Jennie Watson and Cathy Cha at Crissy Field Photo by Tue Nam Ton

Haas, Jr. Fund Announces New Leaders

Fund staff members Jennie Lehua Watson, Cathy Cha promoted to top leadership roles

Watson to serve as interim president for two years. Cha is promoted to vice president of programs and will become Fund president in 2019.

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The Board of Directors of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund today announced appointments to top staff positions. Jennie Lehua Watson, formerly the Fund’s vice president of special initiatives and communications, will serve as interim president of the Fund for the next two years. Cathy Cha, formerly program director for immigrant rights, is now vice president of programs and will become president of the Fund in January 2019.

With a combined 30 years as key leaders with the Fund, Watson and Cha have played integral roles in its work to advance rights and create opportunities for all people. Their appointments were made unanimously by the Fund’s Board of Directors following a broad and extensive search for a leader after Ira S. Hirschfield stepped down from the post of president in 2016.

“When our parents created the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, they were inspired by a vision of a society in which all people could live, work, and raise their families with dignity,” said Walter J. Haas, who chairs the Fund’s Board of Directors. “Today, we look forward to working closely with Jennie and Cathy to keep bringing this vision to life in our community and across the nation. We know they will be outstanding leaders for the Fund as we continue our collaborative efforts to build a more just and compassionate society.”

Watson joined the Fund in 2000 as its first director of communications and became a vice president in 2003. In addition to her communications responsibilities, she has taken on other leadership roles over the years, including oversight of the Fund’s community partnerships and initiatives. In this role, Watson has worked with a range of Bay Area institutions to expand access to important cultural and civic assets, including Crissy Field and the Presidio. Watson also has played a key role in the Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund, a partnership between the Haas, Jr. Fund and the San Francisco Chronicle to provide critical assistance to individuals and families in need.

Before joining the Fund, Watson was director of communications at Project Open Hand, a Bay Area charity that began providing meals to people with AIDS and now serves seniors and critically ill residents. Earlier in her career, she managed the membership programs at the California Academy of Sciences and the Oakland Museum. Watson holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of Hawaii.

“I am honored to take on this new leadership role at the Fund. I look forward to working with the Board and our amazing staff and partners to keep advancing the causes of justice, equality and fairness,” said Watson. “Working alongside organizations and movements that are expanding access and opportunities for everyone is an inspiring and tremendous privilege, particularly at this challenging time when so much is at stake for the individuals and families who are the focus of our work.”

Cha has managed the Fund’s immigrant rights grantmaking since 2009. With an emphasis on alliance-building and collaboration, she has led efforts to bring funders and local leaders together to strengthen the immigrant rights movement in California. This work has yielded key policy wins that have made California a model for compassionate, common-sense reform.

Cha joined the Haas, Jr. Fund in 2003 as a program officer working in the Fund’s family self-sufficiency and neighborhood development program areas. In previous jobs, she worked on issues including affordable housing, homelessness prevention, and workforce development with the Hyams Foundation in Boston, the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation in San Francisco, and the United Way of King County in Seattle. Cha has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Washington in Seattle and a master’s degree in city and regional planning from U.C. Berkeley.

“Working at the Haas, Jr. Fund has been an incredible opportunity for me to support and witness the power of life-changing strategic philanthropy. It’s an honor to partner with leaders and organizations that are taking bold actions to make a difference every day for families and communities,” said Cha. “I am excited to step into my new role at the Fund and to help make sure we continue to work in partnership to build a society that supports, respects and values the contributions of all people.”

About the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund

Based in San Francisco, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund works in partnership to build a just and compassionate society where all people have the opportunity to live, work and raise their families with dignity. The Fund invests in five key areas of focus: immigrant rights; gay and lesbian rights; education equity; the Haas Leadership Initiatives; and community partnerships and initiatives. Since it was established by Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. in 1953, the Fund has made $553 million in grants.