September 10, 2019

Kelly Foundation awards $100,000 grant to MERISTEM, a learning program for young adults with autism

2019 Major Gift to expand theater program and parent education initiative

SACRAMENTO, CAThe Kelly Foundation awarded its 2019 Major Gift of $100,000 to MERISTEM, a non-profit program that uses experiential learning to help young adults on the autism spectrum become more socially and economically independent. The award constituted the Kelly Foundation’s largest single donation of the year and will be used to expand Meristem’s successful theater program, “Speak Up, Speak Out,” which uses improvisational performance techniques to empower students to participate in spontaneous conversation and a variety of social interactions. Funds from the grant will also be dedicated to the development of a series of parent education events, as well as bolstering Meristem’s independent living curriculum, which includes skill-building in financial literacy, cooking, cleaning and other pursuits.

“The Kelly Foundation is pleased to award this year’s Major Gift to Meristem as an investment in the expansion of its promising curriculum, which equips young adults on the autism spectrum with the skills to lead more independent lives,” said Shawn Kelly Devlin, President of the Kelly Foundation and Chairman of the Board of River City Bank. “Meristem has recorded tremendous growth in its first five years of operation, and we look forward to watching more families benefit from the program’s innovative approach to education, training and empowerment.”

“Our staff was in the midst of a training session when we received the call from the Kelly Foundation, and we were over the moon when it became clear that we’d secured the grant,” said Edmund Knighton, President of Meristem. “Our students and their families have always been our top priority, and we’re excited to leverage these funds to expand our parent education and support services, which will keep parents apprised of their student’s progress while also connecting parents with one another in community. We’ll also use some of the grant monies to enhance our improvisational theater program, which helps students develop their spontaneous speaking skills and is our most popular course.”

Knighton says the grant will be used for a variety of building improvements for Meristem’s theater program, including the addition of curtains and backdrops for the stage. Meristem’s staff also intends to bring performer Mickey Rowe, who was the first actor on the autistic spectrum to play an autistic role, back to the school to speak with students and parents about making a living and supporting a family. Rowe was the guest speaker at Meristem’s graduation ceremony in 2019, where he praised the theater program for its incorporation of improvisational techniques and for encouraging students to lead parts of the program. Within the theater program and other areas of the Meristem curricula, students have the opportunity to advance to positions of leadership and mentorship over time, sometimes to the point of leading full segments or even full classes.

The Meristem Method is based upon the principle of “doing to learn” (experiential learning). The five core areas of the curriculum are movement, land work, craftwork, independent living skills, and preparation to work, all accessed by real life experience. Students develop capacities and executive functioning through planning and executing tasks. Students may also apply their training in one of three social enterprises: the Meristem Model Bed and Breakfast, which is the only bed and breakfast in the country operated by young adults on the autism spectrum; the Meristem Herbal Products Company, which provides training in product creation, pricing, sales, packaging and shipping, marketing, website development, ecommerce and business reporting; and the Meristem Café and Bakery, which supplies an assortment of baked goods to the on-campus café and several offsite local businesses.

The Kelly Foundation supports health and human services, education, culture, environment and civic improvement through its funding. Each year, the Foundation provides approximately $400,000 in grants to organizations that support the Sacramento region. Since merging with the RCB Foundation in 2009, the Kelly Foundation, of which River City Bank remains a major contributor, focuses on giving back to the greater Sacramento region through charitable donations.

For more information about the Kelly Foundation, please visit For more information about Meristem, visit

About the Kelly Foundation

The Kelly Broadcasting Company’s KCRA-TV (Sacramento-Stockton-Modest, CA) went on the air on Sept. 5, 1955, and the owners of the Kelly Broadcasting Company established the Kelly Foundation in December 1988 as a formal vehicle for structuring charitable contributions. The Kelly family sold KCRA-TV in 1999 and have continued the Kelly Foundation ever since. In 2009, the River City Bank Foundation merged with the Kelly Foundation, and some executives of the Bank currently serve on the Foundation’s Board. Jon S. Kelly founded River City Bank and continues to support the Bank. His daughter, Shawn Kelly Devlin, currently serves as President and Chairman of the Board. The Kelly Foundation is an expression of the importance the Kelly family places on being a good neighbor and citizen in regions where they do business. For more information on the Kelly Foundation, please visit or call (916) 978-4892.

About Meristem

MERISTEM, located outside of Sacramento, helps transition young adults on the autism spectrum to independent living, including college and career success. The Meristem Method uses experiential learning, and all coursework and activities incorporate hands-on, real-world experiences. Learn more at

About River City Bank

Named one of Sacramento Business Journal’s “50 Fastest Growing Companies” for each of the past six years, River City Bank is a leading boutique commercial bank throughout California with assets of over $4.9 billion. River City Bank offers a comprehensive suite of banking services, including loans, deposits, and cash management tools to the business, consumer, and commercial real estate sectors. With tailored, concierge-like level of service River City Bank redefines the banking experience and every touch point that surrounds it. River City Bank is the largest, independent, locally-owned and managed bank in the Sacramento region with an office in the San Francisco Bay Area and a presence in Southern California. For additional information, please visit or call (916) 567-2600. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.

Related Posts