By Kathy Day
Kristin Watkins lives every day with memories of her brother who was killed in a solo car accident in 2005 returning home after a night on the job as a chef. But she also lives every day knowing that he lives on through the foundation named for him.
As the executive director of the Christopher J. Collins Foundation (CJCF), the local resident says she’s able to make sure he’s not forgotten by making grants that will help young people in San Diego “develop leadership and confidence through learning new skills, whether it’s athletic, artistic, or academic, through grants to local youth organizations.”
Now there’s an especially meaningful gift about to be awarded: a scholarship in Chris’s name to be given through a partnership with Chef Celebration, a nonprofit which hosts a series of dinners with award-winning chefs to raise money. While a scholarship was in the Collins family’s original plans, it’s just now coming to fruition.
“They grant scholarships to up-and-coming chefs who will work in San Diego,” Watkins said, adding that the CJCF scholarship will be presented soon. “Chris would really like that.”
She and her older brother grew up in the East County of San Diego, children of a Navy man who was away a lot.
“We would go on family vacations in the motor home and Chris was my only companion on those long trips,” she recalled. “I have lots of great memories.”
They were great friends but different, she said. She went straight from high school to the University of San Diego; he was an adventurous type who moved away after high school and later discovered his love of restaurants and bartending.
He eventually attended the California Culinary Academy in the Bay Area and worked in San Francisco and Orange County before getting married and moving home.
Watkins said they never really learned the details about his crash, but know he was driving to his home in La Mesa from the restaurant in Oceanside where he worked and probably fell asleep.
“I had talked to him earlier that evening and offered for him to stay here or come for dinner,” she said. ”I beat myself up for a while.”
While his family knew they wanted to do something in his memory, it was not until his memorial that drew friends from all over the country that the idea for the foundation took shape.
“We all thought, ‘This is sad it takes a death to bring us together to celebrate each other,’” she said. “We talked about getting together for a golf tournament to make money and help other people.”
A year later they had formed a 501c3 nonprofit and held their first golf tournament in Chris’s name, raising nearly $12,000. On June 18, 129 golfers showed up for the fun at Morgan Run and more than 45 others joined in the post-tourney festivities. Each year about 80 to 85 of Chris’s friends — most of whom he touched in some way – return.
“We give them a fun experience that Chris would enjoy,” Watkins said. “It could be more of a fundraiser if we sought out (a lot of corporate) sponsors, but it would lose the atmosphere of friendship.”
To date, the foundation has raised more than $150,000 from the golf tournament, sales of T-shirts and other merchandise, as well as a Family Photography Fundraiser, held each fall at the Grand Del Mar where families can come and get portraits taken. For $125, they get a 15-minute session with a professional photographer and the digital files are theirs to use for holiday cards or gifts or whatever they want. (The date yet to be set for this year’s event.)
A single mother of two boys, ages 6 and 9, Watkins is not paid for her work with the organization. When she’s not promoting her brother’s memory through public relations and social media and finding ways to help children with the money they’ve raised, she works as a wedding and event planner.
“We’ll be giving away money (in July),” she said. “That’s the fun part.”