A Grant From The Heart, The San Manuel Way

February 9, 2021

50 Small Businesses Receive $20,000 Grants Each In Partnership With IEEP

Some of the business owners that were among the 50 chosen for the San Manuel-IEEP grants watch on Zoom while the grants are announced. 

All images in this post are courtesy of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, via screen grabs from their YouTube broadcast of the Jan. 29, 2021 ceremony. 

By Michael Johnson

If you happen to glance at the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians’ website, these words greet you: “Since time immemorial, before the arrival of European settlers, the indigenous people of California lived in accordance with the environment, holding sacred everything the land provided.” On Jan. 29, San Manuel Business Committee member, Audrey Martinez, echoed that sentiment while talking about why the Southern California Tribe had decided to partner with the Inland Empire Economic Partnership (IEEP), for the San Manuel Cares $1 Million Small Business Relief Fund.

“It has always been our belief that we are stewards of this land and all its inhabitants. For most of the last century, we had little in the way of resources on our reservation,” said Martinez. “We were fortunate to find kindness and support from the people in San Bernardino County. As we grew and found ways to independently sustain ourselves, we never lost sight of our Yawa, as we found ourselves in a position to be able to bring aid to the community that once helped us.”

And help is what this devastated community of small business owners — restaurateurs and salon owners, mechanics and animal shelters, grocers, delis, wellness centers and therapists, even a bowling alley — needed. The term “Yawa” means “to act on one’s beliefs” in the Serrano language, and that belief was put into action when 50 small businesses received $20,000 each from the fund a few days ago.

With the pandemic in full swing through the majority of 2020 and now 2021, most non-essential small businesses have felt the effects.  Due to stay-at-home orders, business owners had to lay off most of their staff.  Some have even shut their doors forever. Suffice to say, the past year has not been a good one.

San Manuel Tribe Business Committee member, Audrey Martinez, kicks off proceedings on Jan. 29, 2021.

When Help Comes Calling

So, when the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians donated money to local area businesses, those businesses’ owners were appreciative. Business Owner Heidi Grunt of the 29 Palms Inn in Twentynine Palms, California, told Biometrica she was shocked by the phone call she received and was a little taken aback at first. “When somebody calls you and says they’re giving money away, you first think, ‘are you for real’?” Grunt stated.  She added, “it was pretty special,” and we “felt blessed.”

A great little coffee shop was also helped with the grant they received.  Owner Tansu Philip from Viva La Boba said as much to KVCR. “Getting this money was completely unexpected and a huge shock.  Honestly, I knew we were getting something but $20,000 is way beyond anything I could’ve expected or comprehended.  Honestly, I was really emotional when it first happened.  I can’t believe it, honestly.”

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Reservation is currently located on 900 sprawling acres of land in Southern California, at the San Bernardino Mountain Region’s foothills, north of the city of Highland and sixty miles from Los Angeles. Each of the 50 recipients had something in common in a community that, according to Paul Granillo, the president and CEO of IEEP, had seen 50% of small businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic. Each one desperately needed help.

“We are moved by their generosity,” he said, speaking of the San Manuel. “Covid-19 has been devastating to small businesses and what San Manuel has done is give cover to these small businesses. Fifty percent of small businesses in the Inland Empire have reported a negative effect from Covid-19. Some sectors have been disproportionately affected, namely, accommodation, food service, healthcare, and the social assistance industry have seen the most job losses and their number of hours of work decreased.”

The owners of Collision Auto Repair in the High Desert, Carlos Sarmiento and Valerie Ruiz, call into the event via Zoom to express their gratitude. 

Community Matters, People Matter

Tribal Chairman Ken Ramirez referenced the spirit of those that came before him in a short ceremony, part live and partly virtual, held to announce the recipients of the award. “This endeavor we are doing today is because of our ancestors. We should not forget that everything we do, the path we are on, has been charted by our ancestors, and so this is in honor of them today.”

The recipients of the grant money were chosen on the basis of two broad criteria. The first was that the business was already part of the San Bernardino County “COVID Compliant Business Partnership Program” and following Covid-19 safe practices. The next level condition was that the business was in a town or city bordering tribal lands, or in the ancestral lands of the mountains and high deserts.

At the center of this giving was the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians’ focus on community. Saying the grant was an extension of their philanthropy efforts, Tribal Secretary Johnny Hernandez Jr. said, “Our grant comes from our heart. We partnered with IEEP and communities across our territory to identify small businesses that could really use our help. An unexpected gift like this could be the difference between keeping the doors open or closing and losing the family business forever.”

Jovanna Rodriguez of Jovi’s Diner said her priorities were clear on what she would do with the money: “Bringing my employees back, putting my team together. One of the things that hurt me the most was that I had to cut my staff. Just bringing them back so they can support their families, and also putting it [the money] back into the business.” Rodriguez, who is born and raised in San Bernardino, said she was very grateful the Tribe was part of the San Bernardino community.

The owners of Collision Auto Repair in the High Desert, Carlos Sarmiento and Valerie Ruiz, agreed. “At the end of the day, it’s about community coming together and we are very, very blessed.”

Tribal Secretary Johnny Hernandez talks about the criteria involved in choosing the businesses.

A Philosophy Of Philanthropy

Through its San Manuel Cares program, the Tribe has supported more than 1,000 organizations since 2003. This includes a February 2020 $9 million gift to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to support research and education on tribal gaming operations and law. They have also given $1.3 million to UCLA, $5 million to Arizona State University, $25 million to Loma Linda University, $7.3 million to Mary’s Mercy Center, and $1 million to Indian Country Today.

San Manuel is one of the region’s largest employers, among the top 10 private employers in San Bernardino County.  They employ 4,000 people from the area. And this has much to do with the San Manuel Casino.

Starting in the mid-1980s as a successful bingo operation, the San Manuel developed a card room that also included slot machines in 1994. By 2005, the new San Manuel Casino was built.  The casino has a $550 million expansion project underway, including a 450-room tower hotel, a new event center with 3000 seats, a parking garage, and expanded gaming space. For now, though, as Chairman Ramirez stated, they’re focused on getting the community back on its feet. “We all look forward to the day when you can fully reopen your doors for good and welcome your customers back.  Until then, you have a hand up from San Manuel to cover expenses and keep your employees on the payroll.”

About the writer: Michael P. Johnson is a technology writer from the Greater Memphis Area. Mr. Johnson has almost two decades of experience in the casino industry, utilizing tech daily. You can read more about his work on his website, or reach him at michael@mpjwritesfreelance.com. You can also write to us: marketing@biometrica.com