left school in the 6th grade because his father deserted him, his mother and his three sisters.  I never met my grandfather.  In spite of these difficult times, my father worked hard and continuously.  He also was committed to learning from everyone he met.  Due to his determination, he finished his work life as the highly respected Chief Stationary Engineer of Children’s Hospital of the East Bay.

Thanks to my parent’s values and support, I graduated from college.  Not long after that, I took the first step toward a career in insurance.  I have now successfully pursued this career for 47 years.  It has rewarded me far more than a “kid from the projects” could have dreamed.  Along the way, I have received encouragement and help from many people – family, friends, church members and teachers as I grew up, and mentors and colleagues later in life.  I strongly believe that each of us who has enjoyed success in life has had help along the way.

In 2004, I was struck by a cover story in “Business Week” dedicated to poverty in America, and specifically the plight of the working poor.  The article made the point that “one in four workers earns $18,800 a year or less, with few if any benefits.” Later that year, Congress once again, refused to take up the matter of increasing the Federal Minimum Wage that was $5.15 at the time and had been unchanged for 7 years.  At $5.15, a low-wage worker would make only $10,712 a year.

One of the most egregious things I learned about the story of poverty in America is the fact that children comprise more than one third of the impoverished.  Caught up in the conditions of their parent’s low income, the children and their parents have to live with crowded housing, no sick pay, no child care, poor diet, no job security, no medical or dental benefits, no retirement plan, no computer tools, and the list goes on. How could anyone have the time and energy to break the endless cycle?

The more I learned, the more I felt that I needed to do something to address these conditions.  I had been helped by so many in my life, it was time to give back to others who were working hard to improve their lives.  I began to formulate the idea of a group that would raise money and then find terrific local programs that would help the working poor develop the skills to move them up and out of poverty.  I took my ideas to the staff at the East Bay Community Foundation (a 75 year old funding institution of non-profit programs in the East Bay) and the 1200 Foundation was born.

Over the past four years, we’ve maintained our local focus and careful research of grantee organizations in the area. To date, we’ve been able to provide grants and build relationships with over ten fantastic organizations here in the East Bay. With our most recent name change to the Strive For Change Foundation, we hope to reinforce our same mission and message of helping others strive forward to break the cycle for years to come.

I hope you will join me in this exciting and meaningful work.

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