Sometimes you meet people in life that you know are just genuinely good people. They do for others and don’t ask for anything in return. They are happy helping people who need help; and all they want is to see others succeed.
Meet John and Lynn Wade: two parents just trying to make sure they leave this world better than they found it.
John and Lynn started The John and Lynn Wade Family Foundation in 2005, which helps support middle class families to give their children the opportunity to receive a quality education in Richmond, California, a city that has come a long way in recent years, but one that has struggled to support the needs of its youth in education.
The foundation also supports adults with developmental disabilities (DD) in the Bay Area to enjoy their favorite sport: bowling. When the woman who ran their local league for 28 years passed away, there was no longer a league for the bowlers to participate in.
When John and Lynn saw how upset the bowlers were when the league ended, they sprung to action. The only thing they asked was, “how can we start the league up again so that they can enjoy their lives to the fullest and do what they love to do?”
I had the privilege of speaking with this couple over the phone, completely overwhelmed with emotions because all they have ever wanted was to bring opportunity to the people in their community. They weren’t exactly sure what they were getting themselves in to starting the foundation; but through every trial and tribulation they have remained optimistic and positive. Seeing the children they have helped reach their goals, graduate high school and go off to the colleges of their dreams is enough to make these two happy. And high-fiving with the bowlers and watching them have an almost incomprehensible amount of fun every Saturday at the bowling alley, well, that makes them pretty darn happy too.
Karlee: What inspired you to start the John and Lynn Wade Family Foundation (J&L WFF)?
Lynn: It all began when we met with our financial advisor, Harold. He asked us what we wanted to do in the future; what were our future financial plans? He said it could be as crazy as we wanted it to be, and so we started thinking.
John: The basic premise started with a family I knew, the Ferrea’s, who when I was a kid, had sponsored one kid through a private high school for all four years. I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world, because when I was in high school I didn’t have any financial support. I worked at horse stables to pay my way through private high school because I wanted to go there rather than the public schools in the area. I thought, when I grow up I hope to be successful enough to be able do that too; I thought that it would be a really great thing. So when Harold was interviewing us, I said that I would like to take a kid and help them financially. And then Harold said, “Well, you could help more than one.” So the idea came from what the Ferrea’s had done, but Harold, knowing Lynn and I said, “You can do so much more than that, with a little help and a little encouragement”; and that’s where she took off from.
Karlee: What is the main goal of the foundation?
John: There are so many goals! And actually it’s a double-headed goal; and one isn’t more important to us than the other. We want to provide recreation in our bowling league for adults with DD, and to provide opportunity for really deserving kids at the high school level by assisting with tuition. These kids are already doing everything themselves, really. They just need tuition assistance.
Lynn: We’ve always said, “If you’re poor, there’s a lot of help out there for you. If you’re rich, you don’t need the help, but there’s not a lot of help for the people in the middle.” Some people that just need a little bit of help. There are situations where the father might have lost his job, or maybe the family has lost some of their income, for whatever reason. They may have to take care of extra family members because of an accident or illness. So it’s things like that for us that we aren’t just focusing on low income families, we are focusing on the middle class families, where there isn’t a lot of help available to them. They cannot afford the full tuition and they need help so that their child can receive the quality education that they deserve. So we help and pay half of the tuition for them.
John: Actually, one of the things that we wanted to stay away from was at-risk youth. Because to us, in our society, if you’re a teenager, you’re at risk; it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. It doesn’t matter where you live, there are a lot of pressures on you in our society, so to us, every teen is at-risk. If you look at it, there is a lot of money spent trying to help at-risk teens. Where we live a lot of the kids can’t see tomorrow. They don’t care about their education. We work with the families who are trying; the parents are working two jobs, they are doing everything they can to try to better their child’s future, but there aren’t enough hours in the day for them to make enough money to send their child to a school that will provide them with a good education. The kids are already doing all the right things. They’re already outstanding students. They’re already not in trouble. They’re already active in school. They’re already doing all the right things, but there is no help for a kid like that. That is shameful. And that is where Lynn and I said, “Those are the kids that we want to help. The kids that already doing all the right things, but they need a little help, through no fault of their own.” I see myself in these kids because I was that kid that fell through the cracks and there was no one to help me. What Mr. and Mrs. Ferrea had done for that kid just shook my soul, because I never realized that people could do that. We have found ourselves in the position where we can help now, and we are trying to grow to be able to help more families; and the need keeps growing every year.
Karlee: And what about the bowling league? How did the needs of the adults with DD come into play?
John: A woman named Marilyn Granholt had run a bowling league, (that our son has been involved in) for 28 years. She was very devoted. She had worked with the DD community in schools for a long time. She was very passionate about wanting to provide something for them. The last two or three seasons she was alive, she had really slowed down because of her age. She was our inspiration to continue the league.
