The passion for giving An unlikely philanthropist tells her story


By Fabiola Moreno Ruelas

The year after I started the Ruelas Family Foundation, I was interviewed by journalist Joe Mathews of  Zocalo Public Square. It was 2021, and the story described the reason why I started the scholarship fund, my upbringing, and my journey through San Diego State as a first-generation student during a global pandemic. The article was headlined “California’s Most Unlikely Philanthropist.” 

The word “unlikely” took me back to a small icebreaker activity that I had participated in the summer before my first year in college. The instructor read different prompts as the participants lined up against a wall. Those prompts related to access during our upbringing.  She asked, “Who here went to museums? Who here read books? Who here visited college campuses?” If you had done any of those, you moved up in line. If not, you stayed behind. 

After all the prompts were read, I was the only one who stayed back. I didn’t even cross the halfway point.

When I read that headline, I understood where the word “unlikely” came from. I would have never imagined seeing my name next to a description like that. Knowing that California’s most unlikely philanthropist and the person who stayed behind during the access activity were the same, I began to reflect on all the support my family and I received as I was growing up.

Gonzales, the community where I was raised, taught me why one should give. When I began kindergarten, my mother had just moved us into an apartment. We didn’t have much money to buy anything — not even school supplies. But on my first day of school, we were overwhelmed with support from La Gloria Elementary. My kindergarten teacher gave me all my school supplies and the principal connected my mom with different types of rental assistance programs. 

Later, Gonzales showed me its support once again as I was getting ready to head off to college. Through the Gonzales High School Spring Scholarship packet, I was awarded $12,000 — money that came from businesses, local groups, and donors who offered a scholarship of their own. Throughout the years, I connected with many of these donors asking why they give back. The common thread was they feel a sense of needing to do so after they were given so much. 

At 14 years old, I was in a car accident that nearly took my life. I was greatly injured and suffered trauma that continues to impact me to this day. When my mom arrived at the hospital, she was told I had a fractured skull. During my stay at the hospital, my memory was very foggy and in the following days, my family realized that the impact on my head had damaged my memory.

But when I turned 18 and received settlement funds from the accident, I remembered how Gonzales instilled the value of giving in me. Growing up, I saw multiple people give my family and me so much support without even knowing us. At every point in my life, my community — the people who make Gonzales what it is — taught me so much about the importance of helping others and how you offer support even with the little bit that you have. 

This is why I thought about ways to give to Gonzales.

Having graduated college or being years into our careers, my peers feel the same way. We understand how much not having money can hinder achieving your goals. One of the greatest rewards of building this foundation has been helping people build their scholarship funds. People from all over the state have seen how the Ruelas Fulfillment Foundation was built and have started their own scholarship funds. Alumni of Gonzales High School at Pomona, Santa Cruz, Fullerton, and other colleges have all started their scholarships to give back to their communities. These students have a desire to ensure that future generations are better equipped to tackle the challenges that arise when pursuing higher education. The common thread between these students and those donors is the passion they feel for giving back.

While news of what’s wrong in this world continues to bombard us, this foundation has allowed me to focus on the good in people. Many have donated their money, time and attention to this cause, not knowing anything about me or the people their money will help. But they believe in the power of giving. Not only do I want to continue funding scholarships for Gonzales High School students, I also want to create a place where people can look toward the foundation for resources and tools to be able to create scholarship funds of their own.

In 2023, the foundation turned five years old. We have awarded scholarships to more than 15 students from Gonzales High School and two students from San Diego State. The foundation has done it with the generosity of hundreds of people across the state. I now work in the California State Legislature, where I have the opportunity to work on legislation that will ensure Californians are not left behind, and that the programs, policies, and budgets that are passed have a positive impact on people’s lives.

At 14 years old, I did not know why I experienced that horrific car accident. Now, almost 10 years later, I know exactly why it happened: as a person who didn’t have much growing up, I can now give to others. That is exactly what I want to keep on doing.

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Fabiola Moreno Ruelas

About Fabiola Moreno Ruelas

Fabiola Moreno Ruelas is a first-generation college graduate, a philanthropist and a person who seeks to positively impact those around her. She holds a B.A in Political Science from San Diego State University.