Diane (Dwyer) De La Santos '81
2016 Distinguished Alumna Award for Community Service
Diane De La Santos has come full circle in her life, leaving behind a prestigious position and suburban home to live and work among the poor in Milwaukee's central city, after climbing out of poverty herself as a young woman. No longer poor, De La Santos came to the city with a will to help other adults still struggling with life's financial challenges, and to help their children escape the crippling cycle of generational poverty.
Now serving as executive director of City on a Hill, which offers a range of programs for low income families, her commitment to charitable work has drawn the admiration of many.
De La Santos was a single mother during her years at Carroll, and spent her early adult years living in poverty. She graduated in 1981 with a bachelor's degree, touting a self-designed business major with a minor in Spanish. She lifted her family out of poverty after graduation when she accepted a management position with Upjohn. Two years later, she accepted a marketing position with Good Samaritan Hospital before her rise into a management position at Aurora Health Care.
She began her relationship with City on a Hill in 2001 as a board member. In 2004, she left behind her 20-year career and highly paid position as vice president of public affairs and marketing at Aurora in order to serve those less fortunate. City on a Hill offers a number of educational programs to save children, reach parents and transform families in Milwaukee's central city neighborhoods, through a collaborative and Christ-centered effort involving more than 1,500 volunteers annually.
Some years making minimum wage, or donating back to the ministry several times what she earned, De La Santos has committed her time, talent and treasure to help transform the second poorest big city in America—Milwaukee. Under her leadership, City on a Hill has developed a range of programs for children, youth and families, as well as a free health clinic, and 150 units of affordable housing for low-income families and senior citizens.
Also an ordained minister, De La Santos speaks in churches across Wisconsin and Northern Michigan on the biblical mandates to care for the poor and to work for social justice. She has developed several innovative training programs to engage the wider community in poverty reduction and racial reconciliation.
In addition to her work at City on a Hill, she has served on a wide range of community boards, including the United Way, American Heart Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Milwaukee County, and the Waukesha Public Library. She was recognized in 2001 as an Inspirational Leader among Women of Influence by The Business Journal, and in 2006 with the Model Ministry Award from Cardinal Stritch University.