Breathe Easy: 100 Years in Clean Air Achievement


by Steph Rodriguez

Celebrate with the “Clean Air and Healthy Lungs People” on Saturday, October 21 during its Breathe Centennial Gala at the Memorial Auditorium (1515 J St.) from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. This black-tie optional event opens with a cocktail reception and silent auction followed by dinner and a special keynote speaker. Visit for more information on donations and how to purchase tickets.

While Sacramento’s abundance of tall, green trees works as the city’s natural clean-air filters, Breathe California Sacramento Region, or Breathe, is the grassroots organization responsible for many of the city’s daily perks that play an essential role in the overall health of its residents and the environment. Breathe’s rich, 100-year history is studded with clean air and smoke-free advocacy and the nonprofit continues to champion for these areas and more so that everyone can breathe a little easier for years to come.

On Saturday, October 21 at the Memorial Auditorium, Breathe celebrates its countless achievements in clean air policies with its Breathe Centennial Gala. Special guests include Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Congresswoman Doris Matsui with proceeds going toward Breathe’s many programs, including its food waste recycling program, free asthma screenings, and its continued tobacco data collection efforts.

Breathe’s Chief Executive Officer, David L. Modisette, joined the team in 2017 and remains steadfast when it comes to the organization’s ability to adjust to the changes of the specific clean air and lung health issues of its time.

“Our goal remains the same as it has always been: Healthy lungs and clean air for everyone who breathes,” Modisette says. “We are focused on cleaner air and healthier lungs today, tomorrow, and every day into the future.”

In its inception, Breathe was known as the Sacramento Society for the Prevention and Cure of Tuberculosis in 1917. Led by nurse Estella Edson, the goals of the organization a century ago included opening a free TB clinic, a well baby clinic, and a summer camp for undernourished children. In the following decades, all of these ambitions were realized starting with a TB clinic on O Street. Though Breathe began by working to control TB, these accomplishments helped pave the way for a wide range of efforts, including tackling other lung diseases, education about the risks of tobacco use, helping to create clean, renewable energy locally, and more.

Today, Breathe is one of the oldest and most active nonprofits in the region and serves 28 counties in Northern California. It offers free asthma screenings, started an organics recycling program that diverts public school food waste into clean, renewable energy, and Breathe also continues to champion for clean air education programs.

Co-chair of Breathe’s Clean Air Policy committee, Sue Teranishi, recalls Sacramento in the ’70s when pollution emitted from the region’s annual rice straw burnings would fill the air with smoke. Although the agricultural practice made it hard on resident’s lungs each fall, it was simply the norm back then. But Breathe worked with farmers, the state legislature and the California Air Resources Board to phase out all agricultural burning.

Teranishi, who started out as a volunteer in the ’80s, says when people hear Breathe’s name out and about she’d like them to naturally think, “Oh, the clean air people” because it’s succinct and it embodies the very essence of what Breathe stands for.

“Clean air is so basic and yet it’s such a huge issue to get your hands around,” Teranishi says. “So, it’s been great to be part of Breathe and having partners from different organizations that are all trying to do what we can whether it’s walk or bike and help more people to safely get around. I really like that we’ve created partnerships around the community that surround those goals.”