We Weren’t Born to Follow

Trish Fontana Headshot

Trish Fontana was a former staffer for Leo T. McCarthy.  She has also worked for two California Lt. Governors, two Governors, two First Ladies and two State Senators. She continues to work in the State Capitol, currently for Senator Richard D. Roth, a retired Major Air Force General who represents Riverside.

This past weekend, I did what I do every Saturday morning.  I strapped on my running shoes, put on my favorite cap and plugged into my Apple Shuffle.  But this particular morning, I just couldn’t shake off the horrible news of the week.  The shootings, natural disasters, flu deaths and daily barrage of sexual harassment stories weighed heavily on my heart.

 And then Jon Bon Jovi’s powerful words penetrated my mind:

 “We weren’t born to follow
Come on and get up off your knees
When life is a bitter pill to swallow
You gotta hold on to what you believe.”

I started thinking about how do we hold onto what we believe in the face of so much sadness.  Sometimes there are just no answers.

I am proud to say that I am a public servant who works in the State Capitol.  Yes, that same Capitol building which has been overshadowed by the dark clouds of sexual harassment cases, corruption, and bribery.  But against all of that, I am still a big believer in the honor of public service.

It was over 30 years ago that I was a wide-eyed 19 year who at the age of 4 couldn’t speak a word of English when she started school.  I was fortunate to walk into the Office of Lt. Governor Leo T. McCarthy to begin an internship that would change my life forever.

Leo T. McCarthy, the T. stands for Tarcissus, a third-century Roman saint who worked on behalf of imprisoned Christians.  “Tarcissus got stoned to death for his efforts, McCarthy would say, and it reminded me of my days as Speaker.”

Now working in the Capitol can be extremely challenging but it can also be very rewarding. Leo McCarthy was a compassionate public servant who led by example that we should treat everyone with dignity and respect.

 He was passionate about advocating for seniors, the mentally ill and the poor but always with compassion, kindness, and ethics.  Sometimes his meetings could get highly charged and contentious but Leo McCarthy always tried to steer toward the road of higher reason.

I learned a phrase that has become my own personal mantra which is that “you should never mistake kindness for weakness.”

After retirement, he established the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good, which is dedicated to inspiring and preparing students at the University of San Francisco to pursue lives and careers of ethical public service.

During my Capitol career, I have worked with many interns and Fellows who have gone on to pursue careers in public service.  One intern stands out and I will never forget him.

I met Joseph Schultz in 1997 when I was the intern coordinator for Lt. Governor Gray Davis.  Joseph was self-confident and had a strong commitment to public service for which he would later work in the Washington DC Governor’s Office.

We lost contact but one day I was standing on the first floor of the State Capitol when the elevator doors opened.  Out walked Joseph in his full Green Beret Captain uniform. I had no idea that he had enlisted and he just yelled my name and gave me the biggest hug.

I learned later that Joseph was killed in Afghanistan while serving his country during Operation Enduring Freedom where he was known for his leadership ability and steadfast friendship.  He made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, the ultimate example of public service.

 Public service is the opportunity to make a difference.  It is putting the “we before me” in our daily lives.  Many interns have gone on to work with foster children, become teachers, coaches, attorneys, public officials, worked in public health and on environmental issues or joined the Peace Corps.

They are shining examples of what Leo McCarthy envisioned – people helping others for the common good.

And on that Saturday morning, Jon Bon Jovi continued singing and I followed right along:

“This road was paved by the hopeless and the hungry,
This road was paved by the winds of change
Walking beside the guilty and the innocent
How will you raise your hand when they call your name?”


Former staffers of Leo T. McCarthy from left to right: Ed Manning, Trish Fontana (author), Betsy Butler and Ted Toppin


The Legacy Of Art Agnos

Kick-off Cocktail Reception for the 15th Anniversary of the Leo T. McCarthy Center at USF

The Foghorn’s editor-in-chief, Ali DeFazio, a McCarthy alumnae who participated in the the USF in DC program, recently interviewed former Mayor Art Agnos, who is the recipient of the inaugural Leo T. McCarthy Center award for Public Service. He is being honored at this week’s McCarthy Center’s 15th anniversary on November 9th.  His former colleague, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, is the special guest speaker for the event. Both of them were mentored by Leo T. McCarthy. Ali and Mayor Agnos discussed his impressive career, which included fighting the AIDS crisis in the city, standing up against housing developers and promoting diversity hiring, appointing people of color and LGBTQ individuals to key leadership roles in his administration. The interview highlights why Mayor Art Agnos is a model for public service and the common good. Read the full interview here.

