As a little girl, TSDF Board of Governors Member Gisele Bonitz, born in Panama and raised in Nicaragua, first learned the importance of giving back from her parents.

She recalls handing out flyers to inform residents that a doctor was going to be in town at one of the pharmacies her parents owned in a significantly under-resourced area. What stood out to Gisele most about this was the fact that her parents not only paid for the doctor but also ensured everyone in the long waiting line had access to medication.

No one was denied the prescriptions they needed that day, regardless of whether or not they had the money.

Gisele came to the U.S. as a teenager right after the Nicaraguan Civil War and received her commission as a Naval officer right after college, which carried her to many different places. No matter where she was stationed, she made an effort to engage in local community service efforts.

As she started her Naval career, large giving of her “treasures” was not always possible, but that never stopped Gisele from giving her time and talent.

Community as an Ecosystem

“If you’re going to be living in a community you should want to make sure the community is doing well, even if you’re only there temporarily,” she shared.

Participating in local efforts was also a way for Gisele to connect with people in the different places she was stationed and build a sense of community.

“Helping means whatever you can contribute at the time,” she said, stressing that everyone has different gifts to engage that can positively impact their community.

She continues to pass on this sentiment to her son, who has helped her package food at the San Diego Food Bank and volunteered frequently with Burrito Boyz, a local group that makes burritos every Sunday and delivers them to high-need areas around San Diego.

She reflected that it’s easy for parents to put their children into a cocoon, and “protect” them from what the rest of the world is going through. For Gisele it has always been important that her son learns more about his community and gives back.

Impact with a Focus

After joining The San Diego Foundation three years ago, Gisele shared that she is excited about The Foundation’s new Strategic Plan. Fostering equity of opportunity, one of the key pillars of the Plan, aims to enhance opportunities to obtain college degrees for underrepresented San Diegans – in alignment with her volunteerism as a mentor to students in underserved areas of San Diego, motivating them to stay focused on school, and helping them fill out college applications and pursue a path to higher education.

“I really believe education is that equalizer,” Gisele emphasized.

She added that the Strategic Plan gives The San Diego Foundation a focus: “…in order to move the needle. You can’t do everything.”

She named the COVID-19 Community Response Fund and Black Homebuyer Program as examples of how The San Diego Foundation’s ability to focus, provide needed resources, and engage local nonprofits that already do the work can help them make a collective impact.

“The Foundation has opened up a new world to me that I didn’t know existed and has showed me a more impactful way to help my community,” she said, citing that she did not grow up in a world where parents sat on Boards.

In addition to her own volunteering and giving, she shares her experience with her network, educating friends on donor-advised funds and other ways that they can maximize their giving by aligning with a community foundation.

Everyone Can Do a Little Bit

“My philosophy is everyone can do a little bit – a grain of salt becomes a big mountain if we all contribute,” Gisele reflected.

She believes we all need to remember that issues impacting our community are our problem.

“Look at the whole ecosystem,” she emphasized. “We all have to help each other; together we’re strong.” Gisele is doing her part through The San Diego Foundation and also by working closely with San Diego’s large veteran community, assisting both veterans and Gold Star children with transitioning to civilian life.