Our History

Bella Vista Foundation (BVF) is the legacy of sisters Georgiana Gerlinger Stevens and Jean Gerlinger Kirkwood, who gave generously throughout their long and eventful lives in the Bay Area and beyond. Georgiana started her own foundation, GGS, in 1992, to support literacy, healthy living, and youth development and empowerment. Jean founded the Kirkwood Family Foundation, later renamed the Bella Vista Foundation, in 1999 with a focus on environmental restoration and support for young children. In 2019, the boards of directors of both foundations, composed of family members, decided to merge under the Bella Vista name.

GEORGIANA GERLINGER STEVENS

The elder sister, was a gifted writer, an expert on the Middle East, and a lifelong advocate for education and opportunities for women. As a correspondent for the Atlantic and the Economist, she covered Middle Eastern affairs and later, California politics. She also worked for the Office of Strategic Services (precursor of the CIA), where she helped write a history of war operations in the Middle East. Throughout her life, Georgiana gave considerable time and financial support to a broad range of organizations. In her hometown of San Francisco, her philanthropy extended to arts organizations, libraries, hospitals, social service agencies, and educational institutions, including Mills College across the Bay in Oakland, where she served on the board for 20 years.

 

Georgiana lived for periods and made frequent visits to the Middle East, where she supported and served on the boards of the American University of Beirut and the American University in Cairo. Language and communication were always important to Georgiana and she had a penchant for bringing people together. In the Middle East, she quietly but firmly advocated for educational opportunities, while at home, she regularly hosted people of diverse backgrounds and interests for conversations both fascinating and fruitful.

JEAN GERLINGER KIRKWOOD

Jean infused all of her endeavors with enthusiasm, dry wit, and good will—not to mention an impressive ability to get things done. Her lifelong work as a philanthropist began when she was a teenager and later a student at UC Berkeley, where she volunteered for the YWCA and organizations benefiting young children. While raising her family in Saratoga, Sacramento, and San Francisco, Jean was involved with a number of community, social service, and youth organizations—from the Cub Scouts, to the Junior League, to the boards of Sacramento Children’s Home, the Family Service Agency, and United Way.

Beginning in the 1960s, Jean continued her work with youth and social service organizations as board president of Edgewood Center for Children and Families and at California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC), where she served for decades as a board member and launched the CPMC Foundation in 1981. As chair of Community Foundation of Santa Clara County (now Silicon Valley Community Foundation) from 1978 to 1986, she had a significant hand in the foundation’s revitalization and growth. Over the years, Jean’s philanthropy also extended to universities, art museums, and historic homes. Late in her life, Jean actively participated in deepening BVF’s focus on early childhood social and emotional development, bringing her full circle in her lifelong commitment to young children.