Marlena Salvador’s first memory of giving was dropping change into a small orange Unicef box. Circulating each year around Halloween to raise funds, these iconic boxes were carted around by countless children on a mission to collect as much candy and donations as possible.
Marlena also witnessed acts of giving by her grandfather, who was an active member of the Shriners. She has vivid memories of viewing Shriner certificates in her grandfather’s home; however, she knew little about his charitable work. “I would ask questions but never received clear answers,” explained Marlena.
As a new member of the Victoria Foundation’s Gadsden Initiative, Marlena has committed herself to becoming discreetly loud about her giving. In the past, she wasn’t particularly vocal about her philanthropic endeavours and quietly gave in her own way. But that’s all changed now. “If we’re all silent donors, then how will we inspire the next generation,” says Marlena. She’s now firmly committed to sharing her philanthropic journey with others to show the importance of giving back to your community.
A Brief History of Marlena’s Philanthropic Journey
Marlena is newer to the realm of philanthropy having spent much of her career as an interior designer and in the real estate sector. However, she continued to feel the pull of philanthropy and the desire to make a difference in her community. As an only child from a single-parent family, she doesn’t come from a lot of money. Her firsthand experience living with less is what helps inspire her to give back. That’s why she joined HeroWork, a Victoria-based non-profit facilitating radical building renovations for other non-profits. As the Philanthropy and Communications Manager, she is passionate about architecture, interior design, and transforming charities.
Once Marlena realized that she wanted to dedicate her life to giving her time, talent, and treasure to her community, she decided to take her philanthropic journey one step further. That’s when she and her husband Nick joined the 2021-2022 Gadsden Initiative cohort. Now in its second year, this Victoria Foundation initiative brings together a cohort of GenX’ers and Millennials to build relationships within the community through a series of learning sessions, community activities, and networking opportunities based on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
One of the end goals of the Gadsden Initiative is to create permanent endowment funds that will support the community through grant-making. But the process is not just about endowment funds. It’s about connecting new donors with different organizations while helping them learn about the needs of the community and how they align with the UN’s Global Goals.
The prospect of going through this process resonated with Marlena because she saw the opportunity to experience a fuller picture of philanthropy. In her role with HeroWork, she’s a grantee. And as a member of the Gadsden Initiative, she’s a grantor. Together, they help her better understand both sides of the equation.
The idea of picking something small and more tangible resonates with Marlena and Nick, especially a project they can support long-term. One cause area that interests them is the environment and sustainability. While walking their boxer Delilah along the beach, they often pick up garbage and plastic. “The sheer volume of plastic found on beaches is a physical reminder that our planet is swimming in it,” says Marlena. That’s why they always strive to carry basic supplies for beach clean-ups. This is a big reason why Marlena and Nick are considering supporting environmental organizations and causes through their endowment fund.
Food security is another cause area near and dear to Marlena’s heart. With firsthand experience living with sparse cupboards, she’s interested in exploring how to support food security in the community. From assisting food banks and soup kitchens to supporting cooking, gardening, and foraging programs for children, Marlena and Nick are looking forward to learning about how they can make a difference with food security in Greater Victoria.
Marlena’s Experience with the Gadsden Initiative So Far
During the first few group Gadsden Initiative sessions, Marlena enjoyed exploring what it meant to be philanthropic. She and her husband had never considered many of the questions that came up during the sessions, which led to some interesting conversations at home. “I found it extremely valuable to design our future together with how we want the world to be when we leave,” explained Marlena.
She also found that learning about the Global Goals helped her better understand how she can make a difference. With different goals centered on protecting our oceans, ending world hunger, and ensuring clean water for all, learning about them made things more tangible. This is helping Marlena and Nick find a way to give back in a more meaningful way. “I just want to leave something behind when I go and to know that I’ve done something and helped move the needle,” said Marlena.
To learn more about the program or to inquire about joining the next cohort, visit our Gadsden Initiative webpage.