Christy Wilson has earned the 2021 Suzanne Pohlman award
(Aprill Manriquez/ Love Captured Photography)
RANCHO SANTA FE — The Suzanne Pohlman award was created to honor and recognize the work and legacy of its namesake for the selfless contributions she made in the delivery and development of innovative collaborative programs that served the underserved and low-income population of the North San Diego Region.
This year’s recipient was Christy Wilson, the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation’s CEO for more than 24 years, retiring in October. Wilson has left a legacy through her hard work and dedication to North County. She was also a member of the Alliance Steering Committee for the last five years and her contributions to our collaboration were invaluable. When Wilson became executive director of the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation in 1997, she was the first and only paid employee and the organization’s mission was narrow – to enhance the quality of life in Rancho Santa Fe.
Today, as Wilson prepares to retire and step away from her role as CEO and president of the foundation, she leaves a nonprofit that has undergone profound change. The foundation’s assets have grown from $1 million to $155 million and, over the past 20 years, the foundation has given out more than $110 million in grants.
“That’s the thing I’m most proud of, the dollars we’ve deployed over a relatively short time,” she said.
The foundation was established in 1981, and in its early years, its focus was close to home. By the time Wilson came on board, there was a growing realization that the foundation’s biggest impact would be outside the borders of Rancho Santa Fe, since the need for assistance within the community was limited.
“People (in Rancho Santa Fe) have their needs taken care of amply,” she said.
The foundation began to broaden its horizons, first looking to help in North County and throughout San Diego County, and eventually expanding its giving to worthy causes in the U.S. and even internationally, Wilson said.
“We’re helping nonprofits that serve under-served communities outside of Rancho Santa Fe,” she said.
Among the first beneficiaries of the foundation’s philanthropy was the Boys & Girls Club of San Dieguito, as well as Boy and Girl Scout groups. Later, the foundation established funds to assist other groups such as veterans and women.
Wilson credits an array of supporters for the foundation’s success, from board members to donors to community members and foundation staff, which now stands at eight full-time employees. But Wilson herself had a lot to do with the foundation’s steady rise, said those who have worked with her.
“During her tenure, the RSF Foundation has transformed from a small foundation established to serve Rancho Santa Fe into one of San Diego’s largest community foundations, with over $105 million in grantmaking since 2001. Christy led the Foundation for 24 years and we wouldn’t be where we are today without her leadership,” said Kevin Crawford, chairman of the foundation’s board of directors.
Along with ongoing efforts to support underserved communities, the foundation has also mobilized its resources to help in crisis situations, whether it was aiding survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans or helping victims of the 2007 Witch Creek fire in San Diego County.
The coronavirus pandemic offered another opportunity for the foundation to swing into action. “Suddenly the world changed in almost a heartbeat,” Wilson said.
Working with two other nonprofits, the Coastal Community Foundation and the Leichtag Foundation, an initiative was launched to help those who were financially impacted by the pandemic.
“We knew we could do a lot if we did it together,” Wilson said. Over about a year, the foundation granted more than $1 million to nonprofits assisting those devasted by COVID, and those efforts are ongoing.
As she transitions to the next phase of her life, Wilson plans to step back from the foundation she helped build, so that her successor, Chris Sichel, can establish himself in the organization’s top job. Her last day at the foundation will be Oct. 29.
“Now it’s time for Chris to be the leader who comes in and takes the foundation to the next level, and he is absolutely the right person to do that,” she said.
Among the things she’s looking forward to in retirement, Wilson said, is having the time to volunteer for worthy causes in and around Rancho Santa Fe.
“The opportunity to volunteer my time is something I’m really looking forward to doing,” she said.
Wilson’s ties to Rancho Santa Fe run deep. She has lived in the community her whole life, and before joining the foundation, she owned and operated a clothing boutique in town.
Along with volunteering, she’s looking forward to spending more time with her children and their families, including her granddaughter. She also wants to travel, read for pleasure and cultivate her garden.
Retirement will also offer the chance to discover new interests, she said. “I want to see what’s out there and find it.”
For more on the RSF Foundation, visit rsffoundation.org.