Julia and Jake Sze: Sharing Our Plenty
Julie and Jake Sze at Slide Ranch / photo by Eric Slomanson
Julia Sze laughs at the idea that she is a philanthropist. “Those big players who have millions of dollars to move,” she says, laughing. “Aren’t those the philanthropists?”
Sze, who has a donor-advised fund at the Foundation and serves on its Investment Committee, is a senior investment strategist with Wells Fargo, knows how to be effective. She has brought her son, Jake, along on her volunteer and philanthropic activities since he was four years old.
Sze, who grew up in Taiwan, remembers her Chinese parents immigrating to California, each with $100 in their pocket. “We took nothing for granted,” says Sze. She did not recalibrate her high-powered career focus until she was laid off from a high-pressured job more than ten years ago and received six months’ severance. She used that time to volunteer at the San Francisco Food Bank.
“It was like a light bulb went on,” Sze remembers. “Before that, I had no idea that the amount of time and money that I could contribute would have such an enormous impact on others. That project turned my thinking around.”
In 2003, Sze was appointed to the board of Slide Ranch, an environmental education center in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Trips for Kids. “My marriage was ending, and I was casting about for something meaningful to do,” she says. She took her son Jake with her to meetings at the ranch. “He would pick fresh raspberries and peaches and explore the tide pools. He was like an ambassador to the kids who came on field trips.”
Jake, now a tall fifth-grader, lights up when the conversation turns to animals. “I found a bobcat’s bones at the ranch, and everyone wanted to see that,” says Jake. He hopes to volunteer Wildcare in San Rafael next year. “I like helping animals.”
These experiences, says Sze, enabled her to talk with Jake about the meaning of volunteering, why it was important for him to participate, and to see first hand how fortunate he was. “Modeling the behavior was crucial,” Sze explains. “I couldn’t sit down with him in a vacuum. By age the time he was six or seven, we were having conversations about the deeper meaning of these activities.”
For Sze, the benefits of volunteering extend to her parenting. “For me, it’s about raising a son who will appreciate the advantages he has,” she says. “It’s important that we both understand and empathize with the human struggle.”
Learn more about family philanthropy by downloading the MCF Guide to Family Giving.