Alicia DeLeon Torres
Alicia DeLeon Torres. Courtesy photo

Welcome to the inaugural column of San Diego Moms! I’m thrilled to introduce you to a column where I highlight stories, issues and events that matter most to local mothers and families. 

As a mother to a 5-year-old boy and 3-year-old girl, I hope to bring to you a space where information meets inspiration and compassion (a rarity on the Internet these days!). Grab a cup of coffee and join me every Saturday morning before the craziness of parenthood begins. 

For the inaugural column, I wanted to focus on a mother who is rarely in the spotlight but often helping others. One name quickly came to mind: Alicia DeLeon Torres. DeLeon Torres, a longtime nonprofit leader, jokingly describes her career as an “accident,” but there are few people I know who care so deeply about the well-being of others, especially the minority communities. 

A product of a Navy family, DeLeon Torres attended Mira Mesa High before going to San Diego State University where she graduated with a degree in sociology. Once an aspiring journalist, DeLeon Torres said she was offered a job at Operation Samahan — a health center focused on the Filipino community and low-income families — where her mother worked.

Following Operation Samahan, DeLeon Torres went on to serve San Diegans through other nonprofits including the Union of Pan Asian Communities, National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse and Survivors of Torture, just to name a few. She said she’s stayed in the nonprofit world for more than 30 decades because she believes in the work. 

Tip from Alicia:

Set goals for yourself, but rather than just write an annual goal — Write down a daily or weekly goal to help you get to the larger objective. 

“It’s easier to reach your goals when you can break it up into small, bitable pieces.”

“I stay because I believe in the lifestyle,” said DeLeon Torres, who currently serves as deputy director for the The Nemeth Foundation. “I stay because I work with mostly Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Hawaiians — I want to help my communities and mentor others to do the same.” 

DeLeon Torres has made an impact too. She said one of her biggest career achievements is building a program, through UPAC, to help Filipino American females, who at the time, had the highest rate of suicide ideation. The program was budgeted for 250 participants, but they were able to stretch the dollars to help 1,000 people. 

Decades later, a San Diego State University student said she learned about DeLeon Torres and the program in the archives at the university’s library.

“It opened (the student’s) eyes to what our community was going through and how she could help,” DeLeon Torres said. 

As DeLeon Torres devoted her career to serving others, she learned she was having the same impact on her daughter. 

“I used to take my daughter with me to work or when I spoke at conferences and workshops,” DeLeon Torres said. “I talked about tobacco, drugs, teen pregnancy, gangs — she would just sit under a table the whole time. As she grew older, I realized she was listening the whole time — She learned to never get involved with any of that.”

So how does DeLeon Torres get the inspiration to devote an incredible 30-plus years to serving others? She said her daughter is one inspiration. Other inspirations include Teresa Lucas, who founded the first program to serve the developmentally disabled in the San Diego Filipino community, and Suzanne Emery, a former Mira Mesa High teacher and community leader in Poway — both of whom have passed away. 

“There are many people who have inspired me in my life,” DeLeon Torres said. “There are a lot of good mothers who do the best with what they know and have. Their love never goes away.”

If you know someone in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255. For more resources, go to nimh.nih.gov.

San Diego Moms is published every Saturday. Have a story idea? Email hoaq@timesofsandiego.com and follow her on Instagram at @hoawritessd.