Del Mar residents find fulfillment in women’s philanthropy group

By Claire Harlin

Staff Writer

In families that contribute money to charities, it is often the women who are making philanthropic decisions — how much to give and to whom — but many major boards are dominated by men. Enter the San Diego Women’s Foundation (SDWF), a group that nurtures women’s abilities as leaders in philanthropy.

“Women really enjoy the collaborative model,” said foundation board member Catherine Blair, a Del Mar resident who has been with SDWF since its beginnings in 2000.

Pooling resources to make noticeable and effective change is the idea behind the San Diego Women’s Foundation, a local philanthropic group of about 200 that has awarded more than $2 million since its beginnings. Each woman pledges $2,000 annually for a minimum of five years, and each woman gets one vote in deciding where the foundation’s resources go.

“It’s a totally egalitarian group,” said Blair, a former Junior League of San Diego president. “There are no junior members or senior members. We all give the same amount and we all get one vote. We are truly a democratic organization.”

The foundation recently awarded $181,650 in grants to a handful of local programs: The San Diego Center for Children: “Therapeutic Music Program” ($45,000); Playwrights Project: “Writing Lives” ($29,650); San Diego Opera: “Words and Music” ($50,000); California Center for the Arts Escondido: “My Story: Literacy Through the Arts” ($25,000); and Eveoke Dance Theatre: “REFUGE in the Arts” ($32,000).

But the foundation doesn’t only change the lives of those who benefit from its grants, it changes the lives of its members.

Take for instance Del Mar resident Teresa Jacques, the foundation’s vice president, who moved to San Diego from England years ago and didn’t know one person here. She said joining the foundation allowed her not only to put her money where it counts, but also to gain lasting friendships with good-hearted fellow foundation members.

“I worked in a male dominated world, and I had never heard of anything like this that was all women, all as a group,” said Jacques, who has more than 20 years of global executive experience within the telecommunications, oilfield services and professional services sectors.

Del Mar resident Julie Ruedi, who retired after more than 25 years of doing biomedical research at The Scripps Research Institute, said being part of SDWF is like having a new career after retirement. Working on the grants committee, Ruedi looks into the community to find out where there are unmet needs and she helps review grant proposals and decides where to place funds. Members of SDWF also go on site visits to each entity that applies for grants.

“From my experience, my line of work thrives off grant money,” said Ruedi, whose first 10 years of research was dedicated to exploring human immunodeficiencies, including some very early pioneer work on establishing biomarkers for AIDS patients. “Working on the grants committee lets me do what I really like to do.”

Ruedi, Blair and Jacques — like the other members of SDWF — have all come together for a common cause: to continually grant funding and encouragement to accessible artistic and cultural experiences which engage and educate underserved K-12 youth.

“Our programs tend to go towards kids because that’s where we can really make an impact,” said Blair. “That’s the future.”

The foundation also values securing its own future, and has set up an endowment that will allow the organization to be a fixture in the community for years to come.

“When we’re long gone, we still want to be making a difference in the community,” said Blair. “It’s really about legacy, continuing to have a robust operating agency.”

Not only does the foundation want to be able to award more grants to deserving organizations, but it is always seeking the energy and input of new members. To join or find out more information, visit