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Using Real Estate to Affect Real Change

After supporting the arts and local music community for decades through volunteerism and small donations, Cricket Handler is now making the kind of difference she’s always dreamed of. 

When the Atascadero rental property she owned became vacant in 2011, she did what anyone in her position would have done – she donated it to the Real Estate Foundation of San Luis Obispo County, and her gift of property was easily converted into usable funds. Now, through a donor-advised fund created in her both her and her mother’s name at The Community Foundation, she can suggest uses for her gift. 

“I told my husband, I get to be a philanthropist now," Handler said of her generous gift. “It’s exciting to be able to make more significant contributions and really make a difference in organizations and causes about which I’m passionate." 

Like donate $10,000 to Opera SLO To Go. Handler was thrilled to be able to help this singing group in such a significant way, because the ensemble is committed to providing a live performance experience of classical and modern works with a focus on accessibility and audience development. 

Handler’s love for music was almost predestined. Her name is synonymous with music. Literally. Her birth name is Carol, which actually means “a song of joy.” She said that when she was in sixth grade she stole the name “Cricket” from her best friend’s brother and began using it as her nickname at the Peabody Conservatory of Music summer camp on the East Coast. When she moved to California in the 10th grade, she used the name at school. It has since become her legal name and now everyone calls her Cricket. 

She remembers vividly how significant music was to her education. She has a master’s degree in choral music from the University of Southern California (USC). “I’ve seen what’s happened to music in schools, and it’s very disheartening,” she said. “That’s why we need to encourage young people to participate in the arts and enjoy music.” 

Handler eventually moved to San Luis Obispo in 1980 with her then-husband Stephen Handler and her young son, Joshua. Her other son, Ethan, was born in SLO. She became involved in music again in 1985, when she became the executive director of the San Luis Obispo Symphony (SLO Symphony), a role she held for about 10 years. While Ethan attended high school he joined the school’s choral group directed by Gary Lamprecht, and Handler became the choral assistant. 

And her experience in the music community doesn’t end there. She has served as a cantor at Congregation Beth David, Temple Ner Shalom and now at Congregation Ohr Tzafon, played piano on stage at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, and started the SLO Symphony’s music education program. She met her husband, Jerry Boots, at the SLO Symphony. She served as assistant director of the Vocal Arts Ensemble from 2004 until 2009. Now, Handler is the co-artistic director of Canzona Women’s Ensemble, a choral ensemble she founded with Jill Anderson that focuses on challenging repertoire and features 24 singers. She retired from being the San Luis Obispo High School’s choral assistant in 2013, a position she held for 18 years. 

When the Real Estate Foundation was established as a public benefit corporation, she had a revelation. “It’s easier (to donate property) than people might imagine,” Handler explained. “I found myself in a position to do it and realized that it’s a great way to set up a donor advised fund. Obviously, there are tax advantages, but that’s not why I’ve done it. I want it to continue even after I’m gone, which is what I’ve told my sons.” 

Along with making donation to the arts and music community, she plans on helping local homeless programs – something she has also been doing for quite some time through volunteerism. “I see this opportunity as a wonderful way to give back to the community that has given so much to me,” Handler said.

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