Marilynn had a massive stroke and had passed away, and she had never made any plans on who she would pass the league off to if something were to happen to her. After she passed, I would see a lot of the bowlers because they worked with our son, and all of the bowlers were so sad and they would talk about how much they missed bowling. So Lynn, being the mom she is, suggested that we try and do it ourselves. She comes from a bowling background; her family was always in leagues and she would keep score to earn money when she was a kid. So it was her idea, not mine, to start this all up. It took some time to contact the people who run things for the state because we didn’t know how to do that. Once we were able to get ahold of them, we found out that they are just volunteers too; they don’t really “run” things. So they helped us figure out how to get the league started again. We contacted the bowling alley and they were on board, and we contacted all the old bowlers, took flyers out to the workshops in the area; we just jumped in with both feet.
For the first two or three seasons we didn’t have uniforms. So we kept saving money until we were able to buy uniforms. We had to buy 60 shirts at about $70 per shirt at the time. So it took us a little while to save up enough money to be able to do that. But when we gave out those uniforms, it was one of the greatest days ever; I’m not even kidding. The bowlers got all wound up and were just so incredibly happy. We really tried to make it fun and special for each one of them as we gave them their shirts; it was really a wonderful day.
So this all started because the bowlers missed bowling so much and would always talk about it. And Lynn is the driving force behind it. She is behind all the good things; she just can’t stop doing enough good for people. She does all the organizing and the real work, and I go up and down the alley and help with the ramps and give high-fives and hugs.
Lynn: And you get all the cheers. “Oh it’s John! It’s John! Look, John is here!”
John: Well, yeah. But when she’s not there, they ask about her too! Maybe not with as much passion, but they ask!
Lynn: Once we made all of the right contacts, we were off from there! The bowling alley does a lot for us as well. The woman who runs the bowling program there really loves having us there; she does a lot for the bowlers.
Karlee: Who runs the league for the state of California?
Lynn: Cal ARC. I’m not really sure how it started, but I know they had different volunteers from all over the state that had divided up into nine or ten districts. So we are just one district, and we cover Contra Costa County, Alameda County, San Mateo County, and San Francisco. So the representatives for each district ran everything for the state of California.
Unfortunately they are no longer doing the state tournament. By the time it had stopped, I believe it was the 52nd state tournament. This one group of people had been running it for about 30 years by then.
John: They got older and they just didn’t have it in them to run it any longer. So they just stopped doing it. They hadn’t asked if anyone may want to take it over. It just all got left hanging. So what we are trying to do is wait until Lynn retires so that we can make a bigger push to reinstitute it on a state level, but so far it doesn’t seem like too many people are interested in doing that with us. But we’ll keep doing our couple of tournaments each year because the people in our area want to keep going, so we’ll keep going. Hopefully in the future we can build a little more time just for that.
Karlee: How does the J&L WFF support the league?
John: Right now, for our yearly kick-off luncheon, our holiday parties, things like that, Lynn and I pay for that; we never charge the bowlers for that stuff. A lot of the bowlers don’t have very much income; they are on a really tight budget. They don’t have a lot of family support or anyone to help them afford much outside of their living expenses. So if the price of bowling goes, they won’t be able to bowl. If we needed new uniforms we would have to raise the price of bowling, and we would lose bowlers. So we eat that cost, but it’s okay.
Lynn: Right now we charge the bowlers $9 for bowling (once a week), and we haven’t raised the fees in a really long time, and we don’t want to have to raise the fee. We hope to get more bowlers, and to be able to charge $4-$5 per week, and we would like to be able to have free bowling, so that if someone wants to come bowl but they can’t afford to, they are still able to do it. We hope that having a lower cost will help build the league because some people want to bowl, but they can’t afford to right now.
John: Unfortunately, in this area, the small family run businesses have gone by the wayside; and they were the ones who really supported things like this. And the bigger corporations don’t fund stuff like this, like they once did; it’s much harder to approach them now. What Lynn and I have talked about is that we would really love to get to a place where we could charge the bowlers $4-$5 per week to bowl. So that the bowler are still responsible for their part, but we have a corporation that donates to help, the bowling alley is donating to help, Lynn and I are donating to help, so it turns into a partnership with the bowler.
One of the things that our foundation loves is partnerships. That’s why we don’t take on full tuition for our kids who are going to school; it’s a partnership. It’s a partnership between the school giving them a break, us picking up some of it, the family is paying some of it, and the student being involved in it; it’s a partnership. If you give something away from free, people will take advantage. If you have some skin in the game and you have to put something in there also, then it becomes a partnership. And you are more likely to take care of “it”, whatever “it” is. Lynn and I feel that having a partnership with the families and kids we help, and with the bowlers, it will help steer them in the right direction because they have a responsibility to help themselves succeed as well.
