Community Foundation Announces Retirement of Program Director Christina Cuevas

After 20 years at the Community Foundation, Christina Cuevas will be retiring from her role as Program Director at the end of January.

The Community Foundation will celebrate our wonderful colleague and accomplished leader who dedicated herself to our philanthropic work in Santa Cruz County. We will miss her dedication, her integrity, and her deep knowledge of our community and its needs.

Since she brought her talents to our team from Latino U.S.A in 1998, Christina has provided leadership and management for the Foundation’s grantmaking activities. Among her many contributions, she has developed and nurtured countless relationships with local nonprofit leaders and their organizations. She worked to inspire new philanthropic investment into our communities, from local donors to national funders, and she’s always carried with her a special focus on protecting and supporting the most vulnerable among us. 

Her ethic around social equity was evident in her work supporting the LGBT community through our Diversity Partnership Fund, expanding health insurance through the Healthy Kids program, and fair funding for marginalized communities through accurate census counts. She has been a champion for thinking long-term, finding county-wide solutions, and building coalitions to leverage power in our small but mighty county. 

Christina shared, “I have loved working at the Community Foundation. My work over the past two decades has been extremely satisfying and productive. I am grateful for and have high regard for my colleagues, the Board, and the community members who have been an integral part of this journey.” 

We’re grateful to have time for a thoughtful transition and will keep you posted about changes for 2019.  We thank Christina for her continuing service to advance the Foundation’s mission to improve to make Santa Cruz County a better place, now and in the future. We wish her the very best in retirement. 

Christina shared some of her memories and lessons learned over her 20 years with the Community Foundation.

What are you most looking forward to in retirement?

More time with my husband and family and especially catching up on quality time with my sister and reconnecting with friends. I’ll be the incoming chair on the Cabrillo College Board of Trustees and look forward to getting more involved in the work of the College and other nonprofits close to my heart.  

What is the most memorable project you worked on?

I value the deep connections that were built through working on issues of access to health care including the Healthy Kids program and Health Improvement Partnership. The relationship building has been the most memorable and satisfying part of my work. I’ve learned from and built upon these relationships to support other programs such as the Live Oak Cradle to Career Initiative, a great example of how many cross-sector partners are working with parents to build a better future for children and families in the area. 

You’ve lived in San Francisco, New York, and Austin, what strikes you about our county’s approach to meeting social needs? 

A: More than anything, it’s the commitment to working together to improve services that put the people at the center. Our leaders here believe the community knows what it needs and listen to what they have to say. They engage with those affected and craft solutions that directly address their needs. I’m reminded of Planned Parenthood Westside clinic’s innovative program to provide transgender hormone therapy, El Pajaro CDC’s asset building work, Salud Para La Gente and Watsonville Law Center’s partnership to provide one-stop services to clinic patients who have multiple issues affecting their well-being, Tandy Beal’s ArtSmart program in PVUSD,  the Coastal Watershed Council’s work to create the River Alliance…the list goes on. It’s a bottoms up approach that honors community members as experts and change agents in social impact work. Not every place cherishes that like we do here.    

When you think back on the Santa Cruz County of 1998, where have you noticed progress socially, environmentally, or in other ways? 

Our county’s demographics are changing. Now there’s more attention on providing equitable services to all our county’s residents. Nonprofits are serving more segments of our community that may have been previously overlooked. While progress is being made, it’s been slowed by the lack of accurate information about the needs of all segments of the community. That’s why I am excited about DataShare Santa Cruz County, a multi-agency effort working to improve understanding of key indicators of disparity in all regions of the county. Their results are likely to improve program planning and greater equity of resource allocation to the populations and areas of greatest need going forward.

You’ve guided over 1,000 grants into this community. Are there ones that stand out from others for the type of impact they made?

I think about grants that focused on creating access to new opportunities that help people thrive. We started funding Food What?! in 2007 when it piloted a program to serve youth who were experiencing academic and socio-economic challenges. They offer a supportive and safe space for kids to learn new skills and grow into their power and confidence. They continuously reflect on what youth need and use what they learn to create an effective and nurturing program. Now, each year more than 70 teens across the county come to FoodWhat?! and transform into resilient, healthy teens.  

El Sistema is another group changing lives through access to new opportunities. In 2012 they started their after-school music education program at Gault Elementary as a pilot. El Sistema now serves K-5 graders at multiple schools and is piloting a K-12 program with the PVUSD! Giving children who don’t have access to instruments or music lessons the chance to experience music education is not only fun, it has educational benefits as well. Seeing those kids play with confidence and outperform in the classroom has been a real pleasure. It’s been a motivator throughout my career to see the transformation that can result from creating access and enabling personal growth.  

As you step away from a career in philanthropy, what advice do you have for the next generation of philanthropy professionals?

  • Have conviction about why philanthropy is a meaningful place for you to work. It is a privilege to support nonprofit leaders working to create a more equitable and responsive community for all. It comes with difficult choices and great responsibility. 
  • Approach your work with humility, curiosity and patience. 
  • Take the time to listen to community members who know what they need and what works best for them. Learn from and act on what you hear.
  • Use your vantage point to connect people who share similar goals with each other. Simple introductions can spur fruitful new relationships.

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