Deacon Al Graff has never been one to stop moving.
At 100 years old, he is still deeply involved in the community and when we recently sat down with Al, a longtime donor at The San Diego Foundation, he had just returned from one of his many daily walks around the neighborhood.
In fact, rest is simply not a word in Al’s vocabulary.
Over the past four decades, Al has been an active leader, board member and founder of numerous organizations in the region, including San Diego County’s Community Housing Works, St. James and St. Leo Medical Program in Solana Beach, the Mexican American Educational Guidance Association (MAEGA), Esperanza International in Tijuana, and the Community Resource Center in Encinitas.
In each of these roles, his unique ability to connect with people has led to numerous projects that continue to make a difference in the community today.
At Esperanza International, Al spearheaded a project to build houses for homeless people in Tijuana using easy-to-assemble, interlocking concrete blocks. What started as just a few houses each year has now grown to over 1,000 homes built for people in need.
At St. James and St. Leo, he had the idea to turn unused buildings on site into medical and dental facilities for the uninsured working poor twice per week. Now over 25 years running, the program serves more than 1,500 people annually.
The list goes on and on.
And what’s most surprising is that much of Al’s community impact occurred during the later years of his life.
After a successful career as a mechanical engineer working at the cutting edge of jet engine technology, Al could have rested on his laurels and taken time for himself in retirement. He certainly deserved it after his many years of hard work. After college, Al started working on technology for planes during the war, then went on to co-found his own company, which he later sold and before leading innovative projects at General Atomics.
But traditional retirement was never an option for Al.
Once Al concluded his first career, his second one began as a deacon and community leader at St. James and St. Leo Catholic Community in Solana Beach.
When asked why, Al explained that he decided to become a deacon because he was most interested in the church’s tenet of social justice. Given his upbringing, Al has always been focused on helping the people who needed it most.
“I grew up poor and saw firsthand how much need existed around the world,” shared Al. “Later on, once I achieved some success in my career, I understood the responsibility I had to give back to others who were in similar situations, just like my family was earlier in life.”
As a philanthropist, fundraiser and active community member, Al has certainly accomplished that goal.
With his never-ending energy and selfless commitment to the poor, Al has made a difference in the region that will live on for hundreds of years into the future.