Wine and helping others are the two things that come to mind when I think of Olivia Pope from Scandal. They are also the same two things that come to mind when I think of Susan Sokol Blosser. Having worked in the wine industry for over 40 years, Susan could probably give Olivia some pointers on what wines to try.
After handing over the Sokol Blosser Winery to her children in 2008, Susan Sokol Blosser knew she had the time and resources to help her community. I got the chance to sit down with Susan to discuss her nonprofit, the Yamhill Enrichment Society, and I of course had to ask her about her favorite TV shows!
What is the goal of the Yamhill Enrichment Society?
The goal of YES, which is the acronym, is to build the community through innovative projects that are collaborative. Our mission is to really enrich the soul of Yamhill County.
What are some of the projects you are currently working on?
Under arts and education we have the Books for Babies program and Imagination Library, which really emphasizes literacy for ages 0-5. The other aspect of arts and education is the music enrichment for public school children. We bring professional artists to do a concert for the community at night and perform for all McMinnville third graders during the day.
For food and agriculture we have Nourish Yamhill Valley, which is part of our mission to build a strong local food economy. We also have Bounty of Yamhill County, which brings together the chefs and pairs them with local farmers and we serve some of the famous wines. It’s a big fundraiser, but it’s also about making Yamhill County a culinary destination known all over.
Under history and community we have a tour of historic homes and old photographs which gives people a sense of their community.
What inspired YES?
The inspiration for YES came after I ran for state legislature in 2010 and didn’t win. I was so impressed with the people that I met who were so engaged in the community. There was so much momentum from my campaign I wondered what could I do locally instead of at the state level that would be useful. I decided on a nonprofit that could raise money and would be devoted to Yamhill County. I had some funds left over from my campaign and you’re very limited in what you’re allowed to do with campaign funds. One of the things you can do is donate them to a nonprofit. So that’s what I did, I donated to my nonprofit. I assembled a board of directors and we zeroed in on the projects that we all agreed we would be interested in working on.
What are the differences and similarities between running a YES and running the Sokol Blosser Winery?
There are a lot of differences and similarities. The similarities are that running the winery was running a business and it has to be profitable to stay in business. That’s true in a nonprofit too. Not that it has to be profitable, but that it has to have enough cash flow coming in to be able to accomplish the goals. There is a lot of competition for people’s philanthropic dollars in the nonprofit community and I found nonprofits are just as competitive and territorial as businesses are. You always have to be thinking about what is going to appeal to the public and what’s going to resonate with them so they will be loyal to you.
The differences are that in running the winery, one is really climbing the career ladder for success. In running a nonprofit you’re not climbing that same ladder. You’re nurturing it and that’s where it’s giving back. If you’re running a business it’s accumulating and if you’re running a nonprofit, it’s giving away.
How can people get involved with YES?
If people are interested in specific projects that we are doing then they would email the firstname.lastname@example.org and we would direct them to the right person because there is a board member in charge of each project. We are growing by word of mouth. It’s not something we advertise in the paper partly because that’s impersonal. It’s a person to person kind of opportunity.
Why is it important to be a part of your community and give back?
That’s an interesting question. The idea of giving back doesn’t resonate with me, but the idea of making my community more livable resonates with me. That’s what motivates me.
What is your favorite TV show?
I have to say I love Downton Abbey. That’s been great fun. On a regular basis, I watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. I think Steven Colbert is brilliant, just brilliant.