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Our Community Of Caring


As 2009 comes to a close and we reflect upon the past year, there’s no hiding the reality that a great number of us have weathered our own personal storms, whether financial, emotional, or physical. But one thing is certain — our commitment to helping one another and giving back to our community has never been more evident. A testament to this is the sheer fact that on November 3, over 1,000 people attended the 37th Annual National Philanthropy Day (NPD) Celebration — making it the second largest attended NPD event in the nation (second only to Houston). Philanthropists, volunteers, corporations, and independent business owners whose year-round efforts help sustain critical programs and services offered throughout San Diego were recognized for their outstanding contributions. The Association of Fundraising Professionals San Diego Chapter, along with The San Diego Foundation, presented awards to Conrad T. Prebys, Ann Hill, Robert Silva, James H. West, Geni Cavitt, Charles E. Day, the Jack in the Box Corporation, and the Nice Guys of San Diego for their tireless efforts and commitment to enhancing the spirit of philanthropy in San Diego. It seems only fitting, then, that we take a moment to build upon this momentum and acknowledge a selection of individuals and families who, through our eyes, also so generously give their time, talent, heart, and financial resources to the causes they support, greatly impacting the San Diego community we all cherish as home.    MIA STEFANKO



Joan & Irwin Jacobs

Electrical engineer, author, and philanthropist Irwin Jacobs is the co-founder and former chairman of Qualcomm, and chair of the board of trustees of the Salk Institute. He and his wife, Joan, are tremendously generous contributors to the arts and education, and as such, Irwin was given the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship in 2004 by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institution for his outstanding commitment to President Woodrow Wilson’s dream of integrating politics, scholarship, and policy for the common good.


The list of myriad institutions and organizations who have benefited from the Jacobs’ commitment to giving back goes on and on, and includes the University of California at San Diego, KPBS, the San Diego Natural History Museum, La Jolla Playhouse, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, and the San Diego Symphony, to name but a few.



Sheryl & Harvey White

For Sheryl and Harvey White, giving back is something they both embraced early on. “Harvey was raised in a family where giving support and helping others in the community was a way of life,” notes Sheryl. “I, however, got more involved in the community after I started working in banking when I was 19. Giving back to the community is a part of the job in banking that turned into a passion.” Today, thanks to the Whites’ generous support of The Old Globe, the new Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre brings arena stage productions into the 21st century, with superior technical facilities and a physical space that affords a broader range of artistic choices, while maintaining an intimate environment. “You share with the community that you live in to be a part of that community family.  It is a case of helping it become a better place to live than it would be without your gift of time or money,” says Sheryl. While the Whites support numerous organizations in town of all sizes, Sheryl admits, “We are most proud of our involvement at the Old Globe Theatre. I think it is also an emotional bond since that is where we met.” She is quick to point out that it’s about much more than what you can give financially. “Everyone has the means to get involved. It does not need to be a large financial gift. In fact, I think a lot of people get confused and think that giving back just means dollars. Every organization needs volunteers and if you cannot physically volunteer you can help with phone calls or setting up Internet sites. Everything helps.”



Robin & Gerald Parsky

Gerald Parsky is a member of the Salk Institute board of trustees and chairman of Aurora Capital Group. He has worked for the U.S. Treasury Department and served under Secretary George Shultz, who he regards as his greatest mentor. He has received appointments from each of the past five Republican administrations and spearheaded three Republican presidential campaigns. His wife, Robin, owns and manages Buena Vista Farms in Rancho Santa Fe, a show horse breeding and training facility and lemon farm. For them, giving back is vital because “America’s uniqueness and strength comes from democracy in action and volunteer efforts,” explains Gerald. “We want to, and actually with perseverance and steadfastness, think we can make a difference.”

Gerald cites the day he graduated from Princeton as the pivotal moment that led to his passion for giving back, explaining, “[I] saw the pride on my parents’ faces, [and] I felt a need to find ways to give back in the future.” In turn, the Parskys believe that by providing financial aid to qualified students, they will help make our society a better place. “We are proud to fund four-year scholarships for student athletes at Princeton University,” notes Gerald. “We have also funded scholarships for students with needs to attend the UCLA Anderson School of Management and look forward to hearing of their successes in the near future.” They also believe that “it doesn’t cost money to volunteer time; but the personal rewards from such service are even greater,” notes Gerald. “For youth today we suggest [that they] apply for scholarships for higher education, look for a mentor, and work hard.”


Iris & Matthew Strauss

Iris and Matthew Strauss are especially involved in leadership and support for the San Diego Opera and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. “We are very committed to and proud of the growing arts and culture community of San Diego, and we want to volunteer and help to make it even stronger, not only for our family, but for all future generations,” explains Iris. “We love this city. We met here, married here, and raised our family here. We have three children, and seven grandchildren, and we want San Diego to be a thriving city for them to live and grow up in.” Community involvement is a virtue they’ve also instilled in their children and grandchildren. “We introduced them at an early age to the wonderful museums, theatres, symphony, and other art forms that are available to them, and we encouraged them to participate, not only as audience, but as volunteers. And they have, and they are. That is how these fine institutions will prosper and survive,” Iris says.


