AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – You are likely to be hard pressed to find someone in the CSRA that does not know, seen, or heard of Allan Soto. He is a fixture – especially around Augusta both on the business front and in community development. Now, the CEO of Vinea Capital is taking it one step further through the Vinea Foundation – dedicating $250,000 a year to area non-profits. We sat down with him to find out more about this endeavor and how non-profits can apply.
Brad Means: Allan, thank you so much for coming back to The Means Report. We were virtual last time, we’re in person now. I appreciate you coming down.
Allan Soto: Absolutely, it’s great to be here in person and get a chance to connect.
Brad Means: I know, I agree. And it is, it’s refreshing to kinda slowly start to get things back the way they used to be. Well, last time we were here, we talked about your effort to help businesses, help downtown continue to thrive. Now you’ve sort of broadened that, and you’ve started this foundation. A grant program that has $250,000 that you’re going to give away each year. What made you go from what you were doing, which was already a lot, to saying, okay, lemme try to just give away a lotta money each year.
Allan Soto: Well, that’s a really good question. And we started our businesses about 15 years ago. And one of the ways that we sought to really help the communities and help our businesses was by just giving to the community and making a meaningful impact in the community. So, we’ve been giving since the beginning. Like, we’ve participated in nonprofits, we’ve participated in fundraising, and we’ve given where we saw a need. But when we heard about the Community Foundation for the CSRA and the wonderful work that they do, we said, well, why can’t we partner our giving through them? And that’s where we came up with the idea of doing Vinea Foundation with the Community Foundation for the CSRA, and streamlining all of our giving.
Brad Means: Lemme make sure that I understand the Community Foundation for the CSRA. I know the people over there, they’re great, we’ve worked together forever. I know that they are strong partners with Augusta National. Are they sort of a repository for donations or money from you, and then they distribute it as needed?
Allan Soto: Well, we participate in what’s called a donor-advised fund through them, where we get to put our funds in there and just make a single donation to them, but we have complete control over where the money goes once it’s in there. We’re the donor, we advise where it goes, and it gets to its final destination, which is a needy, worthy nonprofit.
Brad Means: All right, so let’s sorta go through those steps together. You have to be a nonprofit to apply for this, right?
Allan Soto: You do, yes. What we’re doing each year is we’re having two grant windows. The first one from January 1 through March 31, and the second one from August 1 through October 31st. And yes, you have to be a local nonprofit, so based in the CSRA and have nonprofit status.
Brad Means: Do you have to be a startup, or can you be an agency that’s been around a long time?
Allan Soto: As long as you meet just those two criteria, you’re in the CSRA and you’re a nonprofit, that automatically qualifies you. Then we go a step further. And Vinea Capital, all of the businesses that we have and serve, focus on our three areas of focus. So that’s individuals with special needs, underserved children, and initiatives that help to end generational poverty. So we ask that any of the nonprofits that are applying for these grants write to us and demonstrate how are you helping to serve one of those areas of need.
Brad Means: Okay, so let’s kind of help the grant writers out here.
Allan Soto: Absolutely.
Brad Means: Are you looking for, and it sounds like you are, specific programs or efforts where this money will go if they get it? Or could they say, look, Allan, please give us X amount, we need to hire another person over here. What kind of words will resonate with you and your evaluating team?
Allan Soto: Well, obviously the worthiness of it, like how much of the resources are you actually using to fulfill your mission. And then how do you help, again, one of those three areas. It doesn’t matter if you’re a brand new startup or if you’ve been around for a hundred years. What we care most about is how will donating our resources to you help impact the community.
Brad Means: Where did this come from? We touched on this during your last visit, your desire to help those with special needs, your desire to end generational poverty. What lit that fire in you?
Allan Soto: Oh, wow. I mean, when I first started out in business, I think I was like everybody else, I just wanted to make money. And then, you know, they always say if you wanna make God laugh, tell him your plans. And he’s kinda steered me in this whole different direction. And I know that this was why I was put on this Earth, was to make a difference. And the first time that you experience actually truly helping someone, it outweighs any paycheck that you can get, to know that you’ve made a difference by being around. And I feel that’s the reason we’re all around anyway, is just to help one another and uplift each other. And the community has just been so receptive and supportive of us. It’s not just our privilege to give back to them, but we feel it’s our duty to give back to them, because we wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t have achieved the success that we’ve achieved if not for the support of the community. So how could we not, you know, pay it forward.
Brad Means: Is this all your money? Can people who are watching this or who hear about the Vinea Foundation donate to it?
Allan Soto: would ask that you donate to the Community Foundation for the CSRA.
Brad Means: Okay, do it that way.
