Hillcrest resident Lori Walton honored as distinguished volunteer
For Lori M. Walton, the desire to give was instilled in her when she was a child living on a farm in Northern California, where her father grew tomatoes, asparagus, cauliflower, green beans and corn. Almonds, too.
“My parents were never part of an organized nonprofit, yet they lived their life in a true, philanthropic way,” Walton recalled. “My mom would take my brother, sister and me out with her into the fields to pick vegetables and we’d divide everything into bags and distribute them to our neighbors who didn’t have a lot of money. She had a way of giving that made us feel good about it. We were sharing the fruits of our labor.”
These early acts of kindness had a profound impact on Walton’s life and helped shape who she is today. Next month, Walton will be honored as Outstanding Fundraising Volunteer at San Diego’s 42nd annual National Philanthropy Day celebration. Living a philanthropic life has come naturally for the petite, energetic woman whose commitments appear daunting. To wit, Walton currently serves on nine boards and six committees, and has chaired 17 fundraising events and counting.
“I feel really blessed that I’m in a position that I can give back,” she said with utmost candor. “Philanthropy keeps me from being too materialistic. When you see how much your money can help people and how it can impact lives in a positive way, then I just think it seems silly and selfish to spend tons of money on things you don’t really need. Don’t get me wrong: I still like to shop and do my best to help our economy, but giving is a way to spend my money in a positive direction.”
Walton gives by following her heart, in areas that matter to her — education and animals — but she’s no fool. Married to basketball legend Bill Walton — a well-known philanthropist in his own right — she chooses which organizations she’ll support in a thoughtful, discerning way. Indeed, the former UCLA Bruin Belle has helped raise funds for her alma mater, and doesn’t commit to anything without first doing her research.
“I really look for efficiency in the nonprofit,” Walton explained. “I want to know they’re maximizing donor money to the best of their ability, and I am pretty forthright about that. Sometimes you can’t find things out until you join the board and get more involved, because it’s really hard to tell what a nonprofit is doing — and not doing — just based on their 990s.”
Her due diligence has paid off. She said she’s thrilled to be working on behalf of organizations such as, Girl Scouts San Diego, the Timken Museum of Art, Freedom Dogs and Spay Neuter Action Project (SNAP). And these organizations couldn’t have a better goodwill ambassador than Walton, for her extensive knowledge and genuine exuberance is ever present. Ask her about these organizations, and her eyes widen and even seem to sparkle as she gushes about them.
“If you haven’t been [to the Timken Museum], you have to go,” she noted. “It’s free to the public and they have a world-class art collection that is just out of this world! Especially in the summer, if you don’t have air conditioning, you need to visit it. It has such a family feel to it!”
Walton, who plans to dress as the Queen of Hearts at this year’s Alice in Wonderland-themed Girl Scouts Urban Campout, has served on its board for three years. She is also the chair of its community relations and development committee.
“Our committee doesn’t ask for money,” she explained. “We really are a think-tank and we try to come up with creative ways to make our donors feel appreciated and special. We also help support the different events, such as the upcoming Campout. It’s really fun!”
One of her biggest passions is animals. Walton and her husband have trained many a service dog for the disabled. They also have pets of their own. Last year, the couple rescued Cortez, a Bull Mastiff and their cat, Charcoal, is named after another cat Walton once had as a child.
These days, Walton is on a mission to spay and neuter as many cats and dogs as possible, which is why she avidly supports SNAP.
“In six years, a female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 kittens,” Walton pointed out. “We have a huge feral cat population in San Diego, and you can’t adopt your way out of animal overpopulation. The only way we can make a dent in euthanasia numbers is through spay and neutering. Director Dorell Sackett and her staff at SNAP have had great impact on over-population, with their state-of-the-art mobile veterinary clinic. Fees are on a sliding scale, and people are so grateful to have this resource.”
Walton supports Freedom Dogs, an organization that matches up dogs with Marines who have been wounded by the emotional or physical injuries of war.
“[Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] is as serious an illness as being a quadriplegic,” she said. “Founder and director, Beth Russell, keeps young men and women from going off the deep end. The soldiers come back and tend to isolate themselves and won’t go to their medical appointments or do any of the post-rehabilitation that they’re supposed to do. The specialty-trained dogs provide the support they need to resume going to their appointments and recover.”
The depths of Walton’s generosity seem limitless. Take her kitchen: Walton was saving up to remodel the kitchen of her 1920s Hillcrest home and had finally reached her goal when she learned that a disabled friend needed to relocate but was having trouble finding a wheelchair-accessible home. Without hesitation, Walton gave up her dream kitchen and applied the money toward her friend’s new home.
“There were many people who stepped up to the plate to help,” she was quick to point out. “We installed a ramp and made the doorway wide enough so that his wheelchair and service dog could fit through. Just seeing how much good that money could do for him, gave me more joy than if I’d redone my own kitchen.”
“A wide range of nonprofits have benefitted from Lori’s long-standing commitment to bettering our community,” said Linda Katz, honorary chair of 2014 National Philanthropy Day “Lori is an exemplary leader, sharing generously of her time, talent and treasure. She has had a significant positive impact on the organizations she serves. We’re thrilled to be honoring her as 2014 Outstanding Fundraising Volunteer; shining a light on Lori’s generous spirit and dedication will serve as an inspiration to many.”
Walton, who values the honor and calls it “humbling,” turns to the lyrics of a song by her favorite band, the Grateful Dead, when reflecting on what’s important to her.
“You get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right,” she said, quoting the song, “Scarlet Begonia.”
Spoken like a true Deadhead philanthropist.