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Tiburon family gives gift of college

Marin Independent Journal – August 23, 2006

Tiburon family gives gift of college

by Beth Ashley

Diane and Todd Garrett of Tiburon have given $100,000 – the largest donation ever – to the Marin Education Fund, an agency that awards college scholarships to Marin students. 

Todd Garrett hopes their gift will challenge other Marinites to give.

“Wouldn’t it be a source of great pride if we could say that every person in Marin who wants to go to college is able to go?”

In fact, he says, the gap between those who qualify for college and those who actually go remains large. The Marin Education Fund helps about 600 students a year; 3,000 more are qualified but are turned down because funds are not available.

“Very few people think there’s a need in this community,” Todd Garrett says. “In fact, the need is huge.”

Kim Mazzuca, executive director of the fund, says “this year we will be able to support around 535 students with undergraduate scholarships, but we know Marin has 3,500 college-age students who have applied and are eligible for federally supported Pell grants, which means they’re from low-income households.

“Those 3,000 students are our challenge.”

Mazzuca says the Garretts’ gift means “five or six students with significant financial needs will be supported throughout the life of their undergraduate programs.” The average tuition at a public college now stands at $13,000 per year.

Without the Garretts’ help, these five or six students wouldn’t be able to go to college at all, she says, would have to take jobs to survive, or might incur crushing loan debt.

Marin Education Fund scholarships, which range from $500 to $5,000 and average $2,600 per year, are supplemental to the financial packages most colleges offer. Fund monies, says spokesperson Traci Lanier, are considered “last-dollar scholarships,” and come in “on top of all other aids.”

Without the help of the fund, she says, students may not attend college at all, may go to community college, or take jobs and attend school part-time. “The (part-timers) drop out at a huge rate.”

Mazzuca called the Garretts “real leaders” in educational philanthropy.

The Garretts have lived in Marin only six years, but became acquainted with the Marin Education Fund early.

Then-president Bill Smith of Belvedere took them to a celebration dinner, where they met several scholarship recipients and heard their stories. “I was practically in tears,” says Diane. “Many of the students were the first in their families to go to college. Many were from first-generation families who had migrated here.”

The Garretts began supporting individual students, giving more and more each year until deciding on this year’s major gift.

“A big thing for Todd and me,” says Diane, “is that every dollar goes right to the student, not to administrative costs. I don’t know of any other charity like that.”

The Garretts choose who to support, usually students enrolled in the health field, or preparing for careers to help the aged or disabled. Part of their inspiration is Diane’s 31-year-old daughter, whose severe cerebral palsy made education irrelevant.

One of the students the Garretts support has cerebral palsy. He is enrolled at the College of Marin. “It’s all about providing opportunity,” says Diane, “serving people who need a boost.”

Kristin Amoroso of Bolinas, 27, also receives support from the Garretts. A second-year nursing student at Sonoma State University, Amoroso is hoping to get a master’s in psychiatric or gerontological nursing.

The Garretts’ help “has relieved a great deal of the financial pressure of attending school full-time,” she says. “It has greatly reduced the amount of loans I would have to incur.” This summer, Amoroso worked as a medical assistant at Coastal Health Alliance clinics in Point Reyes and Stinson Beach.

She calls the Garretts “kind and loving people, who treat me with great respect. They have turned misfortune in their own lives into helping other people. They are really amazing people.”

Todd Garrett, 64, who retired as a senior vice president for Proctor & Gamble, says he has three criteria when picking an organization or business to support:

  • A big vision. “MEF has a noble, inspiring vision – a college education for every deserving student.”
  • Outstanding leadership. “Kim Mazzuco, MEF’s executive director, is an outstanding leader. She’s smart, she follows up, she could run a for-profit company very successfully. And she’s totally passionate about what she’s doing.”
  • Results. “A great organization has to show results. In its first 25 years, MEF has awarded 27,000 scholarships totaling almost $38 million. That’s huge. That’s very impressive.”

Eighty-four percent of fund scholarship recipients graduate from college. The national graduation average is 54 percent.

Diane, 59, says that years ago, as a divorcee and single mother in Cincinnati, she knew she needed a master’s degree to get a job to support her two children.

She got a government scholarship to college, at the same time obtaining a $5,000 loan that she had to pay back. She got a master’s in rehabilitation. She identifies with single mothers trying to go back to school because “I was in the same boat. My heart really goes out to them.”

Todd says neither of his parents went to college, and he helped pay his way through University of Rochester in New York playing piano.

When he went to work for Proctor & Gamble, he realized he needed an MBA. For two and a half years he attended Xavier University in Cincinnati nights and weekends, “and paid for it all by myself. I basically put myself through biz school.”

The Garretts’ lives have moved well beyond those needy early days. They live in a window-fronted hillside home in Tiburon with a spectacular view of San Francisco, Belvedere, Sausalito, Mount Tamalpais and Ring Mountain. They married 13 years ago.

Diane lived much of her life in Cincinnati. Todd’s career took him from Proctor & Gamble’s headquarters there to posts on the East Coast, Australia, Mexico City and Hong Kong. He headed Proctor & Gamble’s beauty care division and was head of worldwide strategic planning before retiring as senior vice president in 1999.

Diane always wanted to live in this area, and persuaded Todd to try it. He is a convert. A former sailboat racer, he has joined a yacht club. “I’m a wine person, so this is the place to be.” He loves jazz. He jogs on the Tiburon bike path. “I never imagined in my wildest dreams how great it would be.”

“I am the happiest person alive,” says Diane.

Todd says the more they learn about the Marin Education Fund, “the more we think it is great.”

His concern is that “most people don’t know it exists.”

“We want more people to give,” he added.

Mazzuca says the fund believes education is up to the educational system, the family and the community. “It’s a matter of the community making sure that all students have equal access to education.

“If not in Marin County – then where?”