Donor Desk: Janet Lee Chen

Donor Desk: Janet Lee Chen

Education has always been a family priority. My mother-in-law, Rose T.Y. Chen emigrated from China to the United States to become a teacher, but World War II disrupted her plans. Instead, she met and married T.Y. Chen, and together, they became successful real estate entrepreneurs and importers of goods from Asia, supplying stores in San Francisco Chinatown and other retailers throughout the United States.

During their lifetimes, my in-laws funded civic and educational programs in San Francisco Chinatown and throughout the Bay Area.  They established the Rose T.Y. Chen Charitable Foundation to support charitable causes.  In 2014, we moved the Foundation to the San Francisco Foundation where it became a donor advised fund.  Each year, through this fund, my family makes gifts to organizations that do important work in our community.  We are pleased to continue in my in-law’s philanthropic footsteps, not only through the fund, but also, by serving on the boards of nonprofits we are passionate about, including our daughter’s former school, Sterne School.

Our family is grateful our daughter attended Sterne.  It gave her the opportunity to thrive, the academic support she needed, and a nurturing environment where she found life-long friendships.  Personally, I have enjoyed my involvement with the dedicated school community over the past 15 years.  It has been heartwarming to witness students gain success academically, graduating from Sterne High School, and like our daughter, move on to attend and graduate from four-year colleges and universities.  In fact, some our Sterne’s graduates are teaching at the school today.

Sterne has humble roots.  Launched in 1976 by Bay Area educator, Val Anthony, the school initially operated out of an abandoned San Francisco storefront, serving only 10 children who Anthony saw were being failed by the school system.  Over the years, the school has grown to meet the needs of non-traditional learners and now serves as a lifeline for 200+ students from all over the Bay Area.  For more than 40 years, Sterne has been changing the lives of hundreds of Bay Area students and their families and remains the only San Francisco school (grades 4-12) exclusively serving students whose learning profiles make it difficult to succeed in a traditional classroom.  Sterne’s mission is simple: build on the foundation of individual strengths to discover and nurture each student’s version of greatness.

Sterne has a racial and socioeconomically diverse student body. 22% of the student body identifies as multiracial, 9% Asian, 8% African American, 3% Hispanic, and 58% as Caucasian.  The administration and board are committed to providing tuition assistance to students whose families cannot afford the cost of a private school education, and this year, 38% of Sterne students will receive tuition assistance.

To accommodate the needs of its students, in 2017, Sterne secured a 99-year lease on a 50,000 square foot campus in San Francisco Chinatown.  Sterne’s capital campaign, the Home Stretch, will complete the building’s 10,000 square foot lower level and presents an unprecedented opportunity to develop a state-of-the art athletics and performing and visual arts facilities, including: a gymnasium, a drama and movement classroom, an acoustically-treated music classroom with two adjacent sound-proof rehearsal rooms, a digital film classroom, and a welcome center.

These spaces will help students gain the confidence to challenge themselves physically and artistically.  At Sterne so many students discover the joy for learning and the confidence to succeed for the first time.  My family is committed to ensuring that current and future Sterne School students benefit from these facilities and receive innovative and top-tier education they deserve.