Christina Cuevas, Community Foundation Santa Cruz County Program Director
“I’m still learning,” Christina Cuevas says when asked about her development as a philanthropist. Rather than seeming overly modest or self-deprecating, Cuevas is simply acknowledging an important motivation in her becoming a philanthropic giver.
A former Program Officer at the Ford Foundation and Executive Director of Latino USA, Cuevas now serves as Program Director at the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.
The learning process to which she alluded began long before she became a philanthropist. She began by working for a start-up in San Francisco that had a small contract to establish (Instituto Familiar de la Raza) the county’s first out-patient mental health center to provide bilingual, bicultural services to Latinos in the city. The director of the organization knew that this large undertaking would not be accomplished with county funds alone, so she tasked Cuevas with fundraising.
Cuevas, feeling passionate about the project, immediately applied for a fellowship in philanthropy to learn how the sector operated, and through this application process was recommended for a job at the San Francisco Foundation.
The experience of applying for the fellowship was “important for me to get involved with those people who saw the world the same way I did, [so we] could share experiences,” she recalled.
That unexpected assignment from the director of the new center turned out to be the beginning of a meaningful and dedicated career in philanthropy. But it is her mother who gets the credit for her dedication to giving back to her community.
“I had a single, working mom,” she said. “I don’t know how she did it, but she was able to devote a lot of time during her working years to be involved in different kinds of organizations. Once she stopped working. she was really active in fundraising and hosting events to raise money and collect goods for needy people in the community.”
Cuevas wants to inspire others to give in their own communities.
“Demonstrate by example, by volunteering,” she said in response to a question. “I see that as a philanthropic service, giving time, giving money… inviting other people to join you in contributing to organizations that you care about.”
For Cuevas, taking her time, and learning about philanthropy has been equally as important as working in it.
“I really value the experiences I had along the way,” she said, “to help me understand what was going on in the world, in the trenches, before I got to the other side of the table.”
“I feel very privileged to be working in this field,” she added.