From 'Just Us’ to a Party of 6
Jodi and Brian Servatius leave gift to Renaissance Scholars program in honor of their four adopted children
Unbeknownst to them at the time, the answer to a seemingly simple question would forever change the lives of Cal State East Bay Professor Emeritus Jodi Servatius and her husband Brian.
The couple had long discussed the possibility of adopting children and finally, in 1988, after years of living a “jolly good life of going to Europe, and drinking wine,” they were ready. It was a foggy May day when they met with a social worker at Monterey County Child Protective Services and answered that key question.
RISING IN THE EAST
“We sat down and they asked us ‘would you consider siblings’ to which we said ‘yes’ because at the time we were thinking siblings sounded like two,” Jodi Servatius said.
But that’s not quite what the social worker meant. Instead, she handed the couple a Polaroid photo of four girls ranging in age from 1 to 6.
“I looked at Jodi and said, ‘are you serious?’” Brian Servatius said. “‘We’re going to go from zero to four kids?’”
They were serious, and after a few more visits with the girls and a lot of paperwork, the Servatius family grew from two to six, seemingly overnight.
Each girl arrived with a small bag of clothing, their shoes pinching their toes and a little timid and unsure of what came next. But Jodi Servatius was prepared. Always organized and determined to create stability for the group who’d been in and out of foster care for months, she started the family on a routine immediately. They had pizza the first night at home and the next morning at 7:30, she loaded everyone into her minivan and dropped off each girl at school and child care before heading to work herself.
“Foster kids typically have a life of chaos,” Jodi Servatius said. “So our focus especially those first years was to create a stable environment where things happened on predictable schedules and they didn’t have to worry that something would happen and they’d be yanked out of the house.”
Over time, Brian Servatius said the new parents and their four little girls began to settle into their new life. After a month or two, they started calling Jodi and Brian “Mom” and “Dad” and now, years and many memories later, the four girls are grown and have families of their own.
“We used to have two people at our dining table and now our immediate family is 11 people,” Jodi Servatius said.
PLANNING A GIFT
Jodi Servatius is well-known around the campus community and can hardly walk from the parking lot to an interview in the Student Services and Administration building without running into at least a half-dozen former colleagues or admirers. A graduate of the university’s credential program 45 years ago, she has been everything from student to faculty member to administrator.
This meant Brian Servatius, her spouse of 50 years, was also heavily involved with Cal State East Bay and its various programs and events. So when they started their end-of-life financial planning, a gift to the university seemed like a good fit.
“In all the years I’ve seen Jodi up here, I’ve been attracted to Cal State East Bay because I believe it’s a university that really makes a quality college education accessible and somewhere a planned gift would be really impactful,” Brian Servatius said.
The couple already gave small gifts each year to support scholarships, but they weren’t in a position to give as large a gift as they wanted with four children to raise and potentially grandchildren to support in the future.
“I felt like we did a lot of things right here and I wanted to be part of that, but on the other hand you know, you’re raising a family, you have all these obligations and you may not be in a position during your life to make as significant gift as you would like,” Brian Servatius said.
This is why a planned gift made sense. A planned gift is a contribution arranged in the present but allocated at a future date, commonly through a will or trust after the donor has died.
“I would encourage people of average means to really think about that … and what better gift could you give as a charity than to the education of young people,” Brian Servatius said. “That’s a marvelous gift that will go long beyond your time on this earth.”
But it was also important to Jodi and Brian that they find the right program to support.
FINDING THE INTERSECTION
While raising their four adopted daughters, the Servatius family became advocates for children in the foster care system. Jodi Servatius had served as a founding advisory board member of the now-Cal State East Bay Renaissance Scholars program and knew it was a program they wanted to support.
“I’ve been touched thinking about what would’ve happened to our girls if they hadn’t been adopted, they would’ve aged out of the system and then who would’ve helped them?” Jodi Servatius said.
The Renaissance Scholars program supports tutoring, leadership training, retreats and other “extras” the Servatius family says allows participants to feel supported and part of an extended family.
Jodi Servatius said she’s happy the couple were able to find a way to not only support the university, but also give to a program that directly speaks to their core values.
“I would hope that other people would find similar intersections where their personal interests and the university’s various programs intersect like a Venn diagram,” she said. “That place where the two circles come together and they can say ‘our family really cares about this and the university is doing that, let’s see if there’s a way for us to make a gift.’”
And to the students who will benefit from their planned gift, the Servatiuses say they want them to know they’re never alone.
“The message to the [Renaissance] Scholars is ‘we believe in you, we think you can do it, we think you’re worthwhile and that you deserve the best,’” Jodi Servatius said. “I don’t know that’s a message they’ve received many times in their lives but we as one couple making a gift want to say to them ‘you do matter and we care.’”