Through her leadership and philanthropic expertise Judy McDonald has made real educational change possible in San Diego. Her dedication to improve the lives of children has resulted in programs addressing issues ranging from school desegregation to after-school education. For more than 40 years McDonald has worked behind the scenes to confront civic inequities, raise community awareness, and secure adequate funding for a wide range of programs that have dramatically impacted the educational landscape. Her groundbreaking work in guiding organizations into collaborative partnerships has changed the philanthropic landscape.
As a member of the Citizen’s Board for Desegregating Schools in San Diego in the mid-1960s, McDonald worked closely with elected officials and San Diego civil rights leaders to desegregate San Diego County schools. She served as chair of the court-appointed Integration Task Force for San Diego City Schools, a community-wide planning and oversight council that implemented proactive programs such as magnet schools and diversity education.
Her interest in civic engagement led to service as a board member and President of LEAD San Diego, an organization dedicated to developing regional community leaders who understand and respond to the challenges facing the area. In 2002 she was awarded LEAD’s Morgan Award for lifelong leadership and volunteerism to the San Diego region.
McDonald’s leadership has been instrumental to the solid growth and effectiveness of the Parker Foundation, which has granted more than $34 million to charitable organizations since its establishment in 1971. She joined the Parker Foundation Board of Directors in 1983, serving until 2007, reviewing and evaluating grant requests from groups ranging from universities to arts education programs. She returned to the board in 2008 and has served as president since 2009.
McDonald’s interest in and support of the arts as a vital part of a dynamic community has made a tangible impact on arts education in the region. She was a leader in developing the San Diego Arts Education Partnership of the San Diego Unified School District and serves on the Commission for Arts and Culture. She served as president of the San Diego Performing Arts League, an umbrella service organization dedicated to promoting San Diego County performing arts.
As an advocate for children in the community, McDonald recognized the unmet needs of children who have become dependents of the San Diego County Court. In 1980, she was one of the founders of Voices for Children, a San Diego based nonprofit organization working with agencies, legal counsel and community resources to identify and protect the interests of these children. Voices for Children’s trained volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) work to ensure that each child in the system has a personal advocate. In 1981, McDonald was appointed treasurer of the National CASA Association.
In 1992, McDonald co-founded the Children’s Initiative, a uniquely effective collaboration of projects and programs supporting the health and well-being of children and youth in the fields of health, education, safety and economic security. She led efforts to secure a previously unprecedented grant of $5.6 million for after-school programs. The regional consortium coordinated by the Children’s Initiative provided free before and after-school programs for 25,000 elementary and middle-school children at 353 sites with this funding. Today the Children’s Initiative has become one of the most effective catalysts for change in San Diego County. Working with local officials, the Children’s Initiative advocates that the need for safe after-school programs is not just an education issue, it is also an issue of health and public safety. The organization oversees programming for more than 27 school districts in arts, science, health and student achievement through blended funding sources of more than $1 million. The Initiative has developed model projects focusing on improving the juvenile justice system and ensuring safer neighborhoods. By bringing together public, private and governmental agencies serving youth at all levels, the Initiative has influenced policy and legislative changes while providing positive proof that shared agendas serve the greater community.