top of page

Living Coast Discovery Center Awarded $50,000 Grant to Build Capacity of Nonprofit Organization

Executive Director Ben Vallejos recipient of FLNSD Clare Rose Sabbatical Program,

investing in longevity of local nonprofit leaders and their teams

CHULA VISTA, CALIF. – The Living Coast Discovery Center, a nonprofit zoo/aquarium located on San Diego Bay in Chula Vista, announced today that it has been awarded a $50,000 grant by Fieldstone Leadership Network San Diego (FLNSD), in partnership with the Clare Rose Foundation, to help build its long-term leadership capacity. Executive Director Ben Vallejos is the recipient of FLNSD’s unique nonprofit sabbatical program, which will begin on April 1. 


FLNSD’s Clare Rose Sabbatical Program is the only local nonprofit sabbatical program offered exclusively to nonprofits. Sabbaticals are tested strategies for capacity building, succession planning and strengthening board governance. Based on the highly successful sabbatical program of the Los Angeles-based Durfee Foundation and the academic research conducted on the effectiveness of sabbaticals, FLNSD’s Clare Rose Sabbatical Program is designed to strengthen the longevity of high-capacity leaders, develop greater depth within the leadership team, and improve the long-term health of a nonprofit organization.


The sabbatical program recognizes the value FLNSD and Clare Rose Foundation place on high-performing and accomplished nonprofit leaders. The grants are not only a reward for achievement, but a motivating factor to keep San Diego’s best working in the field. “The grant is the Foundations’ way to recognize effective, hard-working nonprofit leaders that are leading high-impact nonprofits in San Diego County,” said Anne Vincent, Clare Rose Foundation President. “Not only is it an award for the leader, but it also provides the organization with an opportunity and the resources to build greater capacity. It’s a win for the leader, organization and the community.”


For 10 years, the awards have gone to individuals and nonprofit organizations doing diverse work in the San Diego community. To be considered for an award, interested nonprofit leaders must complete the selection process consisting of an application, site visits and a series of interviews. Selection is based on two primary criteria: (1) The benefit of the sabbatical to both the organization and the executive, and (2) the demonstrated ability of the organization to sustain itself during the executive’s absence.

The Living Coast was one of two recipients in the latest funding cycle for the highly competitive grant, which provides an opportunity for the organization to address succession planning through professional development and expanded roles for employees. During Vallejos’ approximate three-month absence, Lori Torio, Director of Community Engagement and Development, will serve as Interim Executive Director.     


“The Fieldstone Leadership Network San Diego has done so much for local nonprofits, and I am honored to have been awarded a sabbatical grant,” said Vallejos. “As a busy nonprofit professional, having the opportunity to take a step back from the organization allows me to take care of myself, to re-charge and focus. This funding will allow us to build capacity within our organization so we can have an even greater impact on the community we serve in the future.”

To date, 30 nonprofit leaders have received a Clare Rose Sabbatical for a total investment of $1.5 million toward building and sustaining the capacity of San Diego County’s nonprofit sector. The grant, valued at $50,000, provides the resources for the sabbatical, including the executive’s salary, a travel stipend, training funds for the organization’s staff and an organizational consultant to assist the agency in preparation and execution of the work plan in the leader’s absence. 


“Fieldstone Leadership Network has been investing in nonprofit leaders for over 40 years through various programs,” said FLNSD Founder and Executive Director Janine Mason. “The Clare Rose Sabbatical Program allows the leader of an organization to take time away while allowing others on the leadership team to lead the agency in their absence. The results include a renewed leader committed to staying in the sector longer and an increased capacity throughout the organization’s leadership team and board of directors.”


Vallejos has served as the Living Coast’s Executive Director for the past 10 years, but his connection to the Chula Vista zoo and aquarium runs much deeper. He first volunteered as an aquarist cleaning tanks in the 1990s at what was then known as the Chula Vista Nature Interpretive Center, before joining the staff in 2002. He served as operations manager through key milestones, including the transition to a nonprofit organization (apart from the City of Chula Vista) in 2010 and the rebranding as the Living Coast Discovery Center in 2012.


The Living Coast’s mission is to inspire the community to connect with and care for our coastal environment. For more than 35 years, the Living Coast has reached thousands of children through field trips, outreach events, scout programs and other community education programs. They also welcome an average of 70,000 visitors each year to their facility, uniquely situated inside a national wildlife refuge on San Diego Bay.

About Living Coast Discovery Center

The Living Coast Discovery Center, a 501(c)3 educational zoo and aquarium located within the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Sweetwater Marsh, began operating as a non-profit in 2010 after assuming operations of the Chula Vista Nature Center. The Living Coast Discovery Center offers hands-on exhibits and up-close encounters with plant and animal species native to Southern California, including sea turtles, leopard sharks, reptiles and a large collection of raptors such as hawks, falcons, owls, eagles, and more. More information about the Living Coast Discovery Center is available at or (619) 409-5900. For the latest updates, follow the Living Coast on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.


About Fieldstone Leadership Network San Diego and the Clare Rose Sabbatical Program

Fieldstone Leadership Network San Diego was crafted in response to and in partnership with nonprofit executives as a vehicle for peer learning. This local Network, now over 1,000 professionals strong, has evolved into an innovative continuum of 10 leadership programs. More information on Fieldstone Leadership Network San Diego and the Clare Rose Sabbatical Program is available at


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page