By Kristina Houck
An act of kindness from a former employer in a time of need set Ruth Westreich on a path where she has since been able to pay it forward. In recognition of her work in the community, the Rancho Santa Fe woman will be one of 40 featured in “Notes to Our Sons and Daughters: My Sister’s Voice,” a photography exhibition June 6 in San Diego.
“It’s important that women’s voices be heard, and it’s important that we all learn from each other,” said Westreich, a local philanthropist and artist who made necklaces for all of the honorees. As one of the event’s honorary chairs, she plans to present the women with the necklaces during a private reception June 5 at her Fairbanks Ranch home.
Originally from South Los Angeles, Westreich’s father died when she was young, leaving her as the primary income earner for her family. At 19, Westreich got a full-time job at a carpet company instead of going to college.
Inspired by her dedication, her employer helped her financially. All he asked was that she help others one day.
“I was able to get through with the kindness of a family,” Westreich said. “Had I not, I could have been, very easily, one of those kids that fall through the cracks of society.”
Westreich went on to study design at Woodbury University and UCLA before she met her husband, Stanley Westreich, and had two children.
More than a decade ago, she founded The Westreich Foundation, an initiative-based foundation that aims to advance health and wellness, education and literacy, and leadership.
“It just became so ingrained in who I am and what I’m about,” Westreich said. “I didn’t let my early circumstances define who I am, but it did define who I am in the world.”
Directed by Alexis Dixon, “My Sister’s Voice” is the second photo exhibit in a series called “Notes to Our Sons and Daughters.”
Held in October 2012 at the Broadway Pier in Downtown San Diego, the first exhibit combated ageism and celebrated wisdom. The first exhibit stemmed from Dixon’s background in mediation, a field he has worked in for more than 15 years both in the U.S. and abroad in government and corporate settings.
Although he didn’t plan on turning it into a series, he was inspired to create a second exhibit after hearing the story of Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani activist known for championing education for girls. She rose to prominence internationally after the Taliban shot her in the head in 2012.
“That story just wouldn’t let me go,” Dixon said. “It just held onto me. I had to do something about it.”
In an effort to “create a space where women’s voices could be heard,” Dixon decided to create “My Sister’s Voice.” The multimedia exhibition will feature 40 portraits of women from diverse generations and cultures, captured by photographer Pablo Mason. A short video documentary and a “note” will accompany each photograph.
The youngest woman featured in the exhibit is 17 and the oldest is 92.
“They have very different journeys, but the spirit and the texture of these women are very similar,” Dixon said. “There’s this force about what it means to be a woman.
Proceeds from the event will benefit the Center for Community Solutions, a nonprofit organization that operates the only rape crisis center in the city of San Diego along with a countywide 24-hour bilingual crisis helpline. Founded in 1969, CCS serves more than 11,000 adults and children each year through emergency domestic violence shelters, hospital and court accompaniment, as well as legal and counseling services for those affected by rape, domestic violence and elder abuse.
“This event was not just about raising money to us. It is very much in tandem with what we believe and what we’re trying to promote: empowering the voices of women,” said Verna Griffin-Tabor, CEO and executive director of CCS, which has 88 staff members and 200 volunteers. “Certainly locally, the crimes that we see end up silencing people. People end up blaming themselves for crimes they didn’t commit. We saw this as a way to put a spotlight on women’s voices.”
Griffin-Tabor, as well as two of the nonprofit’s clients, are among the 40 honorees.
“We are really honored and humbled and couldn’t be more grateful to have this opportunity,” Griffin-Tabor said. “These are 40 amazing women. It’s really an inspirational exhibit.”
A book featuring the black and white photos, as well as bios of the women, will be available for sale at the exhibit and online. Proceeds will also benefit CCS.
“It’s a stunning book,” Westreich said. “The photographer has really brought out something in each of the women. You can really see something behind their eyes. It’s like a window into them.”
The VIP reception begins at 5 p.m. June 6, followed by the general reception and exhibit at the Broadway Pier, located at 1000 North Harbor Drive in San Diego. General admission costs $175. VIP tickets cost $250.
“I hope others recognize that the way to transform the world is to begin by listening to others,” Dixon said. “These are the people we live with. It’s our community. The greatest gift we can give members of our community is to listen to them. And simply listening to the story of another person opens the door for them to listen to you.”
For more information about the event and to purchase tickets, visit
For more information about CCS, visit
For more information about The Westreich Foundation, visit