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Sonoma Valley charity head takes pride in schools, community

  • Laura Zimmerman works on the Red & White Ball benefiting the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation in Sonoma on Thursday, August 28, 2014. (CONNER JAY/ PD)

Laura Zimmerman knows a good story when she sees it.

The former Bay Area TV and radio reporter perceives that high among the most noteworthy things happening in Sonoma Valley is what residents are doing for one of its most consequential assets:

Its network of public schools.

“It’s like Sonoma is proud of its schools now,” said Zimmerman, a well-spoken and driven mother of three products of the valley’s 5,000-student unified school district.

As proof of that community pride, she points to the work of the charitable Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, which hosts a benefit ball on the Sonoma Plaza that supports myriad science, engineering/technology, math, reading, art, vocational, garden, preschool and other campus programs to the tune of $1.3 million a year.

Vintner Bruce Cohn, manager of the Doobie Brothers, boosts the foundation with a share of proceeds from the annual music festivals at B.R. Cohn Winery, and Gloria Ferrer winery contributes proceeds of its summer Catalan Festival. The foundation is a beneficiary also of the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, which wrapped up Sunday, and of a vast number of volunteer hours by parents and others across the valley.

Zimmerman, 58, views it all as the Sonoma region coming firmly to grip with the fact that the schools today require that the people they serve do much more than pay their property taxes. “Community support is essential to public education,” she said.

The ex-KGO, KTVU and KNTV reporter isn’t an impartial observer of the phenomenon of neighbors banding together to dramatically augment their local schools.

She’s executive director of the 21-year-old Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, and these days is up to her neck in preparations for Saturday’s sold-out Red & White Ball.

Zimmerman lived for years in Lafayette in Contra Costa County, but fell in love with Sonoma Valley on visits with family of her husband, Jeff, the owner of an architectural firm. The couple, with their two sons and a daughter, moved 14 years ago to Sonoma and to a house with vineyards that Jeff Zimmerman designed.


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