By Kimberly K. Robeson Sometimes something happens in our life that affects us greatly and we are inspired to do community service. Maybe your sister gets breast cancer, so you become a breast cancer advocate; maybe your son goes to Afghanistan, so you are inspired to help service members; or maybe you simply hear about a remarkable organization from a friend and are prompted to give a helping hand. One thing is undeniable, when you assist in helping others, you too are rewarded. I know this from first-hand experience. On August 15th, 2007 an 8.0 earthquake shook Peru for 2 minutes and 40 seconds and killed more than 500 people. I happened to be teaching in Lima at the time and a few weeks later, with a bus load of student volunteers, several teachers, and lots of supplies, we went to Chincha (a community about two hours from Lima), to help build a Community Center for one of the devastated communities. When we returned to the city, a sobered reality hung in the air for how fortunate we were. But a strange sense of excitement also filled the school bus. I believe the excitement we experienced cannot be duplicated by having a great party, seeing a good film, or a perfect date. This euphoric feeling comes from giving—giving time, energy, and resources to the less fortunate. Admittedly, most of us don’t have the time or resources to go all the way to Peru or Africa or Asia and sending a check (though extremely helpful to most organizations) oftentimes leaves something to be desired. The truth is, there are ample opportunities to help on one’s home front, and one organization in particular, The San Diego Women’s Foundation—a non-profit organization that “educates and inspires women to engage in significant and sustainable philanthropy to strengthen the San Diego region”—is one that offers so much to so many. To learn more about this organization, I had the opportunity to sit down for a long and animated conversation with Eileen Haag, the current President of SDWF, a position for which she volunteers. Eileen’s bio is quite impressive. She is the mother of two children, who are now thriving adults (her son a social worker, her daughter a teacher) and has been happily married for twelve years. For the last forty years, Eileen has been actively involved in the San Diego community; she was a co-owner of The Bernardo News from 1971 to 1989; the chair of the Rancho Bernardo United Coalition that helped rebuild more than 300 homes after the 2007 With Creek Fires; the chair of the board of directors at Casa de las Campanas, a continuing care retirement community; President of the Rancho Bernardo Community Foundation; and a consultant for several important SD projects. And yet, in our two hours together, she is less interested in talking about these many accomplishments because— like a true philanthropist—our meeting is not about her—it’s about
Making a DifferenceHere and Now!
others. She is excited to tell me all about The San Diego Women’s Foundation, and I am eager to listen to what type of organization can make such a dynamic, accomplished woman so enthusiastic. The San Diego Women’s Foundation, which was founded eleven years ago, offers women an opportunity to get involved in our community, meet other professional San Diego women, and help make a difference. And the best part is a volunteer can do as little or as much as she wants; even the website states: “One of the things we are proudest of at SDWF is our ‘no-guilt’ factor.” For many busy women who want to get involved in community service but realize the limitations of their time, this organization provides a way to do hands-on work or step in and out as necessary. So what is SDWF exactly and what is the focus of their community service? To begin, it’s a group of women with 200+ members who each contribute $2,000 a year with a 5 year minimum commitment and get one vote where grant money will be awarded. Each grant, usually $25,000 or greater, targets one of the following areas: Arts & Culture, Education, Environment, and Health & Human Services. In fact, “As of June 2011, more than $2.2 million had been awarded to 58 Community Partners for their efforts to initiate or improve existing programs.” Every year one of the aforementioned areas is the focus; for example, Arts & Culture was the focus this year, and after an in-depth process of reviewing proposals, on-site visits by a team of about four women, ten organizations were put on the ballot. From these ten, five were chosen. The organizations that were chosen are given a one-time generous grant but also become lifetime “Community Partners.” In other words, once chosen, a group continues to be part of the SDWF family; they are included in a monthly newsletter and during the annual grant give-away, the organizations that had received grants the previous year report back how the money was used and how these funds helped shape their organization. This year, for example, $45,000 was awarded to The San Diego Center for Children, a therapeutic music program that helps “heal emotional wounds by providing an outlet for children to learn to cope with past trauma by expressing themselves through music and movement.” Other grants included $32,000 to Eveoke Dance Theatre that connects ten to eighteen years olds with social activism through dance. Another $29,650 was awarded to The Playwrights Project where underserved students from Lakeside and San Isidro were given opportunities to write plays and perform for the community. And these are just a few of the Community Partners of 2011. This year alone, $181,650 was awarded to organizations that truly influence the lives of San Diego young people. (To see all the Community Partners and grant awards since 2001, please visit http://www. sdwomensfoundation.org). As explained on the SDWF website, grant making involves a thorough process conducted by three teams: a Discovery, Implementation, and Impact team. The Discovery Team “conducts community research to gain a broad understanding of the year's topic, prioritizes the issues, and recommends a funding priority within the focus area.” The Implementation team oversees application solicitation, proposal review, site visits, and balloting process.” And the Impact Team “serves as the liaison to all Community Partners (grantees) to evaluate and track the effectiveness and success of our grants” (www. sdwomensfoundation.org).
The San Diego Women’s Foundation: