Community Partner: Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

June 7, 2022

Training a well-equipped workforce takes more than just a dedicated educator. It also takes initiative by an engaged business community to collaborate with those educators to ensure that every regional learner has the chance to achieve their educational goals. One such engaged business in Pasadena is its world-famous Pasadena Tournament of Roses® Association (ToRA), which hosts the annual Rose Bowl Game® and that event’s companion Rose Parade® presented by Honda on New Year’s Day. As a globally recognized feature of Pasadena’s recreational landscape, the ToRA generates millions of dollars for the regional economy every year while also distributing its charitable proceeds to support local youth and communities. In the 2021-2022 academic year, the ToRA partnered with Pasadena City College (PCC) to launch its inaugural ‘Rose Fellows’ program, which created a once-in-a-lifetime, work-based learning opportunity for a worthy and fortunate PCC student.


Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses Association

Each Winter since 1890, Pasadena has celebrated the floral bounty of its almost perfect climate, especially its gorgeous and plentiful roses. Back then, the San Gabriel Valley’s Valley Hunt Club, a group of local sports enthusiasts, sponsored a contest to reward the gardeners who grew the most notable foliage, and a ‘parade’ format was chosen to best show off the responding display. The competition is now played out each New Year’s Day and has grown to attract marching bands, equestrian participants, and, of course, floral parade float entrants from around the world.


Community Focused, Volunteer Driven

Regardless of its stellar international reputation, the non-profit ToRA actively focuses on the economic and social goings-on in Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley. Its activities throughout the year generate an economic impact of an average of $300 million to the community, support the equivalent of over 2,000 full-time jobs (although its staff totals only 35), and keep LA County’s many restaurants, lodging houses, and retail establishments open. During the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl season (January 1st and 2nd), upwards of 200,000 out-of-region event attendees also spend millions of dollars at other hospitality and entertainment venues.

In pursuit of its mission, however, the Association (and its companion ToR Foundation – ToRF) is careful to share its resources with the community members for whom those resources were intended – its regional non-profit and charitable organizations. Launched in 1983, the ToRF’s initial purpose was to manage all the donations that flowed into the Association’s coffers. The group is guided by its Key Themes – enhancing education, investing in the community, strengthening business partnerships, and providing experiences that make a difference in people’s lives. Its Board of Directors turns financial donations into support for the many non-profit agencies around the County that offer opportunities in sports and recreation, education, and visual and performing arts. Since its inception, the ToRF has given away more than $3 million to over 200 different organizations.


One way the ToRF supports its beneficiaries is by funding grants for notable projects that promise to have a significant social impact. Remarkably, the agency didn’t let the COVID-19 pandemic interfere with that objective, either:

While the coronavirus prevented the January 1, 2021, Rose Bowl Parade from happening, it did not interfere with the 2020 distribution of grant awards of over $140,000 to 16 San Gabriel Valley non-profits for projects supporting youth, children, the disabled, and seniors. These funds were critical contributions to organizations that lost some or all of their regular funding due to the public health crisis.

The agency improved that performance in 2021, awarding more than $230,000 to 27 fortunate organizations. The group also facilitated the donation of thousands of books to local elementary school children, including 10,000 collected and distributed on the National Day of Service (September 11, 2021). Another 14,000 were donated by the UPS Store to public elementary schools in the Pasadena Unified School District in honor of International Literacy Day.

The group’s 2020-2021 Community Impact Report offers a comprehensive view of how it disperses its resources per its Key Themes directives:

Enhancing Educational Opportunities

Students, teachers, and community volunteers are the targets of these resources, with the goal of achieving educational empowerment for all. Enhancing college exposure, access, and attainment, introducing young students to STEM sciences career opportunities, and rewarding educators for excellent work are just a few of the ToRF-funded initiatives. In 2020 and 2021, $340,000 funded innovative projects offered by over 300 enlightened educators.

Investing in the Community

The agency focused on the impact of the COVID pandemic, too, in its effort to make a difference during the height of the crisis. Churches, well-known charities, and other social support entities received funding to distribute food and vaccinations to those who needed them.

Strengthening Business Partnerships

The ToRA partners with many community organizations to help them further their philanthropic goals:

Together with the retail store Forever 21 and the LA County’s Sheriff’s Office, the ToRA contributed more than 500 boxes of clothing to support victims of domestic violence.

Southwest Airlines sponsored the group’s Arts Initiative for Youth, an art contest for elementary and middle school students to celebrate the year’s Rose Parade theme, ‘Dream. Believe. Achieve.’

Partners Verizon and the UPS store contributed to the literacy and STEM projects noted above.

East West Bank sponsored a Youth Empowerment Forum that (safely) gathered more than 200 youth to discuss following dreams, building a career strategy, and leveraging talents in the work world. The speaker panel was populated with experienced and inspiring leaders from several high-profile local companies, including Marvel Studios, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the LA Rams.

Experiences that Make a Difference

There was a plethora of worthy options for this theme. Those that made the cut included sponsoring a concert celebrating Pasadena’s Latino Heritage Month, contributing to the National Football Foundation’s scholarships for student-athletes, and, with partner Citizen’s Business Bank, the award of $20,000 in scholarships for eight graduating senior ‘Rose Scholars.’


Through these and other notable community service projects, Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses Association and Foundation provides funding and foundation for thousands of regional residents to achieve otherwise unreachable goals.



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