Visit stunning houses for good cause in Oakland, Piedmont
By Lou Fancher
For more than three decades, vulnerable and deserving at-risk children have found inextricable connection to the hearts and homes of Alameda and Contra Costa residents. Although they are largely unaware of the annual Heart of the Home Tour for the Children’s Support League of the East Bay, the fundraising event during its remarkable history has resulted in more than $3.8 million in grants to support programs addressing their needs.
The two-day, self-guided tour this year will feature four homes in Oakland and one in Piedmont and offer extended opportunities with a kickoff gala, breakfast with a special keynote speaker, VIP early access to the homes, a catered luncheon during the tour and a pop-up boutique that is open to the public, including nonticket holders. The tour last year raised about $190,000 and funded 23 agencies in categories including therapy, counseling, basic and special needs, shelters and shelter programs, education, child advocacy and crisis intervention.
“We don’t go out looking for an agency to fill a certain category,” says co-chair Jan Howland. “Some agencies we’ve funded more than once because they have a good track record and we like what they do. We always look for new things and always have more agencies applying than we can support. It’s hard when we have to say ‘no,’ because they’re all very deserving.”
It’s also hard but absolutely vital, Howland adds, to recognize new needs that arise as the community changes. “Things like protecting children from sex trafficking, which five years ago was never thought about — we now fund that,” she says.
With 90 to 95 percent of money raised on the tour going to recipients, due diligence is applied by a review committee that examines applicants’ financials, track records and overall benefits to the community. Similar high scrutiny applies to food and retail vendors selected for the tour’s popular special features.
“There are always new vendors, but some return each year — and they all donate 20 percent to us. They’re not average street fair vendors,” says Howland. “We have high-end jewelers who give incredibly good prices, for example.” Other items include custom hand towels, garden tools, scarves, handbags, fused glass, jams, jellies and home decor items. “It runs the gamut,” she says.
Two food trucks that will be at the catered luncheon this year, Boffo Sandwich Cart and Sugar Magnolia, offer grilled pork, pizza-style and traditional BLT sandwiches, beef empanadas and organic veggie chili. Free Fenton’s ice cream will be available for everyone.
Despite Howland’s suggestion that the gala is “known around town as the go-to party,” she and co-chair Elizabeth Adams are well aware it’s the homes that are the biggest draw. Finding homeowners willing to open their houses to the roughly 1,000 people who attend the tour is no small task.
“These homeowners are like gold,” says Howland. “We do everything we can to make it easy for them. We protect their privacy (addresses are given to ticket holders only, CSL docents are stationed in each house) and things like flowers in the home are donated.”
Among the homes this year are a Spanish Mediterranean with a magnificent art collection; a Sicilian-style 1927 villa in Oakland’s Crocker Highlands district featuring modern art painted by the home’s family members; a renovated, mid-20th century ranch home with a state-of-the-art music studio and home theater; a reconfigured home with its character retained even after the original, small-rooms footprint was transformed into larger rooms reflective of contemporary lifestyles; and a 1928 home in Oakland’s Rockridge district that displays a classic facade, then surprises visitors with modern, back-of-house architecture.
“The back of that house looks like L.A., very modern,” explains Howland. “It’s all glass, a stark contrast to the front. It’s something you can’t tell will happen from the view on the street.”
That’s exactly why many people love home tours. There’s opportunity to peek behind the scenes, pick up design ideas, get inspired for a renovation — or just have fun with friends and family. Add to those pleasures the CSL’s mission; Howland says that for many people it’s an irresistible package and the primary reason she and other people serve as volunteers and the “gold” homeowners participate.
“People say ‘yes’ to being involved because they believe in what CSL does. They want to help local kids. We raise a lot of money, have not had issues in the homes and do good in the community.”