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All Stars Helping Kids

About a year ago, Michael Mina celebrated two significant anniversaries: the first year of business for his namesake restaurant in San Francisco, and his 20 years of work in the culinary industry. “I wanted to do more than throw a party,” he recalls. “I wanted to give back to this community that has given me so much.”

He decided to transform the evening—a dinner at Michael Mina restaurant—into a benefit for All Stars Helping Kids, a Bay Area nonprofit group that was founded in 1989 by his friend, former San Francisco 49er Ronnie Lott. Mina raised $26,000 that night for the Redwood City, Calif., group and decided that “it just made sense to commit to them on a bigger level.”

Now, as a member of the charity’s advisory board, Mina continues to host fund-raising and networking events at his restaurants. He has also paved the way for some of his staff members to join the young-professionals board of All Stars Helping Kids, which he has chosen as his beneficiary for the Robb Report Culinary Masters Competition.

All Stars Helping Kids is based in the heart of the Silicon Valley, and the organization takes an entrepreneurial approach to distributing its funds, much like angel-investor and venture-capital groups do. Each year, All Stars awards grants—“seed money,” says program director Judy Wilson—to start-up nonprofit groups that provide opportunities to low-income children in the Bay Area.

In September, the organization granted a total of $150,000 to groups that are new and local. One of them was Alpha Public Schools, which recently opened its first charter school in San Jose, with a technology-oriented curriculum. Every classroom is equipped with computers; students spend half their time on them and half in traditional instruction with teachers. The idea is to make learning more exciting and to provide computers to students who may not have access to them at home.

Another group receiving a grant this year is Wishbone, a crowd-sourced funding platform for providing summer school to low-income children. “Higher-income families spend about $5,000 a year on summer activities for kids,” Wilson says. “There are a lot of opportunities in summer programs—they can give kids a passion or a path in life.” On the group’s website (, donors can read about individual children and their interests before choosing to contribute to a particular child’s summer program—a model similar to the one employed by Kickstarter to fund budding businesses.

In addition to helping to raise money, Mina has also offered to provide business coaching to these new organizations, which may be run by only one or two people with little experience in fund-raising or business management. “Michael is so important,” Wilson says. “In many ways.”