Since it opened in 2001, $654 million-asset Mission Valley Bank has supported underserved communities and businesses as a community financial development institution (CDFI), and that spirit is deeply ingrained in its culture. 

“As a small community bank, we’re a member of the community,” says president and CEO Tamara Gurney, “and I think that gives all of us a responsibility to work together toward making it a better place to live, work and play.” 

In 2015, the Santa Clarita, Calif., community bank founded a program called Give Where You Live, which supports a variety of local nonprofits. 

“Being based in LA, it’s a huge market,” says Mission Valley Bank’s marketing manager, Carrie Burrell. “Being able to put a spotlight on the nonprofits in our communities really brought it back home.”

According to Burrell, the community bank has a wide variety of special programs and organizations that it supports through Give Where You Live—from the Theodore Payne Foundation, which promotes native plants and responsible water use, to Mend, an organization that provides care and services to disadvantaged families.

“Give Where You Live was us saying, ‘Hey, we don’t want to talk about Mission Valley Bank. We want to talk about Carousel Ranch. Look what they’re doing.’”
—Tamara Gurney, Mission Valley Bank

Shining a light on underserved organizations

The community that Mission Valley Bank serves is often overshadowed by its more famous neighborhoods, increasing the need for nonprofit assistance in the area.

 “A lot of the dollars, philanthropic and other, tend to go to the West Side, which here in Los Angeles is where the wealthier communities are,” says Gurney. “And the Valley, where we’re headquartered, tends to get overlooked.” 

Mission Valley Bank has stepped in to ensure each community nonprofit gets the attention it deserves. And it has made a huge difference, especially for Carousel Ranch, an organization that provides equestrian therapy for children with disabilities. 

This nonprofit had an unconventional path to success. As a young journalist in California in the mid-1980s, Denise Redmond, its eventual cofounder and executive director emeritus, was asked to report on Ahead With Horses, an equine therapy organization for special needs children, and that assignment changed the trajectory of her life. 

Redmond recalls seeing children in wheelchairs, on walkers and using crutches being lifted onto the backs of horses, where they were transformed before her eyes. 

“All of a sudden, they were on these huge horses doing these gymnastic exercises,” says Redmond. “This one little girl did a hand-to-hand handstand on top of the instructor’s arms, on top of a Clydesdale. I saw that, and I guess sometimes life has those moments where everything changes, right?”

Following the experience, Redmond applied for a job with the same center and embarked on a lifelong career helping children with special needs. In 1997, she and her business partner Becky Graham set up their own nonprofit, Carousel Ranch, in northern Los Angeles County. It started out in Graham’s neighbor’s backyard, with one horse and one child. The program grew over the years, but Redmond says they were forced to move locations five times. By 2005, they didn’t have any more moves in them. “It’s really hard to move a program like this,” she explains. “We just didn’t know how we would be able to keep it going.”

Mission Valley Bank steps in

In 2005, a 20-acre plot in the Santa Clarita Valley became available. Redmond and Graham had enough for a down payment but didn’t have enough credit and financial history for a mortgage. That’s when Mission Valley Bank got involved. That year, the community bank secured a loan for Carousel Ranch.

“They took a leap of faith and decided they were going to do our loan, and they just did it for us,” says Redmond. “And I don’t think there is any other bank that would have done that, but they believed in us. We would have never been able to buy this property without them.”

In addition to providing the much‑needed loan, Mission Valley Bank’s then-CFO, Diane Auten, helped the nonprofit get its financial legs. Over the years, the team at the community bank has volunteered regularly at Carousel Ranch’s fundraisers. The nonprofit has gone from strength to strength, with 30 employees, a paid-off mortgage and two well-established programs: equestrian therapy and a vocational training program for young adults called Ready to Work. 

“I can’t imagine what would have happened had we not gotten this property—where we would be, who we would be today,” says Redmond. “Everything sort of fell into place. We were able to build our facility that we needed, the way we needed it. It opened so many more opportunities, and I think provided this stability as an organization that we didn’t have before.”

The feeling Redmond had when she first discovered equestrian therapy is one she has been able to translate to Mission Valley Bank’s team. 

“I don’t even know how to explain it, because it can just bring you to tears,” says Burrell. “To watch how these children—some are just infants—how they progress, from having so much difficulty moving, and the bond they develop with the horses, it’s just phenomenal.”

Carousel Ranch is just one of Mission Valley Bank’s success stories, and the community bank hopes to have many more in the future. 

“We look for nonprofits that are all collectively helping to build the infrastructure for a very strong and vibrant community,” says Gurney. “And so, Give Where You Live was us saying, ‘Hey, we don’t want to talk about Mission Valley Bank. We want to talk about Carousel Ranch. Look what they’re doing. Put your money with them to continue to help build these young people.’”