Casa Familiar’s First Female Board Chair is Leading with Heart

Anita Dharapuram helping to guide Casa Familiar as the community nonprofit marks its 50th year


As the first female board chair of San Ysidro-based nonprofit Casa Familiar, Anita Dharapuram is right in her element, helping to elevate underserved communities and create new opportunities for people of color.

Dharapuram has worked for more than two decades in the nonprofit and financial sectors, developing and growing programs designed to provide underserved communities with everything they need to thrive.

In her current role as community development officer for PNC Bank, she advances the company’s efforts to improve neighborhoods and quality of life for low-to-moderate income people through strategies that include partnering with nonprofits on programs that help build generational wealth.

It’s no surprise that she’s passionate about Casa, which is celebrating its 50th year of changing lives in south San Diego neighborhoods. The organization serves individuals and families in historically disinvested communities, offering programs and services that include affordable housing, youth education and outreach, environmental sustainability initiatives and much more.

Dharapuram said Casa has deep roots in the community and has consistently earned the trust of the people it serves. That rare kind of connection has had an incredible effect on Casa’s growth and impact.

“We are using this amazingly unique framework to build really effective programs, and we’re doing it with heart,” she said.

Dharapuram didn’t grow up determined to be a champion for underserved communities, but her focus changed after 9/11, when she saw the racial profiling that followed.

“Being a child of immigrants who grew up on the East Coast, that was a very profound moment for me,” she said. “I did a lot of soul searching and decided to close my business and get a master’s degree in nonprofit administration, knowing it could be a great avenue for addressing systemic racism.”

Dharapuram said along the way she learned “it’s not just about dismantling racism, it’s about providing access and providing alternative ways to help communities of color thrive.”

That’s the continuing focus at Casa as it passes its half-century mark. Dharapuram and her colleagues on the board are shaping a new strategy for growth that will lead to even greater community impact in the next 50 years.

“This board of directors, with all its talent and experience, is perfectly positioned to take Casa to the next level,” Dharapuram said. “I feel very blessed and so excited to lead a group that is doing so much good in San Diego.”

She said one of Casa’s most exciting new projects is La Semilla, an award-winning innovation incubator and demonstration park in San Ysidro that fosters affordable climate resiliency strategies. The space has special features like EV charging stations, solar, urban farming areas and micro mobility strategies, as well as programs that help cultivate environmentally resilient practices that can be replicated by the community.

Another impressive initiative, Dharapuram said, is the Avanzando San Ysidro Community Land Trust (ASYCLT), designed to create stable housing options to keep people in underserved communities from being displaced and to help build generational wealth. Through the CLT, Casa will build 103 units of affordable housing to be converted into ownership after 15 years.

On Oct. 7, Casa will celebrate its 50-year milestone with Casa Fest, a day of live music, art vendors, food, and drinks at Waterfront Park. Tickets are available on Casa’s website. The event will include a short program highlighting Casa’s journey so far, along with its vision for the future, including a new logo that will be unveiled that afternoon.

“For me, birthdays and anniversaries are a great time for celebration and reflection,” Dharapuram said. “This is an incredible moment to celebrate the impact Casa has had and to take stock as we get ready for the next 50 years, continuing to build a sustainable community that thrives and grows.”

Read article at The San Diego Union Tribune