In addition to their commitment to the arts, the Strausses are also involved with their temple, Congregation Beth Israel, the United Jewish Federation of San Diego, and numerous other service and health organizations. Iris adds, “We are currently committed to a cause that is very special to us — the need for early detection of ovarian cancer, and we are working closely with the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California at San Diego on this important project in memory of our daughter, Stefanie Dawn Strauss.” She concludes, “What we do gives us great joy and satisfaction. The need to give back to our community is primary to us. We are very fortunate to live here in San Diego all these years.”



Jane & Tom Fetter

Tom Fetter has been a trustee of the San Diego Zoological Society since 1986, and served as president from 2001-2003. He and his wife, Jane, an avid volunteer, live in La Jolla. They traveled to the Galapagos Islands in 2008 and were inspired to help renovate the tortoise exhibit at the San Diego Zoo with a generous challenge gift of $500,000. But despite their jaw-dropping combined accomplishments and contributions, the Fetters are more than humble. “Let me first say that there are others in our community who are far more qualified to comment on these matters than we are,” says Tom. “The San Diego community, particularly its arts, culture, education, and health resources, have been generously supported by major donors whose names are prominently posted on buildings, institutes, endowments and printed in programs and local nonprofit annual reports.” Jane comments, “On a very modest scale, Tom and I have tried to benefit our community. First of all, I believe that the gift of time is perhaps the most precious gift of all as time is irreplaceable. Also, it is a gift that everyone can make.” To that end, Tom explains, “I would have to say that Jane is a career volunteer. It’s been her vocation back to her college days. After college she returned to San Diego and we promptly had three children. She was training in the Junior League where she became president at age 33. Las Patronas provided another involvement. Then she grew into chairing major events such as the San Diego Zoo’s RITZ, the Charity Ball, the Fleet Theater and Science Center’s 25th Anniversary Ball, Birch Aquarium’s Fish Ball, the San Diego Foundation’s 30th Anniversary Gala, and so on. Each of these took months of work, large committees, and lots of coordination. She has always had a cadre of very capable women in our community who have repeatedly helped on these events.”


When asked why they are so passionate about giving back to the community, the Fetters share the same answer. “San Diego is a wonderful community, and someone before us contributed to the institutions that we now enjoy. We benefit from their gifts and in turn have an obligation to leave something to the generations that follow us. Besides that, it is fun and the other people who are supporting our institutions on boards and committees are inspiring.” The Fetters’ advice, particularly to younger people, is, “Get involved with some cause or institution that you are interested in and give of your time and talents. As you accumulate treasure, give that too. It may sound biblical, but we find that the more we give, the more we have! Try it.”


The Kovtun Family — Lael & Jay, Annika & Gordon

When Jay and Lael Kovtun arrived in San Diego more than 50 years ago, Lael joined an auxiliary for the Children’s Home Society, which raised money to help so-called “difficult to adopt” children. She also participated in her sorority alumni association’s various fundraising projects, including luaus and fashion show luncheons in which their children even modeled (Gordon was then four years old). Lael points out, “It was a wonderful way to meet people, make friends, and become part of the San Diego community.” Over the years, Jay and Lael have served on several nonprofit boards, as have Gordon and his wife, Annika, who participate in various projects including those for Vista Hill, A New PATH, San Diego Symphony, and La Jolla Music Society. Lael reflects, “They have memories of wading through inches of mud to visit orphanages south of Tijuana and housing several stranded Norwegians who showed up at their home late one night needing a place to stay.”


The Kovtuns point out that for those on a limited budget, there is a real need for, even for a few hours a month, socializing cats or dogs to get them ready for adoption, or serving or delivering meals. “All of this can be very rewarding,” Lael says, adding that thinking about others can never start too soon. To that end, she points out, “This year, our grandchildren will be spending their own money to buy gifts for children in the Polinsky Children’s Center. The boys, eight and ten, are quite excited about that.”



Joan Waitt

“Community is the root of our social structure,” begins Joan Waitt, co-founder of the Waitt Family Foundation. “Having a relationship with one’s community adds an invaluable layer to education. It provides an opportunity for all to participate in many ways to help build their communities.” The roots of her compassion can be traced to her childhood. “My father was a single parent to five kids under the age of six after my mother passed away. We didn’t have much financially, but we had a great deal of love. Despite our circumstances, we were taught by my father that ‘someone always has less.’ It was an invaluable lesson.” When asked about a rewarding moment that stands out in her mind, she says, “[Through the] the Waitt Family Foundation, we established a scholarship program to help underprivileged children go to college. There was a candidate named Chris who was in the top ten of those we interviewed. He had a hard time making eye contact and didn’t say much. But he was ultimately selected, attended Iowa State’s engineering program, and graduated in the top one percent of his class. Providing the scholarship changed his life and the life of his family.” For Waitt, “the motivation for giving is not to get something out of it in return, but rather to inspire others as a way of fostering a spirit of hope.”


