Great need was faced down by great generosity at Bill Wilson Center’s (BWC) 50th Anniversary Celebration at the Santa Clara Convention Center on May 19 and attended by more than 350 supporters.
Adele and Carl Peterson set the pace with a $50,000 matching gift challenge that was quickly met, with over $230,000 raised at first count.
“Tonight isn’t just any anniversary. It’s a precious metal anniversary. A historic anniversary. A golden anniversary, celebrating a half century of programs and impact, a legacy that all of you helped to make possible,” said BWC CEO Josh Selo, wearing a matching gold bow tie and pocket square.
The nonprofit BWC is recognized nationwide as the gold standard for combatting child, youth and family homelessness in Santa Clara County. It was named Assembly District 26 Nonprofit of the Year by Assembly Member Evan Low.
At the gala, a resolution from the California Senate was presented by Senator Dave Cortese and a commendation from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors by Supervisor Sylvia Arenas.
San Jose has the highest number of unhoused 18 to 24-year-olds per capita in the U.S.—nearly 85 for every 100,000 residents. Speaker K’ronna Harmon, a member of BWC’s Youth Impact Partnership, connected with BWC after almost four years of homelessness.
“I’m living proof that homelessness is a surprise that can affect anyone. It was a curveball life threw at me,” said Harmon. “Every day when I woke up, it was a new day, and all I could think about is where I’d spend the night.”
Harmon, working towards an A.S. degree at Foothill College, credits BWC with giving her the resources and confidence for a fresh start and new opportunity.
The late Bill Wilson Jr., a former Santa Clara council member and mayor, founded BWC in 1973. Three generations of his family attended the celebration—his wife, Rosalie; son Ken; and grandchildren Bradley and Alexandra. His son Alex Wilson, a BWC board member, was unable to attend.
“My dad would be very proud of what this has become, thanks to the staff—past and present. They do a great job,” said Ken Wilson, who was 15 when his 41-year-old father died. “There’s nothing better than helping kids.”
“We are big fans. BWC was very helpful to a family we know,” said Max Mikles.
He and his wife, Tiffany, sat at a table sponsored by Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church, a BWC supporter for 23 years.
“When one of my friend’s kids was helped by Bill Wilson Center, it became personal,” said Elsbeth TeBrake who, with Roger Medsker, her husband, recently toured BWC headquarters in Santa Clara.
It’s also personal for Selo, appointed CEO in February. He was ten when his dad left, and his mom had to find work to support their family of three.
“We were in a precarious situation, close to being unhoused so many times,” said Selo. “So why didn’t we end up homeless? We had people…[and] a community that were our safety net…”
BWC is the safety net for the almost 5,000 clients it serves annually. Its Street Outreach and crisis hotline – (408) 850-6125 – help 30,000 more.
“They do a positive job of trying to solve a problem in California that I don’t believe will be solved. But you have to keep trying,” said supporter Dave Lazares.
“Luckily, we’ve never had to be homeless,” said Cindy Lazares, his wife. “We never grew up with much, but we at least had a roof and love and family.”