July 8, 2024

Contact: Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, Fellow PRSA
619-997-2495 or gfalkenthal@gmail.com

Serving Seniors Names Six Accomplished San Diegans To Board of Directors

Six accomplished San Diegans bring their impressive accomplishments to the Serving Seniors board of directors, a nonprofit services organization. The newly appointed board members will serve two-year terms from July 1, 2024, to June 30, 2026.

New board members accept their leadership roles as the severity of older adult homelessness continued to increase in scope in the San Diego region. Tremendous new challenges remain ahead as economic forces continue to affect older adults at risk of losing housing.

Board chairperson Mary Gendron said the appointments come at a critical time for Serving Seniors. “Our organization must broaden its capacity to support the San Diego region’s increasing population of low-income and homeless older adults. Adding the diverse skillsets and experience represented by this impressive group of new board members will contribute to achieving our ambitious goals ahead. We are grateful they have agreed to contribute their expertise, time and insight to our efforts.”

The new board members assuming their duties include:

Honorable Desirée A. Bruce-Lyle (Retired), Judge of the Superior Court for San Diego County

Judge Desirée Bruce-Lyle served 22 years in various assignments within the San Diego County Superior Courts including criminal trial, juvenile, appellate, drug and collaborative courts. She retired from the bench in 2023. Judge Bruce-Lyle’s leadership efforts overseeing collaborative courts and programs for veterans and drug users have earned her statewide and international attention.  Judge Bruce-Lyle continues work as an assigned retired judge. A native of Ghana, Judge Bruce-Lyle earned her Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Zambia School of Law. She received her Master of Laws degree from the University of California at Berkeley Law (Boalt Hall), in 1979. She served as a Deputy County Counsel for the County of San Diego.

Brian W. Byun, Deputy City Attorney, City of San Diego

Brian W. Byun brings his extensive experience in the legal field to Serving Seniors with expertise in real property law, public finance, land use development, bankruptcy, and litigation. In his current role with the San Diego City Attorney, Byun advises the City on real-property related issues and serves as the point attorney for legal matters related to Petco Park. Byun organized and leads the Mentorship Program for the office’s Civil Division. Throughout Byun’s career, he has been in professional and community engagement and diversity initiatives, serving on committees and boards of organizations such as the League of California Cities, American Bar Association, and National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. ​Byun has been recognized for his contributions to the legal profession.

Willa Fields, RN, DNSc, FHIMSS (Retired), Sharp HealthCare

Dr. Willa Fields combined her expertise in nursing, education, and bioinformatics and medical informatics to play a leadership role in nursing management and information technology to improve healthcare outcomes. She served in multiple leadership roles throughout the Sharp HealthCare system, including as Program Manager at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, and Vice President, Patient Care Information Systems. Dr. Fields has contributed to nursing education for three decades at the San Diego State University College of Health and Human Services, University of San Diego and UCSD. Dr. Fields earned a Doctor of Nursing Science from the University of San Diego; Master of Science in Nursing from San Diego State University; Master of Science in Education from Duquesne University; and Bachelor of Science in Education from Temple University.

Melissa Johnson, Human Resources Executive

Melissa Johnson has contributed her expertise in human resources leadership to leading nonprofit organizations including the San Diego Workforce Partnership. She is currently the Chief People & Culture Officer for FIRST 5 Santa Clara County in San Jose, California. Johnson is a change agent and strategic thinker who executes multiple projects with integrity and standards of excellence. She has developed and implemented successful diversity and inclusion strategies for leadership accountability and employee engagement and retention efforts. Johnson has been recognized at the national level for implementing diversity programs for employees at all levels. Johnson earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from DeVry University. She is an active member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Holly Smithson, President & CEO, Athena

Holly Smithson leads Athena, a global, nonprofit, advocacy organization for women in STEM professions. As CEO since 2017, Smithson support STEM companies in the development of women leaders and male allies to advocate for gender equality in science and technology. Based in San Diego, Athena is devoted to accelerating innovation through gender equality worldwide. Smithson is experienced in corporate turnaround leadership and has served in government and public relations roles during the Bush Administration with the State Department and EPA. Smithson earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Communications from East Carolina University and is a graduate of the Leadership for Senior Executive Program at the Harvard Business School for Executive Education.

Joy Vaccari, Nonprofit and Community Leader

Joy Vaccari has made the betterment of education and families her life’s work. After working in the banking industry in New York, she took on leadership roles in K-12 schools in Greenwich, Connecticut, and San Diego, including at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla. In her most recent role, she has served as a Liturgy and Adult Faith Formation Volunteer at The Immaculata Church at the University of San Diego. Vaccari earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Vermont, and an MBA at the University of Chicago.

About Serving Seniors

Founded in 1970, Serving Seniors is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Diego, California, dedicated to serving low-income adults aged 60 and over. A leader in senior advocacy and programming, Serving Seniors has created an innovative model of comprehensive services including nutrition meals, housing, health and social services and lifelong learning opportunities to thousands of seniors in need. It is the largest provider of meals to seniors in the county, and one of the only organizations in the nation providing a robust range of services to vulnerable, at-risk older adults.

Serving Seniors President and CEO Paul Downey has been instrumental in the organization’s growth over the past 29 years. Since being appointed the role in 1995, Downey has guided the nonprofit’s innovative efforts to provide supportive services focused on keeping low-income seniors healthy and independent. Under Downey’s leadership, Serving Seniors has grown to provide over one million nutritious meals and coordinated services to 7,000 older adults each year. Read Serving Seniors’ groundbreaking report, Senior Homelessness: A Needs Assessment.