The Sweetwater Foundation hired Martha Juarez to be the organization’s first executive director as it transitions from an entirely volunteer-board to having a paid employee lead the strategic and daily operations of the organization.
Juarez, 39, last week left the affordable housing nonprofit Community HousingWorks, to work full-time for the Sweetwater Foundation starting March 1.
The Sweetwater Foundation was formed in 2006 during the economic downturn to provide financial contributions and resources that benefit students at Sweetwater Union High School in National City.
Juarez, a Sweetwater High School alumna from the class of 1995, said the foundation’s main objective continues to be giving graduating Sweetwater students scholarships as they enter a four-year university.
In her new role she plans to expand programs that benefit current Sweetwater students as well.
Juarez estimates that nearly 70 scholarships worth about $500,000 were awarded by the foundation since 2006.
An example of the foundation’s generosity ocurred when a few years ago the school brought back AP biology courses to its curriculum. With limited resources the school could not afford lab equipment for the biology courses, so the Sweetwater Foundation stepped in and filled that need.
For the last 10 years, Juarez served the foundation as a founding board member and last year was the board president.
Juarez said her new job requires her to establish and execute a strategic plan, run the scholarship program and raise money.
She said Sweetwater Foundation board member Kile Morgan Jr. made a seven-figure donation to pay the executive director’s salary.
Juarez, who is the foundation’s sole employee, would not disclose her salary.
Through February the Sweetwater Foundation had been a volunteer-run organization. But there were problems with being a volunteer-based organization because people became busy with their day jobs and home life, she said.
She said as executive director she would be dedicated 100 percent of the time to the foundation.
Juarez, who has not yet been provided a working budget by the seven-member board, said one of her goals is to find other funding sources.
“I’d love to get to a point where we can access other private funding, corporate donations, corporate foundation funding, philanthropic, get on the radar for corporations that have philanthropic arms and ultimately write grants for private corporations and foundations,” she said.
Juarez said she wasn’t an original applicant. She said the foundation received a handful of applications. But after an extensive search, the foundation didn’t find a candidate they were ready to move forward with.
After reopening the application process, she said several members of the board suggested she should apply because she possessed the vision and qualities the board wanted in a candidate, someone with strong community ties, business acumen and a background in education.
Juarez believes she is the right person for the job.
“There’s nothing I have more passion for than this community, these students and the mission of this organization,” she said. “And I do represent everything that we support.”
Juarez said the foundation is aimed at making a difference in the lives of Sweetwater students.
“This foundation is a promise to the students of Sweetwater High School and the students of National City that we believe in them,” she said.