Living Here Guide

Weaving nonprofit visions into reality in San Luis Obispo

Jenna Smith has made a career of helping nonprofits develop their potential in San Luis Obispo.
Jenna Smith has made a career of helping nonprofits develop their potential in San Luis Obispo.

It probably says a lot about San Luis Obispo resident Jenna Smith that her official job title is “vision weaver.”

Smith has a history of looking beyond what’s right in front of her to see what’s possible.

Before moving to San Luis Obispo five years ago, she studied the effects of invasive plants on ecosystems in Florida while avoiding alligators and razor-sharp sawgrass.

In her graduate degree program, she learned how people in Costa Rica manage their food systems with limited resources and discovered a willingness to conserve.

In San Luis Obispo, as the first executive director of Central Coast Grown, she played an influential role in establishing San Luis Obispo’s City Farm just west of Highway 101 and north of Los Osos Valley Road. The nonprofit manages the 19-acre farm and offers subsidized land to local growers while providing educational opportunities for residents to learn about sustainable food production.

“One of the things community farming does is give a start to people who don’t have the opportunity to inherit land,” Smith said.

It’s in her position at the nonprofit agency, Spokes, that she is an official vision weaver. The agency provides assistance and resources to help nonprofits achieve their goals and dreams. Services can range from helping nonprofits with fund development to organizational restructuring and finding the right employees.

She has helped nonprofits create bylaws, taught budget literacy and identified collaborations with like-minded people.

“Sometimes the challenge that nonprofits face is that their volunteers are extremely passionate about what they’re doing, but they have different ideas about how to make it work,” Smith said.

Moving to San Luis Obispo from Bowling Green, Kentucky, was the right choice, she said.

“What I really enjoy about San Luis Obispo is how involved and engaged people are in the community,” Smith said.

She sees that community involvement as a participant in the Leadership SLO program, where Smith and her colleagues are planting a drought-tolerant demonstration garden near the SLO Little Theatre.

In her spare time, Smith loves hiking, biking and camping and the local access to Big Sur. She’s also getting married this year in San Luis Obispo to Serhiño Espinosa, a local architectural designer. They met in San Luis Obispo.

“I really love it here,” Smith said. “It feels like home.”


Population: 46,117

Key employers:

• Cal Poly State University

• California Men’s Colony

• PG&E

• Cal Poly Corporation

• San Luis Coastal Unified School District

• MindBody

• California Department of Transportation

• Cuesta College

• Community Action Partnership

• City of San Luis Obispo

• Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center

• French Hospital Medical Center

• County of San Luis Obispo

Community Events:

• Thursday Night Farmers Market, weekly downtown

• Holiday Parade, Dec. 2, 2016

• San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, March 14-19, 2017

• SLO Marathon + Half, April 30, 2017

• Festival Mozaic, July 2017