The Country Friends President Deborah Cross was one of 12 San Diego “Wonder Women” honored at the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary 2018 Women of Dedication Luncheon on May 30 at the San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina. The event paid tribute to the women who have “consistently dedicated time, resources, talent and heart to help those in need.”
The announcement that she had been nominated for the award came as a total surprise for the longtime volunteer and native San Diegan, delivered to her door in Del Mar with a bouquet of long-stemmed yellow roses.
“’Who me? From Chula Vista?’” she said she initially wondered. “It was quite a shock to me. The women who were honored beside me were just incredible women.”
The 12 accomplished women were celebrated at the event, now in its 53rd year in San Diego, with nearly 8,000 attendees.Cross walked up to the stage serenaded by a song with custom-written lyrics all about her, with four tables worth of family and Country Friends members there to support her— all three of her children flew in for the event as well as some of her husband’s family from Australia.
“It was so much fun,” Cross said. “It was just perfect, it was a lovely day.”
Prior to receiving the honor, Cross said she knew little about Salvation Army outside of the bell ringers seen around the holidays. An international organization established in 1865, the Salvation Army serves in 130 countries around the globe and assists about 30 million Americans a year.
The Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary in San Diego supports Salvation Army programs like their adult rehabilitation center for those struggling with addiction, family services, homeless outreach, senior nutrition and Door of Hope, which provides transitional housing for homeless women and children. Money raised at the event that day directly went toward issues of homelessness and human trafficking.
In addition to the 12 “Wonder Women,” the event paid tribute to honorary chairs Bill and Susan Hoehn of Rancho Santa Fe.
Cross, a Del Mar resident for the last 25 years, has been a member of the board of The Country Friends since 2008 and has served as president for the last four years. A graduate of San Diego State University, she worked for several years as a clinical audiologist before starting her own practice, Hearing Dynamics, in 1983.
After retiring from a busy career, she decided to devote her time toward giving back to her community. She started by getting involved with the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito, chairing some events and serving on the board of directors with her husband Les.
“I really found my niche with The Country Friends,” said Cross, who first got involved when her best friend and neighbor Marci Cavanaugh was chairing the Art of Fashion event in 2007. “It’s a small organization with incredible outreach throughout the community. All of the money raised stays in San Diego County.”
In 2017, The Country Friends donated over $200,000 to 40 San Diego County charities. They receive over 100 applications and the agency funding committee meets to select beneficiaries every October—their main criteria is that the organizations have to be San Diego-based and the funds have to stay in San Diego.
“I love that we help so many different organizations,” said Cross, noting this year’s 53 beneficiaries reach out to help children, veterans, the homeless and victims of abuse and human trafficking. They include Serving Seniors, San Diego Brain Injury Foundation, La Jolla Meals on Wheels, Tender Loving Canines and Boys to Men, which offers mentoring for at-risk, often fatherless boys in San Diego. “We tend to focus on more small charities because they are in desperate need of funding for the services they provide,” Cross said, giving as just one example Think Dignity, which offers mobile showers for the homeless.
Since Cross got involved the organization over 10 years ago, things have changed up at The Country Friends. For many years they only had their three main events: the spring luncheon, the Art of Fashion event and the Holiday Tea. Now they are doing a lot more little events throughout the year—this week they had an Oscar de la Renta pop-up shop event at The Inn and on Aug. 8, there is a fundraiser at SKY Facial Plastic Surgery in 4S Ranch.
“Those are great sources of income for us,” Cross said of the smaller events. “The more money we bring in, the more we can give away.”
In February, The Country Friends hosted its first-ever “Giving Hearts” dinner and dance gala, co-chaired by Deborah and Les. The event raised at least $60,000 for The Country Friends Legacy Campaign. The campaign, chaired by Les, kicked off three years ago with the goal of paying off the construction loan on the organization’s Consignment Shop on El Tordo in the RSF Village and to establish an endowment to ensure funding for human care agencies in the decades to come.
The Country Friends organization is now preparing to host its 63rd annual Art of Fashion on Sept. 20 on the lawn of The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, its 14th year pairing with South Coast Plaza for the popular runway show.
The event is chaired this year by Sarah Sleeper, Tamara Lafarga Joseph and Maggie Boblieff, “local Rancho Santa Fe gals that are just knocking it out of the park,” Cross said.
Deborah and Les are major sponsors for the event that begins with a Moet & Chandon Champagne reception, light bites from the French Gourmet and South Coast Plaza mini-boutiques. Big ticket auction items include a getaway to Cabo San Lucas and diamond, sapphire and pearl earrings from John Matty valued at nearly $8,000. Look for the invitations to go out in the mail in the next two weeks.
Cross said she doesn’t regret that decision years ago to help her best friend Cavanaugh with fashion show reservations. She has enjoyed working alongside Cavanaugh, now vice president of human care funding, and all of her Country Friends, nearly all of them volunteers and “wonder women” in their own right.
“It’s been a wonderful four years as president,” Cross said. “I will be stepping down this year but I will still be very involved.”
Visit thecountryfriends.org for more information.