What we really hope to happen with the bowlers is to be able to get their families and caretakers more involved the way they used to be when our son first joined the league. They used to help with the scoring, help bowlers who need physical assistance, who needed to use ramps; they helped with all of that and it was wonderful because everyone was involved. We don’t have that anymore. A lot of times it’s Lynn, our son Bobby, and myself running up and down the alley writing down scores and keeping things moving. Lack of participation of families and caretakers is really rough on us sometimes. And some people have thought that this is our job, this is what we are paid to do. But we aren’t paid. This is all volunteer, and it actually cost us money to do this. We explain that to people and try to get others involved, but right now we’re just doing the best we can.
Karlee: Do you have regular volunteers that help out with the league?
Lynn: When we have our yearly county tournament, the boys’ varsity basketball team from Salesian High School comes to help out. They are set up on each lane to assist the bowlers, help keep score and they really seem to enjoy it. But it’s only for that tournament. We’ve been doing that with them for the past ten years now.
Karlee: Where do you see the foundation in the next 5-10 years? What would you like to see the foundation become?
John: I would like to see both organizations grow, and hopefully we’ll be well connected to financial resources. In the beginning we hit a few bumps trying to get our 501C3, but we finally got it. And then our accountant didn’t realize that we had to file certain forms yearly, so that was another bump in the road. So it has been a learning process for us. But that’s okay; most of life is.
Our other son, Matthew, has set us up with a videographer to help us make a video of the kids that we have helped with tuition cost so that we can set something up for electronic donations on our webpage. We are also setting up a go-fund me to try and raise money that way too. We are going to try and really tap into the internet resources that can help with this sort of thing because we simply don’t have the time to do golf tournaments, bake sales, things like that, to raise money.
One of the more important things that we hope people realize and understand is that Lynn and I don’t make any money from this; we don’t want any money for it. We are so satisfied with knowing that we’ve done our part in helping people. We love to hear how the kids are grateful for our help; we know that our bowlers appreciate it, so that’s enough for us. We want people who would potentially donate to understand that we would never take a dime. We don’t want it, and we don’t need it. We will never take a fee for running our foundation; we do this because we want to, not because we need to. We want to grow so that we can help more people. We also want to be able to give the kids connections to the colleges of their dreams. We have a girl right now that really wants to go to Stanford; that is her dream school. And it’s a tough nut to crack! I have been asking around to see if I can find someone who knows people who work in admissions at Stanford, or if they know someone who went to Stanford, any type of connection that can help this girl achieve her dreams. She has a 4.4 GPA, she wants to be an engineer, and she wants to go to Stanford. So another goal of the foundation is to be able to help these kids make the right connections so that they can go to the college of their choice. We want to be able to connect them to people who are able to help them because in our area, there are not many resources that can help with things like that. So that is another goal Lynn and I are working on: to help these kids go even further and realize that they can shoot for the stars! That they are good enough, they don’t have to settle, and if they work hard, there is nothing that can stop them!
Lynn: Right now we are able to help 4 families with tuition every year. Most of the kids we help beginning their freshman year. Some of them, their families fall on hard times and we start helping them their junior or senior year. It all depends on each family. So in the next 5-10 years it would be really great to double, or even triple that! We would love to help 10 or 13 families a year!
As of now, we really only work within one school because it is the only private high school in our area, so we would like to expand into other schools in other cities around us to help those families too.
On the bowling side, within the next 5-10 years I think it would be great if we could see the state tournament running again. When it was still going on and I was helping run that, it was about 300 bowlers, but when it had first started it was about 400-500 bowlers. There were bowlers in wheelchairs, blind bowlers, bowlers that had various disabilities; there were all different levels. The state tournament was something that they really, really looked forward to; they just really had a great time being there. It became more difficult as parents were getting older, bowlers were getting older, and as the bowlers were getting older they needed more help. But their parents or families couldn’t help out. And it became more difficult for the bowlers to make it to the state tournaments. So one of the things that we have to keep in mind about the tournament is that if the need for help is growing for the bowlers, we have to be able to provide a little more assistance, or be able to make it more central so that maybe more people can travel to it. There are a lot of different things going on right now because everyone is getting older!
So we want to at least get Northern California going again, which we hope will get people interested again. We would want to keep the tournament to one day, and keep the timing to just the day time because older people have trouble driving in the dark, but we want them to be able to come. So if we could start there, that would be great!
So the progression being that we start with the Northern California tournament, but it progresses into a California state tournament. We would also want to make it cost efficient so that the bowlers could attend and they wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to afford to go. That would be our ultimate goal.
“Almost everybody is inspired by someone else’s actions, and almost everybody needs a little help.”
– John Wade
by Karlee Wade