Scottsdale Philanthropist Wins Prestigious Award

Local philanthropist Gil Gillenwater was chosen by Premio a la Sonora Filantropia (Sonora Award for Philanthropy) as the individual philanthropic person of the year for the Mexican state of Sonora.

The award recognized decades of tireless volunteer work and leadership with Scottsdale-based Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation. Gillenwater is the first-ever non-Mexican citizen to win this award. 

The ceremony was held December 14 in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico. Premio a la Sonora Filantropia was established in 2005 to develop awareness and social responsibility among altruistic individuals, companies and institutions.  

Gillenwater formed Rancho Feliz in 1987 with the goal of addressing both sides of poverty: from Mexico’s material poverty to America’s spiritual, or purpose, poverty. In addition to providing food, housing, medical care, and education to Mexico’s underprivileged, the organization offers a cross-border venue where American and Canadian volunteers travel to Mexico and find meaningful connections by helping those not born into privileged circumstances.

“We feed their stomachs, they feed our souls,” Gillenwater said. “We call this ‘Reciprocal Giving’ and to date over 25,000 volunteers, mostly students, have improved their own lives by helping the less-fortunate. The volunteers bring this new-found awareness home, helping to reweave the moral fabric of our own communities. Everyone wins under our volunteer model.” 

A lifelong resident of Arizona, Gillenwater currently serves as President of Rancho Feliz. “I am truly honored to receive this award and grateful to the many volunteers who’ve devoted so much of their time and support to Rancho Feliz,” Gillenwater said. 

For 34 years, Rancho Feliz has raised and invested over $16 million dollars to build homes, education centers, childcare centers, orphanages and volunteer dormitories along Arizona’s southern border. The organization has distributed several tons of medical supplies, sponsored many medical procedures and dispensed more than 400 tons of food to provide 4.6 million meals to the hungry. They have funded over 2,000 scholarships and even created a spay and neuter dog program. 

Gillenwater’s real estate career began in 1976. He and his partners structured limited partnerships that purchased, zoned and sold over 10,000 acres of land in Arizona. In 2007 Gil wound down his real estate career and focused his energies on travel and philanthropy. Gillenwater is a recipient of the Hon Kachina Award, Arizona’s highest honor for volunteerism in addition to receiving the National Association of Realtors annual “Good Neighbor Award”, likewise honoring volunteerism.

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