Waitt is also incredibly proud of her association with the National Family Justice Center Alliance. As it was first budding as the Family Justice Center in San Diego, she explains, “They called me, I agreed to lend my support, and now it has been replicated nationally and there are 47 locations across the U.S. helping women and children escape domestic violence.”


To our youth who want to get involved with causes they care about but might not have the financial means to do so, Waitt advises, “The first thing to understand is that the financial aspect is only a piece of the puzzle. Involvement requires personal commitment, integrity, and a desire to help others. One needs to find his/her forte and make that their contribution, whether it’s financial or some other form of giving.”



Karen & Stuart Tanz

Karen Tanz is vice president of the board of directors of Lux Art Institute, and she and her husband, Stuart, generously give to the museum to support its mission of fostering artists in the development of new projects through a residency program. Lux is also committed to educating and engaging the community to develop an appreciation of the living artist and creative process, exhibiting works from Lux residencies alongside the artist’s other pieces and those of others who have influenced them, and developing relationships with similar institutions to produce publications that interpret the work created in the residency program. “Stu and I have always felt very fortunate to be in a position to give back,” says Karen. “I think it is our duty to share the fruits. The community of Rancho Santa Fe taught us to give back — our friends and peers demonstrated that from the moment we moved here 22 years ago.”



Frances Hunter

Nonagenarian Frances Hunter believes in “a world of music for every child.” “I was a Depression child,” she points out, adding, “my family was more worried about  food on our table. Philanthropy and education were not in the vocabulary. The Depression and World War II were a struggle for most!” Though she didn’t grow up in a musical family, Hunter explains, “I was blessed in going to a high school in Seattle that proudly claimed a fine symphony orchestra. I can visualize today, 70 years later, Ernie Worth, pausing to explain in detail the movements of the symphony, identify principal instruments, and elaborate on the action expressed by the moods of each movement. Week after week I was exposed to this priceless opportunity. It was a non-credit music appreciation assembly, possibly unappreciated by many at the time, but I fell in love with the symphony and classical music. Classical music for me makes the whole world go away!” 


As the eldest of six children, Hunter had to work rather than attend college, but her passion and commitment to music continued to grow, so much so that since moving to Rancho Santa Fe 26 years ago, she has given $25,000 every year to support music education. Last year, together with Orchestra Nova, the Frances Hunter Music Memory Program served over 5,000 children in grades three to six, and generated 150 finalists from 18 area schools who competed for awards by identifying classical works after listening to the orchestra play just two or three measures from 16 pieces of music that each class had learned during the year. “I have never thought of giving as giving back.” Hunter notes. “Philanthropy is just my life. I would be so bored without the wonderful friends I now have because of philanthropy!”



Andrew Clark

Andrew Clark is member of the San Diego Symphony board of directors and founder of Bridgepoint Education, a higher education company that owns and operates two regionally accredited academic institutions. In June, Clark announced a $100,000 challenge grant to benefit the music education and outreach programs of the San Diego Symphony. For every dollar raised until December 31, Bridgepoint Education will match it dollar-for-dollar up to $100,000. “Fundamentally, I believe in the importance of making a positive impact in the community in which I live and work,” Clark states. “As a member of the San Diego community, I want to make a difference and share in that responsibility. In addition, my wife and I want to instill a personal commitment to community service in our three young daughters. We’re longtime San Diego residents, and proud to be part of the thriving, diverse culture of this city. My personal belief is that the reason San Diego is such an ideal place to live, work, and raise a family, is because it’s filled with people who give back and enrich their respective communities. I believe that San Diego will continue to thrive and prosper so long as we continue to instill the value of community service in the next generation.”


His roots in giving back started during childhood. “From very early on, my parents emphasized the idea of community service and volunteerism,” Clark notes. “We adopted a family in the Appalachian Mountains and provided funding to help them with very basic needs. It taught me at an early age the importance of helping others. Additionally, my mother was a public school teacher and I saw firsthand how just one person could make a difference in the lives of so many people, by simply being available to them.”


Clark continues on to explain his belief that “when you give back to the community, I think you gain a tremendous amount from the experience. The opportunity to help others provides you with perspective and a greater appreciation for life and the human condition. Plus, in addition to it being gratifying, community service is enjoyable. My wife and I love to volunteer at our daughters’ schools, and to help in fundraisers that benefit those schools and children. On a broader level, my company, Bridgepoint Education, has again recently donated scholarships to local county teachers who make a difference in the lives of their San Diego students every day. I’m very proud to be part of an organization that can effect positive change in the lives of our educators and our youth.”


Though Clark and Bridepoint Education support a wide range of organizations, Clark points out,  “Right now, I’m particularly focused on the Epilepsy Foundation of San Diego County. One in every 100 people has epilepsy. That’s more than 50,000 San Diegans and a total of five million Americans.  On top of that, a full one-third of the 200,000 new cases each year begin in childhood, and I’m not sure how many people are aware of that.” 


Clark concludes that it’s best to find a cause you are passionate about when looking for ways to give back. “I’d like to add that for anyone reading this article, there is a community cause that needs someone exactly like you! I think it’s so important for every individual to assess his or her passions and to find a cause or charity that matches it and then to become involved!”  



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