PICO BLVD — The Pico Youth & Family Center received a $1.615 million donation from the estate of a local philanthropist, money that could not have come at a better time for the nonprofit at risk of losing its grant with City Hall.

The money came from the estate of Peggy Bergmann, a former resident of Pacific Palisades, and will become the Peggy Bergmann Endowment Fund in memory of her parents John Elmer Bergmann and Lenore Bergmann, said Sonya Sultan, Bergmann’s attorney.

“She wanted to give money to a local nonprofit where her money could make a big impact,” Sultan said.

The money arrived at a critical time for the organization, which has worked for a decade to engage with at-risk youth in the community to cut down on gang violence and boost achievement.

In June, the City Council approved a “last chance” agreement with the center, pressuring it to get its financials and organization in order or risk losing the $307,000 provided through a city grant.

One of the problems highlighted in the report was that PYFC had only met its obligation to provide a 25 percent cash match for the grant once in its history of accepting city money.

The conditions of the Bergmann gift require that the organization use no more than 10 percent of the money in any year. The rest will be invested, and the organization can access the gains it accrues each year.

It’s a game-changer, said center founder and director Oscar de la Torre. He estimates that it could be up to $200,000 a year more for the organization, or double the required cash match from City Hall.

“At a time where our destiny was unsure, this gift brings new life to our mission as an organization,” de la Torre said.

Amanda Seward, the chair of the PYFC Board of Directors, called the donation a “shot in the arm” for the organization.

The board is still mulling over how to best use the money, possibly to expand PYFC’s services to a wider range of ages than they can under the city’s “last chance” agreement.

In that decision, the City Council chose to limit the ages of youth that the organization serves in an attempt to better target certain populations. That cut out some of the youngest, which some see as weakening an organization that tries to stop problems with youth before they start.

Using it to meet the cash match would draw down the funds quickly, and wouldn’t fix the core problems identified by City Hall in June, Seward said.

Those included structural and organizational issues, including an unstable board and poor accounting practices.

At the time, City Hall believed PYFC had lost roughly $30,000 as a result of bad bookkeeping. That amount is now down to $17,000, and Bergmann’s gift will help with all aspects of PYFC’s reported issues, de la Torre said.

“Many of the problems that we have had have to do with lack of resources,” de la Torre said. “This gift will allow us to finally fund PYFC at the level where it can succeed, but we still need the city of Santa Monica to partner with us to ensure that this happens.”

PYFC is not the only local organization to benefit from Bergmann’s generosity. In September, the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation announced that it had also received a $4.8 million gift. The entire estate was over $16 million, Sultan said.

 

ashley@smdp.com