Los Altans Donna and John Shoemaker are thoughtful, strategic philanthropists who are determined to maximize the impact of every gift. Married for 25 years, they share a deep concern for their local community, which drives them to volunteer and to give generously to heartfelt causes.
The couple met in Los Angeles, where John was an executive at Xerox Corporation and Donna a staffer at the Los Angeles Times. They moved to the Bay Area shortly after they got married, a homecoming of sorts for Donna, who had grown up in Millbrae. John soon took a job as vice president and general manager of computer systems at Sun Microsystems and Donna went into the local real estate business. After retiring about ten years ago they immediately turned their attention to volunteer work, which led them to El Camino Hospital.
Donna saw an article about the Auxiliary in the local newspaper and soon became a regular volunteer in the emergency room. "Being involved with a hospital is a smart idea," she says with a chuckle. "It seemed natural to turn to El Camino Hospital since so many of our physicians are there."
Impressed with what they were learning about the institution, the Shoemakers soon made a gift to El Camino Hospital Foundation and gradually became more actively engaged. Donna joined the Imagine Campaign Cabinet, helping to organize VIP tours of the new patient tower, then under construction. She also served for a short time on the Women’s Hospital Community Advisory Board.
John became a member of the Foundation Board of Directors, heading up the Strategic Planning and Allocations Committees, to which he lent much needed professional and business expertise.
Last summer, the couple became interested in making a more significant donation to the Foundation. They considered several possibilities. "We prefer to be very specific and targeted in our gifts," explains John. "We want them to directly impact the individual’s quality of life. For us, this approach is very fulfilling, a high leverage way to change lives." "We wanted to target our donation to address a particular problem in the community so that it would benefit patients directly," adds Donna. When they met Behavioral Health Services Executive director Michael Fitzgerald and learned about MOMS, the pioneering program he developed to treat postpartum depression, they knew they found their cause.
MOMS was the first comprehensive, therapy-based program in the Bay Area and only the second of its kind in the United States specifically designed to help the 25% of new mothers who suffer from prenatal and postpartum anxiety, depression or psychosis. It provides culturally sensitive services to women from different ethnic backgrounds, important to the Shoemakers who volunteer for Stanford University’s Community Committee for International Students (CCIS) and are much attuned to the impact of cultural factors on mental health.
"I was shocked at the percentage of women who experience postpartum depression and at the devastating impact it has. I was also amazed how little support is available in the community. This is truly an underfunded area and El Camino Hospital is an impressive leader in the field," John says. "We believe our MOMS gift improves lives, not just for the woman, but for the whole family, which ultimately benefits the entire community," Donna adds.
The impact of their gift became personal when a young couple confided to Donna that the wife was newly pregnant but she was not feeling the joy she had anticipated. Rather, she was feeling distraught, sick and utterly alone. Her husband also felt helpless to comfort her. Donna convinced them to get a referral to MOMS, which provided caring and intensive outpatient therapy. Stabilized now, they know there is a support system in place as they adjust to being new parents. The wife, originally from another country, later told Donna, "At first, I was afraid to seek help, because in my home country, I would have been stigmatized as 'crazy'".
The Shoemakers encourage everyone to discover the pleasure of giving, which has added so much meaning to their lives. "Before we started making significant gifts, we had no concept of how wonderful an experience it would be. Anyone who has the ability to give and hasn’t done so is missing a tremendous opportunity in life for fulfillment and joy," advises John. "It is really meaningful to donate while you are still alive because you get to see the benefit," concurs Donna. "And it’s a lot more fun," John adds!