If you’ve ever explored the far reaches of San Diego County, chances are you’ve spent time in Borrego Springs. This desert town located in the middle of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is a popular stop on any trip to see the annual wildflower blooms or hike the largest state park in California.
But it’s not only the geography that makes this town unique.
With only a few thousand residents, Borrego Springs has a historic, preserved-feel that makes it unlike anywhere else in San Diego County. Yet that charm is both its beauty and its challenge. As an unincorporated community, Borrego Springs doesn’t always have the same resources that are available to its metropolitan neighbors.
Fortunately, over the past few years, that is changing.
Jim Wermers, a donor with The San Diego Foundation, along with his fellow Borrego Springs residents, is leading the charge as part of a community-driven, philanthropic movement to revitalize the town.
Jim’s first connection with Borrego Springs came at a young age.
“I still remember the time my Dad took us to drive along the Montezuma Grade in Borrego Springs when it first opened,” shared Jim. “We were so excited to go explore this remote desert location and couldn’t believe it was just a quick drive from the coast.”
Little did the young Jim know, he would return to that same part of San Diego County many years later and establish roots that would last a lifetime.
It all began in earnest in the early 1990s when Jim took on a development project in Borrego Springs. By that time, Jim was a seasoned building contractor with projects throughout San Diego when his contacts asked him to partner on a set of houses in Borrego Springs.
Unfortunately, no one could have expected what happened in the years that followed.
After the Borrego Springs project, the recession hit the entire country hard and the homes that were set to be sold stood vacant, with Jim left to foot the sizable financial bill.
That’s when Jim had an idea. During his time working in Borrego Springs, Jim was always drawn to the people in the community.
“Everywhere you went, the residents were always smiling and chatting with one another as if everyone was family,” explained Jim. “It was unlike anything I had experienced at the time. Everyone in Borrego Springs was so happy and healthy.”
That’s why, amid all the uncertainty of the recession, Jim and his wife Anne decided to take a chance and move into one of those vacant homes in Borrego Springs.
At first, it was a second home and an investment in the future. Over time, it became much more. Since then, Jim and Anne have established deep roots in the community along with numerous other family members.
Today, Jim is working with a collection of engaged community members who are building a future for Borrego Springs that preserves the history and charm that its residents hold dear.
“Originally, we created what we called the ‘Think Tank’,” recalled Jim. “This was a group of residents representing the local parks, schools, businesses and other areas, all with a vision for what the future of Borrego Springs would look like.”
After developing a rough plan for which projects they could tackle first, the group recognized it would need help because Borrego Springs didn’t have a formal city budget to draw from. That’s when Jim and the group went to their fellow neighbors. They mailed out letters requesting financial support to help improve parks, plant trees and install benches, among other things.
Of the approximately 200 letters that were sent, 100 came back with checks.
That’s when they knew they were onto something. While small in number, Borrego Springs was a town of generous, engaged community members who all wanted to see the region prosper.
Since then, the residents of Borrego Springs have continued to give their time, talent, treasure and testimony to support a variety of initiatives throughout the town, with Jim as one of the driving forces behind this philanthropic movement.
Jim’s charitable fund at The San Diego Foundation has helped expand the Borrego Art Institute into a landmark destination and sparked the creation of a community garden and educational farm where local students can learn how to grow produce.
“It all started with a small kernel of an idea that was born out of a collective community spirit,” shared Jim. “It’s inspiring to see how much we’ve accomplished together in Borrego Springs.”
Learn how you make a difference in the community by opening a donor-advised fund at The San Diego Foundation.