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Meet Kate Zarouk of The Water Buffalo Club in Greater Los Angeles

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kate Zarouk.

Kate, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up in Akron, Ohio. I proudly attended public school and came from a family that has always been committed to doing their part to give back to their community. I was the kind of child that was studious with a desire to work hard, but I had a wicked sense of humor. Desperate to leave the Midwest, I attended college in Washington, DC at The American University and then attended law school at Brooklyn Law School. After working in New York City for a few years, a family emergency set the stage for my return to Ohio, which I remember saying would just be for a year. That year morphed into 13 years. In 2016 I relocated with my mother and two dogs in tow to Los Angeles, so that we could be closer to my brother and nephew. I joined the WBC as Executive Director in 2018 after working in the education and legal industries since 2000. I still get back to Ohio to see my father and close family friends, see actual seasons, eat sweet corn and Swenson’s hamburgers, a favorite of LeBron James, just another kid from Akron.

I was lucky to be raised by an incredible “family” without whom I wouldn’t have been able to achieve anything, and I can not miss an opportunity to sincerely thank them for all the inspiration, mentoring, love, support and patience they have shown me over the years, so here goes: my loving parents, Deedee Garson and Moshe Zarouk and Leslie, The Lowrys, The Kusmins, The Preis Family, my Grandparents, Harold and Bettie Garson, “Nana”, Sally Helgesen, Liz, Rachel, Randi, Colleen, Frances, Deb, and Eleanor. Finally, I want to give a giant shout out to the teachers that saw a spark in me and kept it going, so THANK YOU: Beverly Haury, Linda Warner, Patsy Moyer, Leslie Fouser, Dr. James Thurber, and The Honorable Sarah Cooper.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Never in a million years did I see myself running an organization of all men, but the members of the Water Buffalo Club are so dedicated to making a difference that I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to be able to actively impact the lives of so many youth here in greater Los Angeles. Over the last 31 years, what began as a group of friends who wanted to have fun while doing good in the greater Los Angeles community has grown into a powerful gem of an Organization. We have been very lucky, because due to the efforts of our committed members, in particular our Founding Members, Rob Deutschman, Eddie Greenwald and Marty Nislick, we have had a wealth of knowledge, commitment and dedication on which we can rely.

Over the years, the WBC has grown and really emphasized its commitment to ensure that the focus of the Organization is on helping improve the lives of children in need across greater Los Angeles, we just make sure that we have fun while we do it. Under the guidance of our volunteer Board of Directors, led by Board President Vin Calcagno, the Water Buffalo Club continues to increase its impact on underserved and at-risk children in greater Los Angeles through the funding of programs, projects, and strategic partnerships.

The Water Buffalo Club – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The vision of the Water Buffalo Club (“WBC”) is a Los Angeles where each child can experience a sense of well-being and have the opportunity to reach their full potential. We believe that we can attain this by fostering the well-being of underserved and at-risk children in Los Angeles through our members’ commitment of their time and financial resources. The WBC directly impacts smaller charities by providing grants, hosting events and supporting youth programs.

In a sense, the WBC is a group of philanthropic venture capitalists, and an incubator for charities that are doing great things but are too small to garner the attention of most donors or foundations. Our goal is to help these charities grow to the point where they no longer need our support. Since 1989, we have assisted more than 300 charities, many of which have since outgrown the WBC. Vin Calcagno, our current President, often says “we are in the business of backing exceptional individuals who have oftentimes faced and overcome a crippling life event directly or indirectly via a close family member. Instead of folding up, these heroes set off and form charities to ensure that others don’t have to go through life without someone by their side when they experience the same situation.” Not only do we help fund organizations that are “under the radar” due to their small size (budgets of less than $350,000), the WBC goes a step further – through its members giving of their time. Our belief has been, from the very start, that our time is perhaps just as important as funding any grant proposal.

Our members participate in a variety of ways, from sourcing and vetting the organizations and programs we support, to accompanying the kids who participate in our field trips, to sorting and shelving books at the libraries we refurbish in Title 1 elementary schools, to giving out food at Thanksgiving at selected schools in some of Los Angeles’ most challenged neighborhoods. In doing so, WBC members, along with their families, have an impact on our community far more than the funds that we provide.

In short, our specialty is finding and then caring for and supporting exceptional men and women who are doing incredible things for the children of Los Angeles that are most at-risk and in need. The WBC is funded by its members, donations from private foundations, corporations and generous individuals. However, unlike most charitable organizations that use a portion of the donations they receive to pay for overhead expenses, 100 percent of all donations received by the WBC go directly to the charities, programs and projects we support. Our members pay all of the WBC’s overhead and administrative costs through their annual membership dues!

As an Organization, the Water Buffalo Club has donated over 600,000 pleasure reading books, provided over 97,000 meals through our Thanksgiving Meal Give Away Program, donated over 50,000 pieces of new clothing to foster and homeless youth, taken over 26,000 students on field trips, donated over 11,000 backpacks filled with school supplies, sponsored over 6,000 student-athletes, provided over 550 musical instruments, refurbished 40 elementary school libraries, donated 24 passenger vans, two buses, a food truck, and a homework trailer, mentored thousands of youth, and funded grants to over 300 smaller non-profits through our silver bullet grant program.

In response to the COVID crisis, since March 2020 the Water Buffalo Club has:

  • Donated over $100,000 to fund projects for the benefit of at risk youth and their families including emergency gift cards, summer programming, computers, and activity kits;
  • Donated over 100,000 pleasure reading books for children in grades K-12;
  • Donated over 5,000 masks for children;
  • Donated over 3,500 hot and nutritious meals; and
  • Provided back to school supplies over 1,000 children.
  • I am most proud of the Water Buffalo Club’s ever growing legacy of impact in greater Los Angeles, and what sets us apart from others is our members!

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The proudest moment of my career thus far is watching young adults that I have worked with in the classroom or through my work with the Water Buffalo Club give back to their community so that the cycle of giving and empowerment continues. I work diligently every day to try and make my family and friends proud by devoting myself to living my beliefs and passions while trying to help those, who have not had the advantages that I have had, be positioned for success.

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