Local humanitarian Julie Tafel Klaus honored by Project Concern International

Julie Tafel Klaus works with a student at La Tias in Nicaragua.

Project Concern International will honor Rancho Santa Fe philanthropist Julie Tafel Klaus as the recipient of this year’s the Anne Otterson Community Connector Award. Tafel Klaus’ efforts to champion the health and well-being of families in San Diego and around the world will be honored at PCI’s Hands Across Borders gala on Saturday, Nov. 2 at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla.

PCI, founded in San Diego in 1961, is a global development organization that drives innovation from the ground up to enhance health, end hunger, overcome hardship and advance women and girls. PCI has programs in 15 countries around the world that work to increase access to education, economic opportunity, life skills training, proper nutrition and health care.

Julie Tafel Klaus
(Michael Spengler)

PCI has selected Tafel Klaus to be honored as she is a humanitarian who has dedicated decades of service to organizations like PCI. An avid traveler, Tafel Klaus has crossed the globe to visit PCI’s programs in India, Guatemala and Zambia to better understand the issues facing women, children and families and to support the most vulnerable communities around the world.

In addition to PCI, Tafel Klaus supports a range of causes and organizations including the Salk Institute and the Rancho Santa Fe Women’s Fund and she serves as a team co-captain for Padres Pedal the Cause. She also serves on the board of Spark Ventures, an organization based in Chicago that builds business and job partnerships around the world to help lift communities out of poverty.

Uli Heine, a Del Mar resident and PCI’s senior director of engagement, said she could think of no better person than Tafel Klaus to receive the Anne Otterson Community Character Award.

“Anne Otterson was a philanthropist and community leader who really made sure people connected, she always brought everyone together,” said Heine. “Julie really emulates Anne in the most beautiful way with service above self. She is always thinking about what she can do for others. She always sees the positives in difficult situations and she is always ready to help make a difference.”

Tafel Klaus and Otterson met only briefly before Otterson passed away in 2016. “They were kindred spirits with their sense of curiosity, giving, intellect and being rainmakers,” Heine said. “Being a rainmaker is not just writing a check, it’s spreading the word and making connections and being a true ambassador in the community.”

Tafel Klaus said she was humbled to receive an award named for such an incredible humanitarian. She shies away from the attention on herself but hopes that it helps shine a brighter light on PCI. “For me, it’s all about the work,” Tafel Klaus said.

Tafel Klaus was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in Barrington, a small town outside of Chicago. She attended the University of the Pacific, spent time studying abroad in Vienna, Austria and also attended the Art Institute of Chicago. She went on to work for American Airlines and McGraw Hill in San Francisco and LA, and worked for several years in sales for a media company in Long Island, New York that produced publications focused on the high tech industry.

Tafel Klaus retired when her twin daughters Haley and Cameron were three years old—after she and her husband split up she raised them as single mom since they were six.

“We moved to Rancho Santa Fe and the girls were very happy here,” Tafel Klaus said of her family, which she considers her greatest accomplishment. “I’m very blessed to have had the opportunity to live here. There are more opportunities to get involved in philanthropy in San Diego than any place I’ve ever lived.”

Tafel Klaus started getting involved as a result of her girls’ activities—she served on the RSF Community Center board and was a volleyball mom for Cameron’s team at Bishop’s and Haley’s squad at Pacific Ridge School. It was her daughter Cameron that led her to PCI when she learned about PCI’s work in India through a Bishop’s community service program.

The more Tafel Klaus was around PCI, the more she wanted to get involved. She found herself helping with the annual auction, then co-chairing the event and eventually found her way onto the development committee.

“It’s been a really amazing experience, I really enjoy the diversity of what PCI does and the diversity of people who work with PCI,” Tafel Klaus said of the men and women who come together from all parts of the city. “It really has been an incredible journey.”

Like PCI, Tafel Klaus takes a hands-on approach and has spent time traveling to see PCI programs at work. She has been to Africa four times in the last two years, twice to Zambia for Spark Ventures. In Zambia, she has seen the impact of the life-saving work PCI is doing through its mobile cervical cancer screening clinics.

In India, Tafel Klaus met with boys that live in PCI’s shelter home and spoke with them about their aspirations and how much it means to them to have a place to go. She spent a week in Guatemala last year and saw PCI programs such as a school kitchen and a Women Empowered group.

PCI leads these women’s groups in several countries, focusing on teaching skills and building capacities, self-esteem, increasing access to information and resources, and promoting collective action and community organizing.

Julie Tafel Klaus with a student at the Hope Community School in Twapia, Zambia.

“It really is amazing to see what a difference it makes to give a hand up instead of a hand out and that’s what PCI does so beautifully,” Tafel Klaus said. “Everyone at PCI is passionate about what they do and has a love of helping others. In today’s world, that’s really a necessity.”

Locally, Tafel Klaus is inspired by the work PCI is doing with the under-served Haitian refugee population in San Diego and their work with human trafficking awareness and prevention.

Human trafficking is an $810 million business in San Diego, ranking among the FBI’s top 13 cities for high intensity prostitution of children. Research shows that thousands of people are victimized every year and significant recruitment is happening on middle and high school campuses across San Diego County.

PCI has partnered with District Attorney Summer Stephan’s office and local school districts to teach students and school communities how to recognize and report the signs of human trafficking while empowering them to make choices that increase their safety. The goal is to reach 300,000 students in the next four years.

Tafel Klaus said she often tells her friends she is working harder now as a volunteer than when she actually worked. Her experiences with PCI have been meaningful, to be able to see that she is helping to make a difference even in just one person’s life. Her travels have reminded her how fortunate she was just to be born in this country and to be given the opportunities that so many others do not have.

“I tell my daughters this is my turn to give back,” Tafel Klaus said. “I’ve had a great life and career, I’ve been very blessed. Why not, if I have the opportunity, give back to those who are less fortunate?”

She is grateful for groups like PCI and all of the organizations who are working to affect change, “There really are a lot of good things going on in the world, things that need to be done to make the world a better place.”

More than 500 local business and community leaders are expected to attend this year’s Hands Across Borders gala to support PCI’s programs. For tickets, sponsorship opportunities and more event information, visit