Board of Directors

Our Board of Directors is a diverse group of volunteers dedicated to the success of Women’s Empowerment. The board is responsible for financial oversight, goal setting and policy development, as well as fundraising. Board members also dedicate time to overseeing and contributing to the day-to-day operations of WE and also serve on WE committees.

Melissa is currently Director of the Community Justice Initiative ("CJI") of the Office of the San Diego City Attorney, managing and supervising a portfolio of diversion and alternative sentencing programs that promotes restorative justice principles in the criminal justice system. She was previously Senior Program Manager of the Women’s Entrepreneurship NYC (“WE NYC”) Initiative, managing two financial inclusion programs related to credit and capital planning, respectively. In this role, her team served 1,500 women entrepreneurs, in a first-of-its kind economic development model in an American city. Committed to women's rights issues and social justice, Melissa enthusiastically serves on the WE Board and is a member of the Research and Education team. Melissa received an AB from Brown University; JD from Yeshiva University, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law; and a MPA from Columbia University.

Carol Clause is Past President of WE and has served as WE secretary and co-chair of the board development committee.  She was a Marriage and Family Therapist working with the YMCA for 25 years.  While she spends most of her time working to fulfill the mission of WE, Carol also volunteers and supports several other philanthropic organizations.  She has a great passion for empowering women and is inspired by how, with both financial and social support, women in poverty can more fully realize their potential.  The efforts of these women not only improve their own lives, but also impact the lives of their families and communities.

Ruth Covell is associate dean emeritus and Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health (V) at the UCSD School of Medicine.  Her passion for the underserved/stigmatized is reflected in her long time board involvement with San Ysidro Health Center which she helped establish, the Epilepsy Foundation, Mental Health America, PCI (Project Concern International) and the Regional Center for the Developmentally Disabled. Her involvement with WE is the result of her admiration of Win Cox and what she and the impressive army of WE volunteers have achieved.

Winifred Cox is Co-President and a Co-Founder of WE, Chair of the Fundraising Committee, member of the Finance Committee, and a co-founder of a WE Giving Circle. She is a partner of Cox & Associates Communications, a full service public relations agency. Previously she was the public relations director of the University of California, San Diego, the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, and Crosby-Arens Advertising.

Jean Fort, a founding WE Director, is Vice President for WE's programs and partnerships with microfinance organizations and is a member of the Finance and Research and Education committees.  She is retired from UCSD where she served as Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research and Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies. With long-standing interests in international affairs and social justice, Jean has a strong desire to help reduce poverty.

Julie Freeman is a licensed marriage and family therapist with an emphasis in women's empowerment and transformational development.  She has extensive experience working in trauma with clients from around the world, and is passionate about gender equality, social justice and human rights.  She is particularly interested in the empowerment potential of greater educational and microfinance opportunities for women.  She is thrilled to be serving an organization that has a positive impact on the lives of women both locally and internationally. Julie currently serves on the Fundraising Committee.

Judith has an educational background and career experience that allows her to bring an international perspective to WE’s deliberations. She can offer broad experience in measurement and project evaluation in both developed and developing countries, among many other talents. She is a retired Professor of UCSD School of Medicine and the University of Texas El Paso, College of Health Sciences, and currently serves as an international consultant of midwifery, reproductive health, measurement and evaluation for such agencies as PCI, USAID, Jhpiego, International Confederation of Midwives and the World Health Organization/Pan American Health Organization. She has conducted independent research in the measurement of reproductive health outcomes. She received the American College of Nurse-Midwives 2015 Dorothea M. Lang Pioneer Award, and the 2000 Hattie Hemschemeyer Award (ACNM’s highest individual honor), and the National Perinatal Association’s 2006 Stanley Graven Award (NPA’s highest individual honor in recognition of a life-body of work). Judith was introduced to WE by Dr. Ruth Covell. Judith was encouraged by the opportunity to sustain her personal and professional commitment to caring for women through engagement in WE’s mission, and by contributing her expertise in measurement as a strategy for documentation of project outcomes and impact.

Janet Hamilton serves as Secretary of WE, is a member of the Infrastructure and Fundraising committees, and assists with correspondence. With 23 years of experience providing executive-level support to the leadership of Science Applications International Corporation and Oak Industries, Jan brings exceptional organizational, communications and team-oriented skills to her volunteer work for WE. She was drawn to WE for its dedication to the poorest of the poor, its personal contacts with microfinance partners and clients, and because even the smallest donations can help women work their way out of poverty.

Christy has an educational background in Psychology, Emergency Medicine, and Educational Therapy.  She worked for 20 years as an Emergency Room physician and the last 15 years as an Educational Therapist.  She served on the Board of the SD International Dyslexia Association and was a speaker at multiple dyslexia conferences.  Having retired this past year, she now volunteers at a non-profit in Solana Beach that offers after school tutoring to the Hispanic community.  She has been an ardent supporter of WE since its inception and has held four Intro Groups to spread the word.  She made a site visit with WE to Sonora and GDLF where she was impressed by the hard work and commitment of women to improving their family’s lives.  She embraces the model of microfinance as a sustainable option for helping women help themselves out of poverty and is honored to serve on the board of WE. 

Tracy was recently recruited by UC San Diego as the Director of Development for the Arts & Humanities division. For the past 10 years she served as Executive Director of San Diego Women’s Foundation. She just wrapped up her term on the Board of Directors of the Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network, a national organization supporting the creation, development, and expansion of women’s collective giving nationwide. Tracy’s background includes extensive experience in non-profit management, philanthropy and social service. Previously, Tracy was the director of sexual assault services at the Center for Community Solutions’ Rape Crisis Center in San Diego. In 2010 she was nominated as a “Woman Who Means Business” by the San Diego Business Journal, in 2011 was named as a finalist for “San Diego’s Young Influential” award, and in 2005 was awarded the San Diego County SART “Response with a Heart” award. She holds a Masters of Education in Counseling degree from the University of Maine and is a California State Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor.

Rhea Kuhlman has served as co-liaison for WE’s pilot San Diego micro-savings program in partnership with Project Concern International, and is a past board member and Treasurer of WE.  She is a rare book dealer and appraiser, and participates in numerous volunteer activities in her spare time.  She is committed to the economic, social and political empowerment of impoverished women both here and abroad, and feels privileged to have the opportunity to serve with an outstanding San Diego based organization such as WE, which has had positive impacts both locally and internationally.

Annie is a senior external relations professional with nearly 15 years of experience in the political, government and non-profit sectors. She is a skilled communicator with experience cultivating key public and private sector alliances. Currently the Director of Individual Philanthropy at Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, she has also earned distinctions for exceptional public service from the Department of Defense. Throughout her career she has demonstrated a service ethic and a strong commitment to empowering women.

Debbie has been a long-time friend of WE and is currently a member of the Board. Since 2014 she has served as the Chair of the Finance Committee. She recently retired from UCSD, where from 1998 to 2015 she was Assistant Vice Chancellor for Resource Administration for the office of UCSD  Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. Previously, she was Assistant Dean for Fiscal Affairs for the School of Medicine from 1985 to 1998. Debbie received her Master of Arts from the University of Denver, Graduate School of International Studies and Public Policy, focused on Research Methodology and International Trade. She also has been an active volunteer in San Diego for Catholic Charities of San Diego, San Diego Creative Weavers Guild, and Sandy Point Homeowners Association.