Growing up in Santa Rosa, Brooke and his sister Lisa learned about philanthropy as young children. Their mother, Jeannie Schulz, is renowned for her support of local causes, especially for her commitment to the arts and environment. “Obviously my mom has been a major influence on me. I’ve been very lucky in life, and philanthropy has always been a big part of the conversations we had growing up.”
Growing up in a family so dedicated to community, it’s no surprise that Brooke chose a career path that would allow him to support others. When Brooke graduated from law school, he began his career working as a public defender in Monterey.
Ronit Rubinoff, executive director for Legal Aid of Sonoma County, where Brooke volunteers now, explains, “Brooke has an amazing soft spot for the underdog. He is incredibly kind to our clients, folks that are really down and out and quite afraid about losing their housing.”
His early start as a public defender gave Brooke the experience he needed to find a direction for his law practice. Volunteering with Legal Aid was a natural fit when Brooke was looking to get back to his practice after moving home to Sonoma County to raise his family. He began volunteering with the organization in 2008, at the height of the financial crisis, when evictions were starting to spike throughout the county. “I liked the concept: it’s the same clients I’ve always had; they just have different problems.”
As an attorney, Brooke sees his role as helping people navigate a complex system that can be overwhelming. For many of his clients, it is not always a matter of winning a case or stopping an eviction, but finding a resolution that will work for everyone.
“This is not high-powered legal work; it’s shepherding people through the system and making the system work as well for them as it can. Maybe they can stay under certain conditions; maybe they get a little more time to move out. Most lawyers are very happy to let our clients clean up their records, which is huge. Huge.”
Ronit reflected that Brooke’s involvement has been incredibly impactful to their clients. “Brooke has been a volunteer with us for ten years. That is unprecedented. For most of those ten years, Legal Aid could not afford to have its own housing staff attorney. Without Brooke, hundreds and hundreds of low-income tenant families would have had no legal help.”
Brooke’s commitment to philanthropy and to Sonoma County goes far beyond his own volunteer work. He and his sister Lisa have a donor advised fund with Community Foundation Sonoma County and have collaborated for 12 years to offer supporting grants to nonprofit organizations doing work that Brooke and Lisa care deeply about.
Their fund was initially set up by their mother, to help Brooke and Lisa find shared giving values and partner in their philanthropy. “It’s a great thing for parents to teach their kids about philanthropy. I think the most interesting thing we learned is that people have different interests—my mom is very environmental—but Lisa and I have made more donations towards human services organizations than any other field.”
When asked how his advisor had helped to support their giving, Brooke explains that “There was no doubt that we wanted to direct our giving towards human services. Lisa and I shared our values, and the Foundation gave us the lay of the land, helped us in identifying organizations to support.”
Brooke’s love of the Santa Rosa community shines through when he speaks about the community he calls home. Through his volunteer work at Legal Aid, he sees the challenges people face finding housing and stability. Brooke’s giving gives him a sense of purpose: he remains committed to seeing the place he loves made better through his own philanthropy, a mission he shares with all of us at the Foundation.