Del Mar volunteer encourages women to get involved in San Diego Women’s Foundation

Though now grown, Del Mar’s Dana Dahlbo credited her daughter with getting her more involved in the community.

Dahlbo served as president of Earl Warren Middle School’s Parent Teacher Association when her daughter attended the Solana Beach school, and on the board of the Parents Association at The Bishop’s School when her daughter went on to the La Jolla high school. The mother-daughter duo was also active in National Charity League.

“I feel quite pleased to have instilled that volunteerism in my daughter,” Dahlbo said in an interview just before Mother’s Day.

Her daughter, Alison, now lives in Orange County, where she’s getting involved in the community.

“That pleases me a great deal that she’s taking on that feeling that she needs to give back to the community and volunteer some time and energy,” Dahlbo added.

Dahlbo got her start in community service as a member of a sorority at William Jewell College, a private liberal arts college in Missouri.

She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in history, and later came to Southern California from Michigan in 1971 with her husband, Rob. They first moved to Los Angeles and then settled in San Diego in 1981.

For close to 30 years, Dahlbo worked as an administrative assistant to scientists in the physical oceanography department at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Prior to that, she worked at UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest.

After 35 years with UCSD, Dahlbo retired two year ago. Already actively involved in the community, however, she remained busy.

“This is a very, very small little town,” Dahlbo said. “It’s amazing how many stellar philanthropists there are in this small community. It’s remarkable.”

Dahlbo is a founding member of the San Diego Women’s Foundation. Established in 2000, the nonprofit organization aims to educate and inspire women to engage in collective philanthropy.

“There was a great need for women to have an organization and to learn more about women in philanthropy,” Dahlbo recalled. “Historically, men really did the bulk of it. Women played a part, but not a major part.”

Founded as a supporting arm of the San Diego Foundation, the San Diego Women’s Foundation has grown to more than 210 members. Every member commits to an annual contribution of $2,000 for a minimum of five years and helps determine where grants will be awarded each year. As of last year, the organization has given nearly $3 million to 75 community partners to initiate or improve programs.

“Dana has been actively engaged in the San Diego Women’s Foundation since its inception and has played a vital role in any success SDWF has realized,” said Linda Katz, founding president of the San Diego Women’s Foundation. “Dana is one of those — most often behind the scenes — selfless community leaders, always willing to roll up her sleeves. Dana is a true delight to know and work with.”

In the last 16 years, Dahlbo has served the foundation in various capacities.

She currently serves on the board of directors and has served on several committees. She chaired and co-chaired the education committee, and served on the grants, membership and programs committees. She has also worked on both the proposal review and site visit processes.

“I’m fairly active in the organization,” Dahlbo said. “I’m happy being the hands-on, in the weeds kind of person.”

Acting as a liaison to a number of the foundation’s community partners, Dahlbo has learned more about nonprofits in the San Diego region and become even more involved in the community.

“I’ve lived in North County the whole time I’ve lived here, and except for soccer games, I didn’t know there was any life south of the 8,” she joked. “But the San Diego Women’s Foundation has opened my eyes so much to what is in San Diego. It has caused me to take a more active role in volunteering.”

For three years she tutored a refugee family through the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that provides health care, infrastructure, education and economic support to people in more than 40 countries and resettles thousands of refugees each year in 26 U.S. cities.

The family Dahlbo worked with came from Myanmar and had been in a refugee camp in Thailand for 10 years.

“They’re just one of the thousands of refugees that have come to San Diego,” Dahlbo said. “City Heights is a huge refugee area. I didn’t know City Heights was like City Heights except for exposure with the San Diego Women’s Foundation. That’s the key in feeling like I’m making a difference with my contribution.”

She is also working closely with Outdoor Outreach, a San Diego-based nonprofit that connects youth to the outdoors.

“It’s a wonderful organization,” said Dahlbo, noting that the San Diego Women’s Foundation funded the program last year. “They’re doing such good in the community.”

For the past four years, Dahlbo has served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Voices for Children, a San Diego-based nonprofit that recruits, trains and supervises volunteer CASAs. CASAs advocate for the rights and well-being of children living in San Diego County’s foster care system.

The child she has been working with, now almost 14 years old, is now getting adopted.

“We’ve had a rollercoaster ride for four years, but it’s ending very well,” Dahlbo said. “It’s just wonderful. I’m just over the moon about this happening.”

Additionally, Dahlbo has served as an after-school tutor for Kids at Heart and a volunteer driver for Meals on Wheels.

“There are a lot of people out there that need. When you can help, both with time and money, you should,” Dahlbo said.

“Women can do more than woman,” she added. “I encourage anyone in the community — in the Del Mar, Solana Beach area and beyond — to get involved if they’re thinking about what more they can do.”

For more about the San Diego Women’s Foundation, visit