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Get to Know These Community-Driven Women

Written By: Justine McGrath

San Diego is known for its booming biotech industry and creative culinary offerings, but the city’s impressive nonprofit sector is often overlooked. There are numerous nonprofits throughout San Diego that cater to a number of worthy causes—be it making sure our beaches are clean or working with at-risk youths to build a brighter future. We can certainly admire the good work these organizations do, but we also have to acknowledge that none of this work would be possible without the dedication of those running these institutions.

Without further ado, here are some words of wisdom from Alice Jacobson, Carla Vallone, and Winifred Cox. Silvia Mah and Venus Molina were also selected as winners but were unable to be reached for comment.

Nonprofit SD

Alice Jacobson of Coastal Community Foundation

As a president and volunteer at Coastal Community Foundation (CCF), Alice Jacobson applies her leadership and charitable values to support nonprofit organizations. Through generous donations from business and families, CCF is able to make grants to nonprofits in communities such  as San Diego. A few areas to which CCF provide funding include the environment, education and health and wellness.

Q: Why is it important to you to give back to your local community?

Alice Jacobson: I was raised in a Jewish home and in my family ‘Tzedakah’ is a concept that means ‘to repair the world and to give back.’  Each of us has a responsibility to fulfill Tzedakah in any way we can.  My participation in community non-profit organizations is my way in helping to give back and repair the world. 

Q: How has working with Coastal Community Foundation changed the way you view other cities?

AJ: I am not sure that it has changed the way I view other cities, however, it has changed my thinking on the role of community foundations in civic life. It is a place of education, a community center for philanthropy, and it gives new meaning to me about how people/donors that set up their funds with a local foundation can immediately see the benefits of their philanthropic donations to various projects and organizations in their city.

Q: The Coastal Community Foundation has been around for over 30 years. What is one lesson you’d like to share with San Diegans from your years with the foundation?

AJ: Find a local foundation in your community, support it, and set up your funds with the foundation. Our tag line at Coastal is ‘Live Here Give Here.’ It is so important for your community.

Q: How does developing a strong community help benefit the nation, and world, at large?

AJ: It is self-evident that strong communities come from strong organizations with strong leadership. Partnerships between the people of the community and the city’s government and city leaders help produce city leaders that communicate to their citizens, listen to what the people of the community are telling them, and ask them to consider.

Q:  What does it mean to you to be voted as a top leading lady in the nonprofit community?

AJ: I am so very appreciative of the recognition for my years of service to many nonprofits in both the community I live in as well as organizations within the city of San Diego. I want to share the recognition with the many other unrecognized leaders in the San Diego area, especially in my city to all those who give time and money to our community and the nonprofit organizations that they believe in.

 Nonprofit SD

Carla Vallone of Girls Inc.

Carla Vallone serves as President of the Board of Trustees and Acting Executive Director for Girls Inc. of San Diego County, a nonprofit organization that empowers hundreds of girls to overcome financial, social and academic challenges to achieve their goals and succeed in life. The organization provides programming to help at-risk girls in the county overcome barriers so they may see college as attainable, resist peer pressure and explore the professional fields that are typically considered nontraditional for women. In addition to her active volunteer positions with Girls Inc. of San Diego County, Carla is the Founder and President of Portavoce PR, a public relations agency in North County San Diego that provides business-to-business and business-to-consumer communications to clients in a variety of sectors.

Q: Why is it more important than ever to encourage girls to pursue careers in fields that haven’t historically been associated with women (for instance, STEM jobs)?

Carla Vallone: Girls’ interest in science, technology, and math sparks in elementary and middle school. Our job is to set that spark on fire by creating a space where girls see their female peers enjoy these subjects too. It’s important that girls, and especially girls of color, see other women who look like them, or come from the same communities, succeeding in STEM professions. At Girls Inc. of San Diego County, we help girls learn to be persistent in their learning, explore STEM and engage with women in STEM professions. We believe that pursuing jobs in STEM will also help underserved girls secure lucrative careers that will end the history of poverty they and their families have been in.

Q: Girls Inc. works with girls as young as eight-years-old. Why is it essential to start mentoring and empowering girls at such a young age?

CV: At Girls Inc. of San Diego County we invite underserved girls ages eight to 18 to participate in our no-cost programs. At 8, 9, and 10 years old girls are already facing gender stereotypes or bias that can hold them back from pursuing their dreams. Depending on their cultural background, they may also feel constrained by traditional expectations of a woman’s role in the society. We give them the extra encouragement and support to understand they can be successful in challenging roles where women are still under-represented.

