Longtime Carlsbad volunteers Yvonne Murchison Finocchiaro and Scott White have been named Carlsbad Citizens of the Year for 2018. The annual award recognizes community members who have dedicated themselves to improving Carlsbad through outstanding service.
The Citizen of the Year program is more than 40 years old and honors community members who have given their time and energy toward the civic improvement, beautification and betterment of the City of Carlsbad.
Yvonne Murchison Finocchiaro
Yvonne Murchison Finocchiaro has made it her life’s work to train people as effective leaders who strive to serve their communities. Her professional history as an educator, regional business leader and executive led her to a variety of organizations in Carlsbad, North County, the San Diego region and the nation.
Finocchiaro has served the Carlsbad community in many roles, most notably as a founding member of the Carlsbad Charitable Foundation in 2007, serving as president from 2009 to 2011. Money raised by the foundation goes to Carlsbad nonprofits that help local causes. Half the money raised each year goes into an endowment to grow, and the other half is distributed.
“The foundation has distributed almost a million dollars since its inception to nonprofits who are working to improve Carlsbad, and that feels really good,” Finocchiaro said.
Finocchiaro has devoted her time and considerable energy to many other causes as well, including Rotary. She was one of the first women admitted to San Diego’s downtown Rotary in 1990 and is now active in Carlsbad’s Hi-Noon Rotary, which she served as president in 2012-13. She noted that Carlsbad’s two Rotary clubs have raised more than $1 million for Carlsbad causes through the 36 years of Oktoberfest alone, and each club conducts many more projects and programs as well.
“If we were to quantify the value of volunteer hours that Carlsbad Rotary members dedicate to the community every year, we’d be a multimillion-dollar organization,” Finocchiaro said.
Finocchiaro spent a year as the Interim CEO of the Carlsbad Chamber, is a graduate of the Carlsbad Citizens Academy and has served on the boards of directors for the Women’s Resource Center, Oceanside/Carlsbad, from 1984 to 1988; the Armed Services YMCA, Oceanside/Carlsbad, from 1985 to 1989; Leadership 2000/Leadership North County; and as a founding board member of the NTC Foundation/Arts District in San Diego’s Liberty Station from 2000 to 2008.
From a regional perspective, Finocchiaro, who is a certified association executive, served as president and CEO of LEAD San Diego Inc., which trains many of San Diego County’s leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors.
“It’s a training program for adults that says you really can do anything you set your mind to.” she said. “I trained about 1,300 people while I was there.”
Finocchiaro said the aim of the organization was to develop individuals, generally business people but also public officials and nonprofit leaders, who could return to their organizations and be more effective decision makers. LEAD was a nonprofit organization while Finocchiaro was president, a position she held from 1988 to 2001.
“We trained diverse individuals to understand issues and to be able to understand group dynamics, leadership skills and problem solving,” Finocchiaro said. “If members of a board had the grounding of the LEAD educational experience, they knew how to work together to problem-solve by identifying what they did agree on, and then separating out what they didn’t to deal with that later.”
She also served as a board member of the National Association of Community Leadership from 1993 to 2007, co-authoring a book, “Taking Leadership to Heart,” in 1995. She served as president of that association in 2005-06.
Finocchiaro expressed gratitude to family members, friends and colleagues who supported her throughout her many endeavors, saying, “No one does it alone.”
“Since 1980, besides my family and friends, Carlsbad has been a love of my life,” Finocchiaro said. “I like to help maintain it and keep it that way.”
Any time he is asked to explain one of his successes, Scott White has a standard answer: “I was just in the right place at the right time.”
If only it were so simple.
When White moved with his wife, Donna, to Carlsbad in 2012, he attended the Carlsbad Citizens Academy to learn about his new city and explore volunteer opportunities. At the end of the session the City of Carlsbad volunteer coordinator at the time, Sue Irey, asked White what he would like to do. Scott had amassed 35 years’ experience as an executive in the aerospace industry, so he had considerable skills. He had also volunteered for many nonprofits, including for the National Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after returning home from a stay in the Czech Republic.
“Where can I help?” White asked Irey.
“New Village Arts Theatre needs help,” she said, and put him in touch with theater founder Kristianne Kurner and a board member. White saw immediately that the theater was in dire financial straits and in less than two weeks he was the president of a reconstituted board of New Village Arts with the mission of righting the theater’s financial ship.
White had worked for many years for Rockwell International and Boeing, which included tenure as a program manager overseeing development of the B–1B bomber, a $23 billion project. He had acquired a reputation as a turnaround specialist, so Boeing had appointed him president and CEO of Aero Vodochody, a Czech aerospace firm that became a joint venture with Boeing after the fall of the Iron Curtain. White was given the assignment of converting the storied firm from socialism to capitalism.
So when he took the reins of New Village Arts Theatre it seemed a simple task, compared with what he had experienced.
“I’ve been involved in lots of turnarounds; this was just another one,” he said. “Nothing was as challenging as the Czech Republic.”
The theater undertook a fund raising campaign and White applied the financial practices he used at Rockwell to New Village Arts, scaling them down to fit the small nonprofit. The reconstituted board implemented a system that forecasts expenses and maintains fiscal discipline, and the theater never missed a beat during its reorganization.
“We did all of the shows and within the year we were almost at break even,” said White, and credits Kurner and his fellow board members with stabilizing the theater’s finances.
“I’m not an arts guy, just a businessman who loves live theater,” said White, who remains on the board. “I have a financial background and knew exactly what to do.”
White put most of his other volunteer efforts on hold while he devoted his time and energy to New Village Arts, including stepping down from SCORE, Service Corps of Retired Executives. He has maintained his membership in the Carlsbad Charitable Foundation, the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, the North Coast Vettes (a Corvette Club), and continues his service as a Carlsbad Arts Commissioner.
“We were fortunate that we came across each other at the right time,” White says of the theater he has grown to love. “That’s how my whole career’s been. I’ve been very fortunate.”