Our Story

“The jacaranda tree that started it all.”


In the spring of 2014, during my morning walk, I was contemplating the future of my sole proprietorship, Sykes and Associates. We provided grant writing and consulting services to a handful of small nonprofits. I loved my clients and I wanted more for them and for myself. I was thinking about how I could help my clients grow and how I could grow as well, while keeping my joy for this work intact. It’s very important to enjoy what I do; in fact it’s non-negotiable.

While walking that morning, I noticed the purple haze of flowers that blanket San Diego from the late spring blooming, jacaranda trees. The jacarandas contrast sharply against the background of the green trees that dominate the San Diego landscape.

That’s when it came to me – just be myself. More importantly, encourage my clients to be themselves. Help them stay true to their missions, build on the aspects of their services that they love to do and strengthen the aspects that are critical but maybe a little less interesting. They don’t have to become a big, bureaucratic “green tree” organization to be successful and blend into the nonprofit landscape. My clients could maintain their purple. I could help them and others maintain the passion that brought them to the sector in the first place.

Trees, like us, are interconnected and wonderfully individual. Diversity and variety abound. Organizations of different sizes have a wide variety of purposes and all contribute to a healthy society. It became clear to me that I wanted to be part of maintaining that diversity by supporting nonprofits in an even bigger way than I could as a sole proprietor. At the end of that morning walk, I felt energized and at peace.

That’s how it began to unfold. In a matter of weeks, the Arboreta Group was born.

My associates agreed to become partners: Debbie Bilyou, a skilled accountant who specializes in taxes and nonprofit fiscal management, and my niece, Jaime Sykes, a recent college graduate who has a passion for videography. Debbie has since become one of our valued affiliates.

I got a call out of the blue from an adept communications specialist and persuasive writer who expressed a desire to join forces. I received a chat message from Jessie Towne-Cardenas, an accomplished grant writer and curriculum developer. And lastly, I received text from Cristina Sanchez-Kerr, who brings a proven data management and program evaluation skill set to the group. The fact that these talented women came together via a variety of communications methods seemed to symbolically confirm our diversity. Something very special was happening.

Then the real work began. The hard work of implementing. The art and science of building a healthy collaboration.

Being the catalyst, I often sat in the center of a variety of conversations: within the larger group, within subsets of partners and with individuals. I experienced the heady mix of excitement, frustration, defeat and renewed hope. “Can this thing work?” I asked myself repeatedly.

Like an eco-system, our professional and personal relationships overlapped by varying degrees: some worked closely together as peers for years, some supervised others, and some were only connected by me. A few people outside of Arboreta’s circle, who knew most of us, would give me the “are you sure” look when I happily shared my plans.

Despite it’s ebbs and flows, and the departure of one of our earlier partners, this process felt profoundly familiar and right. Ahhh….it’s a micro-version of collaboration building, I realized. Instead of guiding others through it, I’m experiencing it myself, with our livelihoods on the line. It fits, I thought, since the members of Arboreta had joined together around the shared value of “walking our talk.” Our process, while challenging, was deeply satisfying.

The Arboreta Group is four women with a diverse set of life experiences and skill sets both professionally and personally, who share a love, commitment, and belief in the nonprofit sector and the life-enriching role it serves in our culture. Each of us brings a valuable skill set to the table, we all recognize that we are stronger together than apart, most importantly we bring a collection of shared values that enable us to do the work:

  • Honesty
  • Pragmatism
  • Integrity
  • Productivity

Ou name choice reflects how we provide services. Like arborists, we treat each client as the unique variety that they are, taking into account their environment, their specific set of strengths and challenges, their resources, and most importantly their potential.

Arboreta Group is here to help cultivate the growth and wellbeing of nonprofit organizations and by extension the people and causes they serve. Our purpose is to help you achieve your purpose.

We’d like to start a relationship with you. Please join our list and receive our email newsletter. I promise that it will be full of helpful links, inspiring case histories and concrete suggestions about how you can make your organization stronger, more vibrant, and more effective in your communities.


Janedra Sykes

Managing Partner

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