Q: What are you most proud of from your time at Girls Inc.?

CV: I am very proud to be a part of keeping our 50-year legacy in San Diego County alive. Recently a number of different activities I work on at Girls Inc. of San Diego County culminated in a special moment that reminded me of the importance of our work. It was a celebratory time because we had found out that we were selected to receive $20,000 from ESET in a competitive non-profit, Pitchfest. We planned a check presentation with ESET at Epiphany Charter School in San Diego where we deliver programs to underserved girls. Seeing the girls’ excitement to receive that check was very fulfilling. They kept asking, ‘Is that money for us?’ And indeed, it is! It’s to support their dreams and be there when they need us.

But as we all left, girls who could not fit into our program class came up to me and Rosa, our Program Coordinator, asking, ‘’Rosa, Rosa, when can we get into a Girls Inc. program?’ It’s incredibly hard to turn girls away, but I also know that as we grow our number of supporters we will serve more girls in 2018 and beyond. I see another 50 years of service in our future!

Q: What does it mean to you to be voted as a top leading lady in the nonprofit community?

CV: Being voted a top leading lady in the nonprofit community validates the hundreds of hours I spend each year to advancing and growing the organization so we can serve more girls. Although I strive to be humble, being recognized for my devotion to Girls Inc. of San Diego County is incredibly rewarding. I’m doin’ it for the girls!

Winifred Cox of Women’s Empowerment International (WE)

Co-president and co-founder since its inception in 2003, Winifred Cox applies her finance and public relations background to organize Women’s Empowerment International (WE). The goal of WE is nothing short of inspirational and ambitious. WE strives to create a world without poverty in which women are treated as social equals. They work tirelessly to supply women with the tools they need to overcome poverty and transform their lives. They maintain a vision of excellence, integrity and justice to impart a positive change in the world.

Q: What inspired you to found Women’s Empowerment International back in the early 2000s?

Winifred Cox: I wanted to ‘give back’ in a way that would be transformative. After thinking about this for three years, the concept of what is, today, Women’s Empowerment International fell into place. The idea felt right immediately.  As did my passion for it—one I’ve never lost. The idea was to give poor women the opportunity to help themselves. WE gives them small business loans, that over 95 percent of the women repay. The repaid money is continually re-loaned, so a $14 loan to a grandmother in Uganda will actually start many businesses. Such a profound impact from such a small investment.

Q: You’ve achieved so much through your incredible organization—the nonprofit has raised over $1 million in microloans and helped over 17,000 women worldwide—what’s been your favorite part of making such a large impact?  

WC: Always, it’s meeting the women who start businesses with WE loans. I’ve seen the effect in their lives, firsthand, in Ghana, Uganda, Honduras, Mexico, and San Diego, and their stories humble me. Most have grown up impoverished, and are determined that their children will have a better life. Against all odds, they will start a chicken or pig farming business, sell food at roadside markets, or break rocks in quarries—whatever business might succeed for them. These are the true Wonder Women; they inspire and touch me deeply. 

Q: How has your work abroad impacted how you interact within your local community? 

WC: Our members wanted to help San Diego’s poor women as well as those in developing countries. So we partnered with the International Rescue Committee to start a free business incubator for refugees and other underprivileged local women. The women come to the WE STAR Center with a business idea, and the counselors help them create a business plan, develop marketing materials, and obtain rental and licensing agreements, whatever it takes to get that business launched and sustainable. Remarkably, the STAR Center clients have started close to 320 local businesses.

Q:  What would you say to young women looking to work in the nonprofit sector?  

WC: In my experience, success in both for-profit and nonprofit sectors requires discipline, skill, passion and creativity. But for those who are drawn to nonprofit work, it’s likely the only way they will find true fulfillment. That’s certainly been true for me.         

Q: What does it mean to you to be voted as a top leading lady in the nonprofit community?  

WC: Not me, but WE was the top vote-getter in recognition of our due diligence—ensuring that donations have impact in the lives of women who desperately need them. We are part of a worldwide effort to eliminate extreme poverty in the next 12 years. It’s an audacious but doable goal, and will have a profound, uplifting effect on the 1.4 billion people who live on $1.25 a day. WE will also be there for the poor women of San Diego, most of them single mothers and children, who live on the edge, worried about their next meal. It’s heartwarming to see that San Diegans are with us on this journey.