New Del Mar Schools Education Foundation President planning variety of fundraising efforts

By Karen Billing

New Del Mar Schools Education Foundation President Amy Caterina hopes to help the fundraising organization make big strides this year and she means that literally. One of her plans for this year’s efforts includes a community-wide 5K race in December, getting the community out running to support district’s extended studies curriculum of art, music, PE, science and technology.

“I think it’s going to be a fabulous event,” said Caterina, noting that she’s already working with the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board on the event and Ocean Air parents have taken the organization reins. “We are really excited to add this event.”

Caterina has some lofty goals to get the foundation running stronger than it ever has before.

“My overall goal is that we set up an organization that can effectively raise $5 million a year,” Caterina said. “I realize that sounds aggressive, but we live in a financially unstable world and we need to be prepared to continue to provide our children with the best education.”

Caterina has had two children attend Del Mar Hills School—her oldest daughter now attends Canyon Crest Academy and her son is an incoming fifth grader.

She comes from a 20-year background in public relations and investor relations, and for the last seven years she has been working with non-profits on consulting, including the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network and the San Dieguito River Park.

While she has always donated to the foundation and been an active school volunteer, the decision to get more involved came from a dramatic life change. Almost five years ago, Caterina was diagnosed with stage III cancer and had to undergo painful treatments with significant side effects.

“While I was recovering, I could only think about my children, not my job or my career,” Caterina said. “ And when I recovered, I knew that I wanted to do something meaningful for them. And helping DMSEF raise more money for education was my meaningful action.”

She felt like her background in non-profits could bring invaluable experience to the table and help the foundation build its fundraising base.

“I asked myself ‘Why not do it?’” Caterina said, “And I think it is an important message to all parents. We care. We have a choice. Let’s make the most of it!”

It’s easy just to say that the ESC program is valuable but Caterina would like to find a way to measure those benefits.

She spoke to one former student who said she saw a huge benefit from her science lab instruction in grade school once she entered a high school science class at CCA. The student felt that she was prepared over some other students without that same lab experience.

“It did give her an advantage. It’s also an advantage in art class, she knew what a horizon line was and perspective,” Caterina said. “She said it gave her much more confidence in terms of being successful in high school programs. I think probably that’s the message that’s most important.”

Caterina said she knows parents understand that value, but she hopes to get that message across to their corporate matching donors as well, so they can see how what the children in the district are learning now will help them through high school, college and beyond.

Corporate matches have played a big role in fundraising efforts in past years and it’s something she hopes more parents will take advantage of as a way to boost their contribution.

With foundation events, she hopes to add more and to see them represent each of the five subject areas.

The 5K would represent PE, an art auction could represent art, and a science fair could promote science, for example. With all of the events, she hopes to draw from a larger portion of the community, not just district parents.

“The parent base has been incredibly supportive of the foundation but let’s be honest, we need to raise $2 million,” Caterina said. “I really want to hit that mark this year.”

Another one of Caterina’s goals is to increase communication with parents so that they can see how the foundation works. She would like to get parents more engaged and interested so they feel good about donating and know exactly what the money is used for.

They will be at Back to School events in the coming weeks to meet new parents and explain their mission and the value of the ESC program, particularly kindergarten parents who will be with them for several years.

Also different this year is that meeting sites will rotate between the schools. The first meeting will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 12, at Del Mar Hills with the Oct. 10 meeting moving to Torrey Hills. She encourages parents to come and meet the new board members and get educated and involved in the process.

Caterina is very excited about the new foundation board members.

“They are a phenomenal group…they see the big picture and want to have the best possible situation for our kids,” Caterina said.

The board includes Rand Steiger, a UCSD music professor representing Del Mar Hills; Dr. Richard Moon, a Kaiser Permanente physician representing Sycamore Ridge; Ying Yang, a certified project management professional representing Carmel Del Mar; and David Wojtkowski, a commercial pilot representing Carmel Del Mar.

Carolyn Hawley serves as the new vice president of marketing, Wojtkowski is treasurer, Deborah Finucane is secretary, Yang is vice president of administration, Branden Belforf is vice president of electronic communications,Glenn Collins is vice president of affinity and Colleen Guiltinan is the office administrator.

The vice president of events remains open and there are also board representative positions open at Del Mar Heights, Ashley Falls, Sage Canyon, Torrey Hills and Ocean Air School.

The foundation can have up to 15 representatives and they are interested in the possibility of having two or three representatives for the larger schools, such as Sage Canyon and Ocean Air,

“My feeling is the more the merrier,” Caterina said.

Last school year the foundation raised $1.17 million for the district, achieving the highest parent-led donation level in the foundation’s history. Caterina said she would like to thank the outgoing board members who made the feat possible: President Drew Isaacman, Bob Shopes (vice president and Del Mar Hills rep), Claire Lemon (secretary and Torrey Hills rep), Erin Morgan (treasurer and Torrey Hills rep), Amy Duncan (Del Mar Heights rep), Debby Romine (Sycamore Ridge rep), Paula Moore (vice president of marketing) and Beth Folkerth (Carmel Del Mar rep).

To learn more about the foundation or to get involved, visit