By Ben Romo
Ben Romo: Welcome to Diane Adam, fourth-generation Central Coast resident, community leader and — as I’m sure she lists first on her résumé — a former classmate of mine.
Diane is what I call a “network weaver,” someone who uses her skills and connections to help strengthen our system of education and family support.
Let’s start at the very beginning. This is the most awesome kindergarten outfit I have ever seen!
Diane Adam: Thanks! I attended Nipomo Elementary School and my favorite and also scariest part of kindergarten was Day 1. On one hand. I was with my best friend and we had matching nap rugs and, on the other, we peered into the window of the classroom wondering what the teacher had in store for us. I remember very clearly all of my new classmates. realizing that our names were on top of the desks — what was going to happen here?
I continued on through local schools and to Colorado State University. I have a degree in Microbiology/Medical Technology and spent my career in the laboratory at French Hospital (in San Luis Obispo) and Marian Regional Medical Center (Santa Maria).
I am married to Kerry Adam and have two daughters (Mattie, 22, and Meryl, 20). Since my girls came along, I have been retired from laboratory work, but I have always loved all of my subsequent “jobs” — whether at a school or in the community. I have found that I am more of a people person and less of a microscope person.
BR: I first got to know you when we were in the same Katherine Harvey Fellows class. I feel like that program really developed my understanding of nonprofit work, philanthropy and investing in our community in strategic ways. How did participating in the Katherine Harvey Fellows Program affect you?
DA: Being a Fellow showed me the value of a community foundation like the Santa Barbara Foundation. I learned about presence and etiquette, and I learned the necessity of gathering a great team.
I was always in awe of the people we got to interact with and the professional way they all treated us. Probably the most important part of that experience was the connections … like this one that I have with you, Ben.
BR: My heart has grown three sizes today. You’re a part of so many teams. What factors go into your decision to give your time or financial support?
DA: Mostly it is the people, but also it has to feel right. I always want to be an asset rather than detract from a mission. If an organization speaks to me in a personal way, I am all in … if I cannot provide resources myself I generally play the role of advocate.
I am always connecting people with places, and I see that as a valuable contribution in its own way. As an example, I have connected many people to the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara to interview high school seniors and CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) to provide crucial advocacy services.
I always ask people where their passions are and what kind of organization they see themselves fitting into, and then use my knowledge of the community to make the connection and introduction.
BR: People have to find passion and connection to have the energy to invest in an organization or a cause for the long term — which is what nonprofits need so they can focus on their mission. That’s one reason I admire your work with the Women’s Fund of Northern Santa Barbara County; people in committees research and invest on a larger scale than any one individual has the capacity to do.
DA: The Women’s Fund of NSBC is a great place for people to start their personal philanthropy because it offers an entry-level view of organizations in the community that work on issues for women and children. For a very small investment, anyone can participate.
The beauty of any giving circle is the increased capacity a small donation can have by mixing and adding with others. Of course, there are lots of leadership opportunities for folks who are looking for a little extra, too.
BR: Speaking of kids, I know that you’ve been engaged in supporting many schools throughout the Central Coast, including St. Patrick Catholic School, St. Joseph High School, Santa Maria-Bonita and Orcutt Union school districts, and Allan Hancock College. Why do you invest so much of your time and money into the education system?
DA: Without strong families and educated children we would be rolling backward instead of striving for a more integrated population. In my view, our community’s biggest challenges are understanding and sharing. We need to understand the similarities and challenges we all face no matter the size, shape, color or economic status we have.
Sharing stories can illustrate these similarities and make us stronger as a community. We never know who has just the right resource to get the job done.
BR: What do you see as the Santa Maria Valley’s strengths?
DA: The people are its strength with their heart and work ethic that comes naturally. Whether coming together in time of need for an individual or gathering folks to create a community asset, the giving nature of our people is a beautiful thing to behold. We have magic!
A friend made a statement to me recently, ”I think that per capita we have more giving up here,” meaning that everyone gives. Whether it’s buying a ticket to a fundraiser or leading a nonprofit or purchasing dinner at a barbecue trailer on Broadway any given weekend — it is all philanthropy.
BR: As board president of the Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum, I’m sure you get plenty of chances to fundraise! We were so pleased to be a co-sponsor of your recent Family Kite Festival; it’s always a huge hit with First 5 families.
DA: As you know, nonprofit organizations cannot keep their doors open without fundraising and contributions from many sources. We were very thankful for the partnership this year!
The museum is a great treasure. When working on the capital campaign a number of years ago, we were billed it as “a jewel in the crown of Santa Maria.” For families, it is a safe place to play and learn together. For school teachers, it is an extension of the classroom. For the community at large, it is a wonderful place to host an event or gathering of any kind, and for agencies, it is a safe place to work with children and families.
We’re glad we can be a gathering and learning place for our community. We even take our resources on the road to places like the THRIVE Pantry and the Santa Maria Valley YMCA Family Day in the Park and the Elks Rodeo After-Parade Carnival.
BR: At First 5, we get lots of questions about child development and what to do to help kids learn and grow. Where did you find answers and help as you raised your two daughters?
DA: We drew on all our resources — family, friends, books and educational facilities such as the Discovery Museum and other institutions up and down the coast.
A book my husband and I both use to this day as reference for communicating with people of all ages is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen& Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. This was a book assigned to us when we were in the Parent Child Participation program (aka “The Apple School”) at Allan Hancock College.
I have over the years thought to myself in situations with my children and other young people, “What would Kathy Silva do?” Kathy was a preschool teacher and a mentor to us.
BR: Parent participation and education programs — through the Early Care and Education (ECE) professionals who lead them — provide critical support and confidence building to new parents that last a lifetime.
What a legacy for Kathy, knowing that her guidance lives on in all the service you provide in our community. Thank you!
— Ben Romo is executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.