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Chico State

When Community Calls

Alexa Benson-Valavanis sits in a chair in her light-flooded office.
Jason Halley / University Photographer

Alexa Benson-Valavanis, who served as president and CEO of The North Valley Community Foundation since July 2005, and engineered a new business model mobilizing social entrepreneurs and philanthropists locally and around the globe, is photographed at NVCF on Monday, April 4, 2019 in Chico, Calif. (Jason Halley/University Photographer/CSU Chico)

“Do you have a brilliant idea that will change our community?” a sign asks visitors in the lobby of the North Valley Community Foundation’s (NVCF) downtown Chico office.

If so, the nonprofit wants to hear them. So does Alexa Benson-Valavanis (Journalism, ’00), its president and CEO.

She joined the NVCF in 2005 with the task of making the foundation more nimble. Her goal was to build infrastructure for people’s generosity and simplify how people can make the world a kinder place. The foundation has been mobilizing and allocating funds to more nonprofit projects in need ever since.

The groundwork Benson-Valavanis laid 14 years ago proved invaluable when the Camp Fire struck and NVCF became the most publicized platform for donating monetary relief.

“We were not a disaster response and recovery organization on November 7,” she said. “We became a disaster response and recovery organization on November 8, because we needed to.”

Alexa Benson-Valavanis stands in front of the conference table in the North Valley Community Foundation office.
Alexa Benson-Valavanis has supported the NVCF in growing from seven to 13 employees in the months since the Camp Fire, as it works to disperse the more than $44 million in funds raised.

Within hours of the Camp Fire erupting, the foundation established a wildfire relief fund and began accepting donations. All seven employees worked to distribute funds immediately to evacuation shelters while they also fielded phone calls, answered emails, and leveraged social media to provide updates on how to navigate this unprecedented catastrophe—as they figured it out themselves.

“Because we’re a local foundation, we were also being evacuated, our friends and families were also losing their homes,” Benson-Valavanis said. “It wasn’t this faraway land that was being impacted—it was our home.”

Today, the NVCF, now with 13 employees, has raised $44 million for Camp Fire relief efforts—$40 million from the foundation’s Camp Fire Relief Fund and Butte Strong Fund, $3 million via the Aaron Rodgers NorCal Fire Recovery Fund, and $1 million for a group of 26 funds that local businesses and community members established to help their own.

With more than $10 million allocated to date, those three primary funds are being used to do everything from supporting organizations that provided weekly dinners for evacuees and expanding school mental health services to direct assistance for children, seniors, animals, and others impacted. The foundation is continuing to identify ways to distribute funds to support the community with its greatest needs, including a launch in early April of the NVCF Camp Fire Healing Initiative, which had an initial $1 million commitment to promote emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual wellness and healing.

The fire-related suffering Benson-Valavanis continues to witness in her community has been the most difficult part of this journey. But the NVCF’s role in recovery is her reason—and reward—for this work.

“It’s remarkable to look back and see that the infrastructure we built on human kindness and generosity was able to sustain something like the Camp Fire,” she said.