Four decades of scholarships make a lasting impact

"Miss Santa Cruz" Comes Home

Photo: Camira Powell at her Columbia University graduation after earning an MBA at the Columbia Business School.

Camira Powell’s alter ego in high school was “Miss Santa Cruz,” the anonymous advice columnist for the lost and lovelorn. It was a fitting name for the Westside girl who grew up playing at the beach with her dad Richard, tromping around the UC Santa Cruz campus where her mom, Sis. Paula Powell worked, and participating in youth programs with the local NAACP chapter, and at her family’s church, Progressive Missionary Baptist Church.

When she graduated from Santa Cruz High School in 2009, Camira was awarded the R.H. Beel Memorial Scholarship from the Community Foundation. That award, alongside the generous academic scholarships and financial aid from Stanford University, meant that Camira was on her way to take on the world.

Over the next few years, Camira gained experience as a writer, communications specialist, and social impact and diversity strategist. Along the way, having opportunities to travel the globe from Paris to Cape Town, and more. However, the start of the pandemic brought Camira from New York back to Santa Cruz where she completed her MBA program at Columbia Business School. Now home, Camira found new ways to give back to the community that raised her.

Camira, her mother Sis. Paula Powell, and her sister Carmin on the beach in Santa Cruz.

Community is a Verb

Camira believes that the word “community” should really be considered as a verb, not a noun. For her, “Community is about showing up in ways that others can show up for you. Recognizing that someone somewhere is rooting for you, and passing that goodwill on to others. And most importantly, community is about saying, ‘thank you.’”

Together with her sister Carmin Powell, MD, the family started Mahala House in 2020 to provide much-needed resources and support to unpaid single caregivers. Named after their ancestor, Mahala Wiggington, who was a single mother and caregiver for her own family. Mahala House is running its first pilot program for single mothers in Santa Cruz County, particularly those that identify as Black and/or Indigenous, by providing micro-grants to help with unavoidable, yet unexpected expenses that can cause immense financial stress. Initial funding for the micro-grants came from Rise Together, a multicultural coalition working towards racial equity in Santa Cruz County, of which her sister, Carmin, was a founding member.

Boots (in the cockpit) seemed to have embodied the spirit of Santa Cruz that Camira holds dear. He’d been a fan of airplanes ever since he was a child. After achieving success in his career, Ralph took up flying. He purchased the requisite flier’s outfit—boots, leather cap, goggles, and a white silk scarf. The first week he had them, his expensive boots were stolen and from then on, his friends called him Boots.

Helping Dreams Take Flight

The scholarship Camira received was founded in 1985 in memory of Ralph H. “Boots” Beel (1906 - 1984) by his daughters Sally Brownsberger, Jane Carr, and Nancy Proctor, and his widow, Marylyn Beel. It’s been awarded every year since to a graduating senior of Santa Cruz High School. (This year’s awardee is Yazmin Diaz.) The Beel Scholarship is one of 35 that the Community Foundation offers every year and over the course of our four decades, the Foundation has awarded $1.7 million in scholarships to over 400 students.

Boots moved to Santa Cruz with his family when he was a teenager and went to Santa Cruz High. Family circumstances took an unexpected turn for the worse and before graduation, Boots had to drop out of school to work full time and help supplement family income. Boots eventually settled in southern California with his wife, where they raised their three daughters and he went on to have a successful career as a pharmacist, in real estate, and in the cut flower business. Although he only lived in Santa Cruz again briefly, his heart always remained here and he intended to start a scholarship fund to help students at his old high school. Boots’ family was able to work with the Community Foundation to make his charitable dream a reality, even after he was gone.

Thanks to careful stewardship of the family’s gift to establish the fund, the balance has grown by 70%, even after generating $91,000 in scholarship awards. The Beel Scholarship Fund will continue to grow in perpetuity, supporting Santa Cruz High graduates with dreams of college long into the future

Camira Powell at Global Fund For Women where she worked as a public relations and social media specialist.

Sparking Change

These days, Camira works for the global public relations firm Edelman helping businesses do good through social programs. Whether it’s working with global brands or supporting individual caregivers through Mahala House, Camira sees it all as a way to make a positive difference in the world. “What we are doing can create a spark and that spark can create real change.”

Growing up in Santa Cruz. Camira Powell is center, holding the balloon.

Santa Cruz is in the Heart

Like Boots, wherever Camira goes, Santa Cruz remains no matter what part of the world she’s in. “Santa Cruz at its best is a warm and welcoming place where you can be whoever you are,” she says. “There is openness, acceptance, curiosity, and warmth. This is what I take with me wherever I go. “

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