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Lynn and David Mitchell

Honored to serve

David and Lynn Mitchell met at Harvard University, where he earned a degree in law and she completed her graduate studies in education.

The motivating force in David's life was to use his knowledge to serve others, he said. "My primary idea was using my legal skills to make a difference.

"I suppose no matter what vocation I went into, I would want to feel like I was serving. I just think lucky people — whether by accident or by hard work, or otherwise — need to give back. We have been lucky," he said, looking at his wife, Lynn.

"I've been lucky too. I had the opportunity for a good education. I want to be involved in things that matter for the next generation — and this one," she said.

"It's not completely altruistic," she said of her volunteerism. "I get a lot of pleasure from it."

David, a tax attorney, has given much of his time to community and nonprofit organizations, helping them structure legally complex transactions on a pro-bono or "low-bono," reduced-fee, basis.

The Peninsula Open Space Trust, an organization protecting land and resources for future generations, has been one of David's main priorities. The organization's mission resonates with him because it recognizes the natural environment's value in today's fast-paced, built-up world.

"The quality of life of people in our urban environment depends on getting out, enjoying the view, hiking and just seeing open land. You can be on a trail in 15 or 20 minutes, which is a real advantage [of living in Palo Alto," he said.

He served on Peninsula Open Space Trust's board from 1982 to 2006. The work was meaningful to him as a local resident invested in protecting natural resources, he said.

"I had been hiking and interested in the outdoors all my life," he said, recalling trips with his daughters to Foothills Park and family outings throughout California.

Since 1977, he's also assisted an organization now called the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which provides solutions to issues in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties through its research, grant-making and strategic initiatives supporting the arts, education and the environment. When David joined, the organization managed $500,000 in assets, he recalled. Now, the foundation has $1.9 billion, he said.

Approximately three years ago, he also began working with the Palo Alto Community Fund, an organization providing grant dollars to programs directly benefiting Palo Alto.

For many years, he has been active in his church, the First Congregationalist Church in Palo Alto, where Lynn taught Sunday school after moving to Palo Alto in 1965.

"Education is a motivating theme in my life," Lynn said, describing experiences ranging from teaching religious studies to directing youth adventures as a Camp Fire leader.

Throughout her life so far, she has worked to support the learning endeavors of children with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.

Social responsibility — and justice — are a big part of her hope for instilling a love of learning in children.

"I want equality of opportunity," she said, explaining her motivation for working with the "Bring Me a Book Foundation," a nonprofit organization devoted to increasing literacy.

Through "Bring Me a Book" she strove to "level the playing field" for low-income students developing language skills.

Efforts reaching out to students learning English as a second language are of particular importance to her, she said.

She found another opportunity to provide young people with learning opportunities when her eldest daughter was learning to swim.

"While our daughter was a natural athlete, it was an eye-opener to see how children with disabilities struggled and succeeded in swimming. That experience set me to work to help raise money to build the CAR pool," she said, referring to an organization once known as the Community Association for Rehabilitation, or CAR, but now called Abilities United.

To fund the pool, she went to numerous fabric stores in Palo Alto, asking for cloth remnants to make puppets and stuffed toys to sell.

Children with developmental disabilities and individuals suffering from arthritis now enjoy taking a dip in the well-heated water, she said.

Currently, she sings in a volunteer women's singing group called The Clef Hangers, which performs for senior citizens in community centers, retirement homes and health care facilities.

"If everyone sang, we'd have world peace," she said.

In addition to stimulating a rich inner life, artistic expression can teach collaboration and help us accept chaos in life, she said.

"The arts are so important because you have a concept and then, inevitably, what you start creating requires adjustments. And then you have teamwork ... I use what I learn from art in all my teaching," she said.

In their home, David and Lynn hung a floral serigraph with a quote by Albert Schweitzer: "One thing I know, the only ones among you who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."

"That very much fits us," Lynn said.

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