The Cultivating Inland Empire Latino Opportunity Fund was launched in September at the Inland Empire Community Foundation (IECF). The CIELO Fund is dedicated to empowering the lives of Latinos by elevating and investing in organizations that are led and served by Latinos in their region.

The CIELO Fund was launched by Inland Empire native Jesse Melgar. He was the former communications director for Governor Gavin Newsom, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla, California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and the California Latino Legislative Caucus. Melgar is currently the CIELO Fund chair and board member of the IECF. 

He earned his bachelor’s degree with dual majors in political science and Chicano studies from the University of California, Los Angeles. He also earned his master’s in public policy from the University of California, Riverside.

Melgar said that the reason why the CIELO Fund was launched was to rewrite the script about Latinos in their region and tell authentic stories about the impact and resilience of their community.

The CIELO Fund will open up a call for grant proposals this Fall and plans on making grant awards early next year. Their goal is to attract more significant investments from major foundations to help build capacity and infrastructure in the nonprofit Latino sector. Learn more at iegives.org/cielofund.

“We are educators and entrepreneurs, farmworkers and first responders, artists and activists and so much more,” Melgar said. “Through this fund we hope to catalyze a new network of community philanthropists at all levels of giving who are stepping up to invest in the communities we grew up in, live in, and that we will call home, for generations to come.” 

CALÓ NEWS interviewed Melgar to discuss the CIELO Fund, how it will be used to support local Latino communities and more.

Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.


WHEN WAS YOUR ORGANIZATION ESTABLISHED AND WHY?

We are a fund within the Inland Empire Community Foundation. The IECF has been around for 80 years, and I’m a board member of the foundation. I’m also the founding fund chair for the CIELO Fund. We formally launched in September. We had an event at the Cheech Marin Center for Chicano Art and Culture with about 200 people, and we are just so excited to have finally launched the fund, which is focusing on uplifting and investing in Latino-led and Latino-served organizations in the Inland Empire.

WHAT IS YOUR MISSION STATEMENT?

The mission of the CIELO Fund is to uplift and invest in Latino-led serving organizations throughout the Inland Empire. That means specifically frontline organizations that are helping our communities thrive when it comes to immigration services, educational services and health services. We are focusing specifically on Riverside and San Bernardino counties. A lot of the time, we notice that while we make up almost 52% of the population in the Inland Empire, which is making [us] the majority, we don’t see that proportional investment coming in from the public, private and former founding sectors. So, we decided to join with several Latino leaders across the region to create our own funds. So, [ir’a] funds by Latinos for Latinos, with the goal of investing in our own Latino communities.

HOW WERE YOU ABLE TO RAISE 300K FOR THE ORGANIZATION?

We have been so grateful for the foundations that have stepped up, particularly the Weingart Foundation, which came in and contributed $100,000 towards our goal. In addition to Weingart, we had investments from folks like the Inland Empire Health Plan, UC Riverside, Bank of America, and lots of other companies that do business in the Inland Empire. Companies that recognize that the Latino community is a force in the Inland Empire. So, we have been quietly fundraising for the last six months. Our public goal has always been to raise $80,000in honor of the 80th anniversary of the Inland Empire Community Foundation. We are working with our leadership committee for the CIELO Fund and have been trying to raise dollars for our organizations from individuals and companies.

WHAT BENEFITS ARE LATINOS OBTAINING THROUGH THE CIELO FUND?

The CIELO Fund will do a few things. So, we will primarily be a grant-making body. With all the money we have raised so far we will make sure that we invest in frontline Latino-led organizations throughout the Inland Empire, organizations that are anchored and headquartered in the region. We will be giving out grants and our grant applications will be open this fall. We hope to review the grants and make grant awards by early 2023. So, that’s how Latinos in practice will directly benefit from it. We will fund Latino organizations that are helping the communities from the ground.

The CIELO Fund is a foundation serving the Latino community.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THE DATA PROFILE AQUI ESTAMOS?

We commissioned a report with UC Riverside. It’s a data profile report of Latinos in the Inland Empire. One of the things that we want to do through the CIELO Fund is help understand the opportunities and the resilience of our community. We also want to help those areas where there are needs that exist. So we launched and supported the UC Riverside data collection which highlights things like the fact that one in ten Latinos has a bachelor’s degree or higher in the region. It also highlights things like if you’re a Latino kid you are twice as likely to live in poverty compared to white children. This report is basically a baseline and it’s going to help inform where the giving of our grant-making foundation can have the biggest impact.

HOW WILL THE CIELO FUND GIVE BACK TO THE COMMUNITY?

We want to invest in educational support like scholarships for students. We want to invest in students who are attending college in our region so that students that want to stay in the region can contribute their skills and education once they graduate to the Inland Empire. We are trying to do what we can to help create that pipeline of leadership to fund directly these organizations that can help with some of the narrative work that needs to happen in our community.

Amairani Hernandez

Amairani Hernandez is a native of Los Angeles and a graduate of the California State University of Los Angeles with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. She is a freelancer and focuses on stories about Latinos,...