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Santa Rosa architect recognized for global philanthropy

It was a simple photo, but Mark Quattrocchi got emotional seeing a Two Rock Elementary School student online for the first time after weeks of attempting distance learning without internet.

In late April, the co-founder of Santa Rosa’s Quattrocchi Kwok Architects spent $30,000 on reams of paper and dozens of hot spot devices that could bypass the inconsistent cellphone coverage in the rural areas west of Petaluma, and convert any wireless signal to the internet.

That meant 26 Two Rock families, whose children had been isolated from their teachers and classmates for weeks after the pandemic first forced schools to close, could finally get online. He made similar donations in other parts of Sonoma and Lake counties.

It’s the sort of charitable acts Quattrocchi, 63, has regularly done in varying degrees for decades, helping people in need not just in his local community, but across the globe.

The Santa Rosa architect was recently named Philanthropist of the Year by the international nonprofit A Chance in Life, an organization that creates self-governing “towns” by empowering children in developing nations and providing reliable access to shelter, education and food.

Quattrocchi, who has worked with the nonprofit for 10 years, was recognized in a virtual gala as the organization celebrated its 75th anniversary, with the so-called “towns” now on five continents and serving about 4,000 children annually.

“It’s all a bit humbling,” Quattrocchi said. “But it’s for these incredibly vulnerable children all over the world who I take this on for.”

The Glen Ellen native spent his formative years in Mendocino and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in architecture from UC Berkeley.

After working in a corporate office for years, he returned to Sonoma County and launched his own company in 1986, mostly managing home renovations from a spare bedroom he was renting in east Santa Rosa’s Montgomery Village.

It was during an upgrade of Mendocino Community High School three years later, his first project at a school, that Quattrocchi said he saw the power of enhancing education buildings and community spaces, and sparked the company’s pivot to school projects full-time.

“I recognized whatever we did would affect future generations,” he said. “That was meaningful to me.”

His approach, turning to staff and students early on to help mold modern and sustainable designs, caught on. His company now boasts two offices, 65 employees and a portfolio worth $2 billion.

But Quattrocchi’s business success also has come with a persistent desire to give back.

In addition to his work with A Chance in Life, the Santa Rosa resident is the board chairman and co-founder of Paws for Purple Hearts, an organization that aids veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder by employing them to train service dogs.

In 2004, his firm also oversaw the design and construction of an “Extreme Home Makeover” for a Penngrove family whose 12-year-old daughter suffered from a rare sun allergy.

So stepping up in the spring for students in rural or lower-income area communities who needed internet access was a natural step for Quattrocchi, who was more nimble than county and state leaders bogged down by red tape, when it became evident that hundreds of local students could be left behind if the so-called digital divide was not addressed.

Cloverdale Superintendent Betha MacClain, the former schools chief in Two Rock, said Quattrocchi’s donation “transformed distance learning” for the district that has now reached a point in which 95% of its nearly 170 students could get online.

“Beyond the educational access Mark's donation provided, he gave our kids a way to connect with the world during a difficult and isolating time,” MacClain said.

Yet, eight months since schools closed and at-home learning took hold, reliable internet access remains elusive for some students in remote parts of the county.

While laptops and hot spots are universally available, there has been no fundamental shift in broadband supply. That’s left districts like Kashia, Fort Ross and parts of west county at the mercy of profit-driven decisions from companies such as AT&T or Comcast, said Matt O’Donnell, technology and innovation specialist for the Sonoma County Office of Education.

Leaders from the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians opened a community center inside the Stewarts Point Rancheria so Kashia Elementary students could complete their work in shifts at one of the few local sites with internet.

There are still students who have slipped through the cracks, and months later are still taking at-home courses primarily with paper packets, O’Donnell said.

The county education office created a technology fund to offset costs or help address some of the lingering needs for items such as laptops, software or hot spots, O’Donnell said. But the amount of donations has only allowed the fund to fulfill about one-third of the estimated $600,000 in requests.

The county’s education office’s cap on each request is $5,000.

“It’s just so expensive for broadband access, and there’s lots of layers to why,” O’Donnell said. “It’s falling on the shoulders of local school districts to solve national issues.”

For Quattrocchi, it’s that reality, knowing there always will be young people who need help, that inspires his ongoing philanthropy.

“It’s great we did this, but there’s (many) others still struggling,” Quattrocchi said. “It can be overwhelming or paralyze me, or I can use it as fuel for the next fight.”

You can reach Staff Writer Yousef Baig at 707-521-5390 or yousef.baig@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @YousefBaig.

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