By Pamela Dozois

Contributing Writer

Throughout history, activists have played major roles in inspiring change and fighting injustice. Developing compassion and a sense of service to others is the foundation of a healthy community; Monna Dingman, the executive director and trustee of the Los Alamos Foundation, has taken this to heart.

The Los Alamos Foundation was founded in 2008 to serve the needs of local children, teens and families. Its mission is “to preserve and promote the rich history and culture of our community and to serve those who live and work in Los Alamos and surrounding communities.”

“We’ve lived in Los Alamos for almost 20 years and as I got more involved in the community I found there were a lot of opportunities to participate, so creating a foundation seemed like a good way to go,” said Dingman. “It’s a family foundation but we do a lot of things publicly.”

The foundation’s main project is “Summer in the Park” where children ages 3 to 13 have the opportunity to participate, free of charge, in a five-week program of supervised recreation at Los Alamos County Park on Centennial Street.

“Kids need a constructive and safe place to be during the summer and our youth need summer jobs,” said Dingman. “Our main project is ‘Summer in the Park’ where local kids have the opportunity to be involved daily in various fun activities including sports, crafts, hikes, art, and creative play. The program runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week for five weeks starting at the end of June. Parents sign their children in and out. Each child is given a wrist band and they are free to play wherever they want. Each area is staffed.

“Preschool teacher Gloria Diffenderfer, our co-director, focuses on little children, ages 3 to 7. The Food Bank brings a healthy lunch daily, and there is always something special on Fridays. We provide snacks, cookies, and have Watermelon Wednesdays.

“We also hire local high school and college students to work in the project. This gives them the opportunity to earn money over the summer and to be involved in the community. … Adult volunteers oversee the students. We teach the staff to become leaders, to problem solve, and think for themselves. We instill in them the idea that you never know what a positive difference you can make in the life of a child.

“A lot of our students started off as young participants in the project and later return to work for the summer. Participating students usually continue working with the program year after year, so long as they are in school,” Dingman continued. “When we first started we had four paid staff. This year we had 13 paid staff per day plus volunteers. This is our sixth year of operation.

“We average 100 kids a day, all local children. We have separate play areas with toys that are developmentally appropriate for each age group. We have lots of daily arts and crafts projects which are taught by watercolor artist Nancy Clark and her daughter Ashley. This year they made stick puppets of Prince Harry and his new bride.

“We have building toys and games, we teach kids how to play chess, we have science projects and lots of soccer and sports, and a group of the older kids play basketball. We take hikes in the park. Some go to Olga Reed School and play in the playground. Kids choose whatever they want to participate in daily,” Dingman said. “We let children know they matter and they are worth listening to.”

Dingman says she spends most of the year raising funds by writing grants, contacting businesses for donations, and holding fundraisers. She said the foundation is well supported by the Los Alamos Men’s Club, the Santa Barbara Foundation, the Valley Foundation, the Los Olivos Rotary, and St. Anthony’s Catholic Church. Rabobank is also a strong supporter of the project and the foundation receives a grant from Lagunitas Brewing Co. along with donations from private donors.

“We get great support, but right now, to really run the project, it costs about $30,000 a year and it goes up every year because of increased participation,” she said.

The foundation holds two big fundraisers yearly, Bingo with a silent auction at the Los Alamos Men’s Club, and Fiesta in the Park in Ferrini Park.

“Our yearly Bingo fundraiser is a big hit with great payouts for the participants,” Dingman said. At Fiesta in the Park, “there are Folkloric dancers and a Mariachi Band with a barbecue chicken dinner … which gets bigger every year. It’s an opportunity to celebrate our Spanish heritage and the people who live in Los Alamos.”

The foundation also offers a yearly college scholarship of $1,000 that recognizes academic excellence and community service. It is for students living in Los Alamos or attending Righetti High School, St. Joseph High School, and Orcutt Academy. Named “The Daniel B. Dingman Scholarship for Peace and Justice,” it was established to honor the memory of Dingman’s father, Dan Dingman, who was a lifelong believer in and practitioner of these causes. Students can apply online beginning in February.

“We believe that community thrives in each other’s care. Each of us brings a unique set of skills, dreams, and history to the table. A healthy and vibrant community has a place for each of us, a place where we can shine, learn and grow together,” said Dingman.

“Running a foundation is great fun and extremely rewarding. To be involved in a community like Los Alamos is really wonderful. It’s a great community. We are small enough to interact on a one-to-one basis, to care about individuals and the community as a whole. To know that you have made a difference in the lives of those who live here is very gratifying. You can see first-hand what you are accomplishing when one of the little children recognizes you on the street and runs up to you with a big smile and a hug. The coolest thing for me is you never know what a difference you make in one person’s life. It’s extremely fulfilling.”

To learn more about the Los Alamos Foundation, or to donate, visit