Helene Galen and her late-husband Lou moved to the desert in 1978, taking permanent residence at Tamarisk Country Club in 1980. They continued to bide their time between the desert and Los Angeles where they gave of their time and money freely to important causes that were dear to their hearts.

As leaders in charitable giving, one of their most prominent donations was a $1.25 million gift to Lou’s cherished USC for a student athlete dining and social activity hall. This was followed in 2000 by a $300,000 gift for a ceramics studio in the USC School of Fine Arts and an endowment of the Helene V. Galen Intermedia Lab. And of course, their most important gift to the University was the Galen Center, a 10,500-seat arena for basketball, volleyball and concerts, which fulfilled a $40 million dollar dream of the school to have their own stadium.

Today, Helene has become a ubiquitous presence on the Coachella Valley philanthropic scene, continuing her steadfast involvement in a valley she calls a “gem to live in.”
Desert Charities News caught up with the vivacious, champagne blonde recently to see what is currently pulling her charitable heartstrings.

What are your pet charities?
Primarily the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center because of what they do for thousands of children. I have been involved since the beginning and am proud to have watched it grow.
I also support the McCallum Theatre, Jewish Family Services, the Palm Springs International Film Festival and Desert AIDS Project.
I suppose my other major pet is the Palm Springs Art Museum where I have either served on a committee or a board for over 25 years. This year’s gala will be the fourth I have co-chaired there. I have enjoyed watching the place grow to become one of the most important museums in California.

Is that why you recently donated $1 million to the new Palm Desert location of the Palm Springs Art Museum, named The Galen, slated to open in 2012?
Yes, the Museum is simply a wonderful institution, and if I could pick it up and move it to where the Coachella Valley is experiencing the most growth, I would. Short of that, the new building at the old Palm Desert Visitor’s Center will give us a wonderful chance to show off to the East Valley all the wonderful exhibitions and gain a whole new audience. The Galen will have a 4-acre sculpture garden adding a fabulous dimension to the community. I am so proud that I could support this with my late husband’s name since he had been coming to the desert since the 1950s and would be really happy about my decision.

Why do you feel Board involvement is as important as donating dollars?
I like the feeling of going to a board meeting and coming home with information that is only obtainable by being that close on the inside. It allows me to feel fully invested in what is going on at a ground floor level rather than just sitting back and writing a check.

That’s easy to do in a close knit community where the charitable social scene tends to overlap. What do you like most about living in the desert?
I love that it’s like a big family here. There are few occasions or places I go where I don’t run into someone I know and know well. It’s a small pond but I like swimming in it!
My daughters, my grandchildren and my partner Jamie help keep me balanced amongst so much social involvement. They constantly remind me of my life philosophy, which is to “pick your battles.”