Member Voices: From Seed Money to Full Service

From Seed Money to Full Service Non-Profit: A Look Back at the Making of the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center

When I first started working at the Gary and Mary West Foundation, I accepted a six-month temporary position. I thought it would be a stepping-stone to my next career move while simultaneously allowing me to move back to San Diego after living in Sacramento for a year. Two years later and still working at the Foundation, I have learned how our Foundation manages its grants, how to successfully launch a non-profit and how an idea can create a movement.

As I embarked on this journey, I quickly learned that Gary and Mary West are not only successful entrepreneurs but also dedicated philanthropists. When the West’s identify a problem in the aging community they do not shy away from it but instead face it like a matador faces a bull, unafraid and head on. This was the case with the concept of a dental center that focused solely on seniors in our community. When a philanthropist, dentist and an established community based organization come together, it can only be described as a perfect storm.

However, the process was grueling. After being granted the initial seed money to create the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center, construction began to build a dental clinic within the walls of the thriving Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center. There were delays and hurdles to which the Foundation employees and Dental Director handled with problem solving skills, perseverance and fortitude. It took nearly 18 months, but the Dental Center was open for business in June 2016.

Now, looking back on the steps it took to create this center, I see that this was a learning experience for me, as I emerge as a leader in the philanthropic community. I was given the opportunity to see just what kind of patience and flexibility it takes when embarking on something that has never been done before. When I started at the Foundation in February 2015, we were celebrating the Dental Center for receiving its 501(c)(3) IRS determination status. Today we are celebrating the clinic being open for almost a year and seeing over 400 unique patients. What a difference a year can make.

Apart from the work with launching the Senior Dental Center, the Foundation and its affiliates have continuously advocated and pushed policy as baby boomers begin to age creating the largest demographic shift the United States has seen with 10,000 people turning 65 every day. This will inevitably impact senior centers and senior housing facilities. The Foundation is focused on keeping seniors in their homes and living independently for as long as possible.

The elderly are often seen as a burden or afterthought but the Foundation is creating innovative, integrated healthcare and wellness models for seniors, much like the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center, to improve quality of life and independence for seniors. Since my first day at the Gary and Mary West Foundation I have seen the shift in the conversation. A question for each of us is: am I going to face this problem like a matador or continue to close the door to this vulnerable population?


To learn more about the Gary and Mary West Foundation please visit our website at

Caroline is a member of our San Diego Steering Committee and is a program assistant at the Gary & Mary West Foundation (as well as working for their dental center). In her role as program assistant of the Gary and Mary West Foundation, Caroline Berger supports the Foundation’s grant activities in a variety of ways including research, grant writing, cultivating grantee and donor relationships. Berger supports the Foundation’s president and program officer assisting with projects and initiatives as needed. In addition to her work with the Foundation, Berger supports the Gary and Mary West Senior Dental Center in its efforts to provide patient-centered, integrated care and related clinical research.

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