Allan Soto: Yes. This is something that we’re funding personally. And if you have a donation that you like to make, please make it to the community foundation, and look into the different programs that they offer, ’cause they are some amazing programs. And they help support so many nonprofits in the area. There are a lot of nonprofits and organizations out there that we never even knew existed, but are just doing the most wonderful work-
Brad Means: That’s so true.
Allan Soto: Possible. But what we do ask is, those worthy nonprofits, please apply for our grant. If you see that you’re meeting one of our needs, please let us know that you’re around, what you’re doing, and how we can help.
Brad Means: How much do you think each agency might get? Is there a range?
Allan Soto: We’re offering several grants, each window ranging from a $1,000 to $10,000.
Brad Means: Okay, so you said two windows per year?
Allan Soto: Yes.
Brad Means: To apply. And are you gonna split that 250 in half, half one window, half the next?
Allan Soto: Well, we’re actually doing about $50,000 or more each window, grant window. And then the remaining $150,000 goes towards what we call our anchor giving, where we have several nonprofits that we’ve always been giving to throughout the years in the area, like Heritage Academy, we support Best Buddies. There’s just a whole host of missions around here that we constantly give to. So we already have that $150,000 allocated towards them every single year.
Brad Means: I know we’ve talked so much during our last visit, and somewhat during this one, about downtown. Do the businesses have to be there? Does it matter where this nonprofit is located if they apply?
Allan Soto: Well, we certainly wanna take care of our backyard first, so we certainly ask that, preference will always be given to CSRA area nonprofits.
Brad Means: I know you don’t hide behind a desk. I know you’re out and about. You see the fruits of your labors. Have you gone into some of these places, businesses and nonprofits to whom you’ve donated, and seen the results of your philanthropy?
Allan Soto: We have, and it’s great. I get the honor of serving on the Board of Heritage Academy, and that’s one of our anchor organizations in the area. And the work that they do, and how they’ve expanded now to have a Heritage Early Learning Academy so they can serve even more of the younger kids and really get that head start, because you know that that early learning is key towards a, you know, good outlook on life.
Brad Means: Yeah, and you’ve seen success stories coming out of that academy, haven’t you?
Allan Soto: I have, I have. Actually my four year old son, Cristiano, goes there now.
Brad Means: What, does he really?
Allan Soto: Yes.
Brad Means: Everything’s going okay?
Allan Soto: Everything is going fantastic. He loves it. You know, when your little guy gets up in the morning and says, “I can’t wait to go to school,” it hurts you as a parent, ’cause you’re like, man, I wish you’d say you wanna stay home with me, but at the same time, it’s exciting.
Brad Means: Yeah, I had one child who, like, sprinted out the door to go to school. The other one who kinda wanted to hang with mom and dad. It’s a weird chapter to navigate.
Allan Soto: For sure.
Brad Means: How’s downtown doing overall? I went down there to eat a few weeks ago, and it was just rocking on a Saturday night. What’s the scene like down there, and update us on your restaurant, Pineapple Ink. Half the newsroom is wondering what’s going on with Pineapple Ink.
Allan Soto: Okay. Well, downtown’s doing great. You can just see it’s, obviously you can tell by a lack of parking, there’s a lot of people going down there on a regular basis. So that’s fantastic. We have our building down there, the Leonard Building, right next to the Miller Theater. It’s a five story building, 123 years old now, that we’ve been renovating, and we’re almost done, so we’re excited. By summer, we should have it completely renovated, and we’re really excited about that. And then Pineapple Ink, we saw the opportunity these last couple of months to kinda close down and do some renovation. That’s another 100 year old building. There was a lot of structural issues. So we literally went in there, we closed down temporarily, we took out all the flooring, found out all these 100 year old issues that were there. We’re repairing all that. And we should be open in the next month or so, once we get all those renovations, with an improved concept and just, we’re just excited to serve more people. We’re increasing our seating capacity and tweaking a couple of things, so we’re really excited to get back to it. I ate there a bunch, so I’m missing it. My waistline isn’t, but I’m personally missing it.
Brad Means: No, it’s funny, when I told folks in the newsroom you were our guest, they wanted to, you find out about Pineapple Ink, Brad, find out what the deal is.
Allan Soto: We’re not going anywhere.
Brad Means: Okay, good.
Allan Soto: We love downtown.
Brad Means: Plus you opened it at the height of the pandemic basically, right. You opened it at the toughest time possible.
Allan Soto: One week. We literally got one week in, and then that next Friday, everything shut down.
Brad Means: People love it though. People do enjoy it.
Allan Soto: So hopefully it’ll be our, our rebirth, so.
Brad Means: Well, I look forward to that. Allan, thank you for being my guest, and thank you for what you’re doing for this community.
Allan Soto: Thanks, Brad.
Brad Means: Absolutely. Allan Soto, our special guest on The Means Report.