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Introducing the LIFTing Local Leaders Series

By Madeline Porter, JBMF Program Associate

“We believe that stories can be powerful tools of connection, empathy, and understanding. In a world driven by data, algorithms, and more data, we purposefully take a moment to step back, turn to our roots, and focus on the ancient art of storytelling. Stories connect us to what makes us human, and the ideas that tie humanity together, bringing us closer together.” — The JBMF Team 

Our first iteration of the LIFTing Local Leaders Series features the individual and collective journeys of seven Central Valley civic engagement change makers. From Fresno to Sacramento and in between, dedicated people are working to make their hometowns more equitable and their communities more empowered. From Pastor Trena Turner, the Executive Director of Faith in the Valley, who is guided by her calling for social justice to Sade Williams, a Community Engagement Specialist for PIQE, who is driven to increase parent involvement at their children’s schools, to Jesse Salinas, Chief Elections official for Yolo County, who is dedicated to giving educational tools to young people to help them become more civically involved- their unique perspective is written with their voice, their words, and their vision. 

Highlighting the stories and perspectives of these leaders is not only an interesting way to document what’s happening in the heart of California but to emphasize how these civically active people are the lifeblood of the community. They breathe hope, passion, and vision into their neighborhoods to create a better future for the next generations. It is our honor at the James B. McClatchy Foundation (JBMF) to work with these individuals. In placing a spotlight on their journeys, we hope to connect others to this place and people. Maybe they will inspire you as they have so many others including the JBMF team!

LIFT Initiative 

JBMF focuses on supporting First Amendment rights, including freedoms of speech, expression, and a free press. To turn our beliefs into action, the JBMF LIFT Initiative was created to support and activate civic engagement in the Central Valley. This pilot grant program provided organizations with capacity-building grants to increase engagement and program outreach for historically under-served communities. Behind these powerful, grassroots-driven organizations are passionate advocates whose expertise, insights and wisdom inform our approach to grantmaking. 

Listening and learning from our organizational partners is a core value at JBMF. There is no better way to understand what’s happening on the ground- in newsrooms, classrooms, public meetings, and in places of worship, than from those who live, work and serve in the Central Valley. Only through this lens is it possible to become effective partners. We owe a debt of gratitude to our organizational partners for being willing to share a glimpse into their lives and motivations in the form of sharing their personal stories. 

The Story Process at JBMF



Story Engine methodology
Source: Loup Design for methodology photo https://storyengine.io/methodology/

The StoryEngine Process is modeled after a standard question-and-answer style interview. It prioritizes time for in-depth conversations and for participants to reflect, co-create, and co-edit their stories with the interviewer. Developed by Loup Design, a women-led consultancy, StoryEngine’s purpose is to “uncover threads that transverse personal, community, and organizational boundaries, drawing strong connections between challenges, successes, and the participant’s “why.”

Through this story co-creation process, JBMF is experimenting with amplifying and uplifting the voices of those doing the work and letting those lived experiences directly guide our programming as well as convey the rich culture and community for which the Central Valley deserves to be known. Their insights and dialogues will spark conversations that will lead to key takeaways to directly inform the Foundation’s sunset strategy.


Meet our Story Coach

Leah TaylorThe James B. McClatchy Foundation was excited to partner with Copper+Tin Co. to facilitate the StoryEngine process for our grantees. Principal Leah C. Taylor, guided the participants, weaving defining moments, revelations, dreams, and plans together to create a reflection. Leah was seamlessly able to draw out the inner workings of the individual and their communities. 

In her own reflection of the process itself, Leah shares her thoughts on the potential for impact and connection readers are invited into through the partners’ stories.  

“The inspiring stories created through this process contain relatable and powerful first-person narratives that amplify shared aspects of humanity that anyone can relate to – leaders wanting to be good stewards of a vision,  people who desire to see better opportunities for their friends and families, the deep connection between their spirituality and culture, and their chosen paths – and how these incredible leaders connect to the joy, peace and sense of grounding that allows them to do the work they do every day. Our partners are not only community leaders, they are parents, grandparents, spouses, partners, children and grandchildren, honoring the legacy of familial generations that have cultivated and occupied the land of the Central Valley. It has been an honor to witness these stories come to life.”

Welcome to the Journey

You can find the first seven stories on the Lifting Local Leaders page on the James B. McClatchy website. JBMF will continually highlight these leaders, their stories, and latest initiatives on social media. If you are inspired, excited, or touched by their words, we encourage you to share them. From the ancient tradition of passing along stories by word of mouth to the modern way of clicking the share button on social media, we believe the stories of the people of the Central Valley deserve to be heard in whatever way you choose. 


*This blog was produced as part of the Lifting Local Leaders storytelling program launched by the James B. McClatchy Foundation. “LIFT” references the inaugural pilot grantmaking program. These stories are guided by the StoryEngine methodology, an open-source, narrative-based, data collection tool developed by Loup Design.

Thank you to the seven local leaders who participated in the StoryEngine process: Estella Sanchez, Reyna Olaguez, Nancy Xiong, Trena Turner, Gabby Trejo, Jesse Salinas, and Sade Williams.