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Tuesday, Mar 28, 2023

Pacific Life Buys Into UCI Literacy Program

Pacific Life Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Newport Beach-based insurance company Pacific Life Insurance Co., likes to take the long view when it comes to giving.

“We’re looking for organizations that have a history of doing good things,” Pacific Life Insurance Chief Executive Jim Morris told the Business Journal last month.

No surprise, considering the company’s own lengthy history, dating back to 1868.

In the intervening 150 years since former California Governor Leland Stanford founded the insurer, PacLife has built itself into the largest private company based in Orange County, reporting $9.4 billion in 2017 sales.

It’s also among the most prolific corporate givers in OC.

Since the Pacific Life Foundation was established in 1984, it has donated close to $110 million to community and national nonprofit organizations.

This year, the company’s foundation has earmarked close to $7 million in giving, with more than half of that expected to be directed towards programs in Orange County.

“Our foundation gives where there is a need in the community,” Morris said.

The largest commitment planned for the next year was finalized in December, but not announced until about two weeks ago.

It’s a $2 million gift to a financial literacy program for teenagers, and ranks No. 18 on this week’s list of largest charitable gifts of the past year (see list, page 16).

The foundation’s $2 million gift, which is spread over two years, is for Lifevest, run by the University of California-Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business’ Center for Investment and Wealth Management.

The literacy program at UCI annually hosts eighth- and ninth-graders from underserved communities for a weeklong course during which the students stay in campus dorms and are provided food at the school’s dining halls.

During the week, the teens learn financial literacy to motivate and prepare them to be the first in their families to go to college.

“Not only does it provide important financial skills, but the residential component also allows students to believe they belong in college,” said Christopher Schwarz, associate professor of finance and the faculty director of the literacy program.

“Over the course of the week you can see a huge change in the students’ confidence and plans for their futures,” he said.

PacLife’s $2 million donation will help Lifevest expand the program to 10th through 12th graders and besides financial literacy, teach the students how to prepare for college entrance exams and to obtain financial aid, said Tennyson Oyler, who is president of the foundation and is vice president of brand management and public affairs at PacLife.

More than 400 students have attended the program since it started nine years ago and in 2018 alone, 100 students participated over the course of three weeks.

212 Nonprofits

It’s not the only gift coming from the insurance giant.

In late January, the Pacific Life Foundation announced grants for 212 nonprofit agencies where its employees live and work. Besides Orange County, where it employs nearly 2,100 people in its Newport Beach and Aliso Viejo offices, it also has substantial operations in Omaha, Neb., and Lynchburg, Va.

It employs nearly 3,700 people companywide.

Additional charitable gifts include:

• $250,000 to the Boys & Girls Club of Central Orange Coast to renovate and modernize its existing buildings at six club locations

• $599,000 to K-12 schools where there are concentrations of children or grandchildren of Pacific Life employees

• More than $1 million to United Way in Pacific Life employee contributions and a 1-to-1 match from the Pacific Life Foundation.

• $500,000 to marine mammal, ocean related and environmental causes

Local Focus

Out of the $7 million scheduled to be awarded by the foundation this year, more than half will go to OC-based charities, Oyler estimated.

Every year, the foundation concentrates on a few large donations to nonprofits that have previously received its gifts and need help for particular projects.

For example, last year it donated $1 million to HomeAid Orange County, the founding chapter of a national network that focuses on solving homelessness.

The recently-announced donation to the UCI literacy program is likely to be its most significant over the coming year, Morris said.

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Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan
Peter J. Brennan has been a journalist for 40 years. He spent a decade in Latin America covering wars, narcotic traffickers, earthquakes, and business. His resume includes 15 years at Bloomberg News where his headlines and articles sometimes moved the market caps of companies he covered by hundreds of millions of dollars. His articles have been published worldwide, including the New York Times and the Washington Post; he's appeared on CNN, CBC, BBC, and Bloomberg TV. He was awarded a Kiplinger Fellowship at The Ohio State University.

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