Gina Dalma views her life's work as being a bridge to help people see both the suffering that many less privileged individuals are experiencing in our community, as well as the gifts that they have to offer.
That mission has pushed her to advocate for change on a wide variety of issues, including expanding housing opportunities and working toward equal access to education regardless of background. Dalma is the executive vice president of community action, policy and strategy at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
"We just need to open our eyes to the pain that most of our community members are living under," Dalma said in an interview with this news organization. "I think it's our obligation really, and my faith actually pushes me to always be thinking of how we can play a role in healing the world."
For her decades of work, Dalma is receiving this year's Athena Leadership Award, which is to be presented by the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce at a ceremony next month.
Palo Alto's Athena Awards are part of an international program that recognizes the achievement of professional women. The Athena Awards Program has given more than 7,000 awards since its founding in Michigan in 1982.
"It celebrates individuals who strive toward the highest level of accomplishment: women who excel in their chosen field but who also open paths so that others may follow," according to the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce website.
Dalma's advocacy has included pushing for solutions to the region's housing shortage, including as vice chair of [email protected]'s board of directors, and advocating for changes to the education system aimed at ensuring kids get the equitable opportunities to succeed.
"I care very deeply about these issues because they are key determinants in terms of how healthy our communities are," Dalma said, adding that systemic injustices like a history of redlining in housing continue to affect our area.
She played a major role in the passage of the California Mathematics Placement Act of 2015, which required school districts to assign students to math classes based on objective criteria. The bill, which was sponsored by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, sought to address the pattern of students of color being placed in lower math classes, regardless of their grades and test scores.
At the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Dalma said she also has focused grant making on investing in leaders and organizations that are doing work on the ground, like neighborhood groups and tenant associations, rather than limiting its attention to big nonprofit organizations. These smaller groups are essential for creating the accountability that ensures policy changes are implemented effectively on the local level, Dalma said.
Former Palo Alto Mayor Judy Kleinberg, last year's Athena Award recipient, was among those who nominated Dalma, writing in a letter that she would be an outstanding and inspirational recipient of the award.
"Gina is best described as a 'spark plug' and has always been inspiring to and supportive of other women in the community, especially in the Latina community," Kleinberg wrote.
Born and raised in Mexico, Dalma moved to the United States as an adult. Dalma said in an interview that she has had access to incredible opportunities throughout her life and that she has been inspired by the courage immigrants show when they move to this country and work to provide for their families.
When her son was at Palo Alto High School, Dalma started a group for Spanish-speaking parents at the school. She also served on the school district's Minority Achievement and Talent Development Advisory Committee in the 2015-2016 school year.
"Because of where I have had the privilege of being, I am very much driven to work to end the systemic injustice that folks are subject to," Dalma said.
The Athena awards ceremony is scheduled for 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 18, at the Sheraton Palo Alto, 625 El Camino Real. The Palo Alto Weekly is the media sponsor of the Athena Awards.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit paloaltochamber.com/athena-awards.