Releasing our 2017 Annual Report

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Each year the Center strives to honor the legacy of Leo T. McCarthy through programs and scholarship that promote public service and the common good. This includes undergraduate community-engagement learning, faculty and university-wide development, graduate engagement, and community partnerships at both the local and global level. We are excited to share our 2017 annual report in advance of our 15th anniversary celebration on November 9th.

Some of this year’s highlighted achievements include:

  • 19 co-sponsored events
  • 11 advocates for community engagement placements
  • 3,000 service-learners
  • 541 faculty development hours
  • 10 global sustainable development projects
  • 8,400 graduate intern hours
  • 200% increase in public service and community engagement minors
  • 166 local community partners
  • 624 LTMC alumni

We thank all of you for your continued support and look forward to another great year!

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Alumnus Sees the Future of the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center



Jerry Trotter

Program Director, Booker T. Washington Community Service Center

Ayah Mouhktar, our Communications Assistant, interviewed Jerry Trotter at the construction site for the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center. Below is a reflection on her experience meeting Jerry, discussing the new facility and what it will mean for the families and children of San Francisco.

Putting on a hard hat and entering a construction site was not how I planned to spend my Thursday afternoon but what came out of it ended up being one of the most eye opening and inspirational experiences I have ever had.

Walking into what would soon become the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center left me with a sense of hope of a brighter future for the children and families of San Francisco.


Jerry Trotter, Program Director of the facility, is a University of San Francisco alumni (’02) and was recruited by the Multicultural Retention and Recruitment program, which traveled to high schools and recruited students to USF to continue their studies in social justice and the Jesuit mission.

“USF brought me to San Francisco and San Francisco brought me to Booker T. Washington” said Trotter when describing what gave him the drive to want to help the local community.

The new facility is being built at 800 Presidio Avenue and will be made up of 5 floors compiled of 49 housing units, an NBA regulation size gym, a mind/body health center, computer and career lab and a community garden on the roof. It began as an idea as a place for families in the community to convene and organize and is a realistic way to meet the needs for food, education and secure housing. Trotter cares for the children of San Francisco and wants one simple thing to come out of all the great work he does, “we want to have them stay and live in the city they grew up in”

San Francisco and USF in particular played a large role in Trotter’s work and his passion for social justice and the mentality of leading to succeed, and not just to seeing himself succeed alone but taking rising with the community as a whole. The hard work of Jerry Trotter is one that is admirable and inspirational not for just the common citizen but especially USF students who look to actually change the world from here- less than a mile away from the center of campus.

What is the California Prize?


What is the California Prize? Back in 2008, the University of San Francisco worked with Susan and Philip Marineau to establish an award for an individual or organization in California that models selfless service in pursuit of the common good, especially efforts benefiting the poor and marginalized.

In recognizing those who contributed significant advancements or innovations in serving the public, particular attention is given to those who:

  • Improve the delivery of services to the underserved
  • Expand assistance to the underserved
  • Facilitate access to the democratic process for marginalized populations
  • Advocate on behalf of underserved populations
  • Mobilize underserved communities to secure necessary service or assistance

The recipient of the California Prize for Service and the Common Good receives a prestigious hand-crafted medal and a $10,000 cash prize in recognition of embodying the core values of the Leo T. McCarthy Center and the University of San Francisco.

The medal is a unique gift in itself. Here is a detail of the actual medal, explaining the significance of the design elements.

CA Prize components

This year, join us May 12 for the California Prize Gala honoring this year’s recipient, Salesforce.org. Salesforce.org joins a unique group of California organizations and individuals, including Faithful Fools, the San Francisco Free Clinic, the San Francisco Giants, the Beneficial State Foundation, Alice L. Waters, and Lynn C. Fritz. All proceeds benefit community-engaged learning programs housed under the McCarthy Center

California Prize invitation

Tickets and sponsorship opportunities >>