To lead a foundation is to wear many hats.
For Linda Wolfe, those hats include leading a young nonprofit and being mom to and lifelong fan of Khalid, the singer/songwriter who has recorded major hits and garnered awards attention since graduating from Americas High School in 2016.
Wolfe retired from the U.S. Army before beginning her trek into the nonprofit world. She has spent the last couple of years as executive director and president of the Great Khalid Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, which provides scholarships and support for students.
Since the foundation was founded in 2019, it has awarded $60,000 in scholarships to students interested in pursuing performance art in college. Applications are now open for this year’s competition.
But it also runs several programs to help kids in the community. Christmas with Khalid delivers holiday gifts to places like the Ronald McDonald House and Center Against Sexual and Family Violence. The foundation hosts back-to-school supply drives for students.
Its Music in Schools initiative provides musical instruments and accessories to students in need. And last year, the foundation piloted a Honoring Parents essay competition.
Wolfe said 2020 was hard for the Great Khalid Foundation, but their work was able to move forward.
“I feel like this is the reason we exist – 2020 was a year that a lot of people fell on hard times, that normally would be prosperous. People losing jobs, kids not being able to go to school and income dwindling down because of that,” Wolfe said.
“We’ve been proud to be able to have our initiatives go through this year, because if not this year then when?”
For more information on the Great Khalid Foundation, including how to sponsor programs, visit thegreatkhalidfoundation.org.
Wolfe, 47, was born in Bamberg, Germany and retired from the U.S. Army as a senior non-commissioned officer. She was a vocalist for Army bands, including at Fort Bliss. Her daughter, Regina, is a freshman at New Mexico State University.
Khalid, Wolfe’s son, rose to superstar status in 2017 after releasing the song “Location,” which quickly went viral. Since then, he has released two studio albums – one of them went triple platinum – more than a dozen singles, and garnered critical praise and awards nods.
Wolfe talked to El Paso Inc. about El Paso’s foundation world, how the pandemic affected the Great Khalid Foundation, and a big event coming up.
Q: How was 2020 for the Great Khalid Foundation?
We were able to complete our back-to-school initiative. Even though a lot of kids were not able to go to school, they still needed supplies.
We did the Thanksgiving drive, which was new for this year but needed. We evaluate the sense of what people need in the community, and that was something we thought was needed. It was very successful and something we will bring back next year.
Our scholarships are open to the nation now. We’re still just trying to complete the initiatives in this environment, this new normal, and trying to figure out the best ways to do that.
Q: Scholarships are now open for applicants nationwide, and were just for El Pasoans in the first year? What led to that shift?
El Pasoans have a way of doing things at the last minute. All three scholarships went out to schools here. We have requirements, including a 3.5 GPA. It has to be for performing arts, singing, dancing, things of that nature.
We had a lot of applications, but not as much as I thought. We wanted to open up this last year to the nation, and we had two from El Paso get it and one from Nevada.
This year, we do want to have that one scholarship open to El Pasoans, but we’re opening it up to the nation because there are kids everywhere that need that $10,000. If we get two or three El Pasoans that blow us out of the water, then that’s who we pick.
Q: What’s it been like for the Great Khalid Foundation in terms of raising funds?
It is challenging, because it almost seems as though you have to prove to the community that they can trust you in your foundation. Nobody wants to give to a foundation where they don’t know where money is going.
What I like to do is be the face of the foundation, be out there working, and put my money where my mouth is and do the work. Soon people will see that we are a trusted foundation that gives back to this community, and it’s OK to give to the Great Khalid Foundation. That money you give will be used to support causes here in this community.
Q: What was the transition like from the Army to the Great Khalid Foundation?
I went into the military when I was 19, I was a kid. I served proudly for 24 years, from 1994 to 2017. I was a senior non-commissioned officer when I left.
My whole adult life I was in the military. Becoming a civilian was difficult. Our culture is different from a typical civilian life. I had to leave my uniform packed away, and had to kind of change my mentality and how I looked at things, to not supporting the nation and just supporting my family.
It’s hard for a lot of veterans to kind of leave that life behind, especially being in for 24 years.
When I got out of the military I had no idea I was going to be executive director of this foundation. My job was just getting into the music business. I was just thinking about retiring, not having to get up for PT every morning at 6:30.
Life happens and you adjust. When Khalid got his first album out, he wanted to give back to his community. That’s when we got into a room, talked to management and they said, ‘OK, Mama, it’s time.’
Of course, you’re petrified. You don’t want to fail at things that are not in your wheelhouse. You learn a lot of things real fast.
My transition into this foundation was really scary. But as time went by, you have the support backing you, with the lawyers and legal, and you learn real quick.
We were able to do that but it’s been challenging, but it’s been my life’s purpose and pleasure. It’s a lot of work, because I care.
Q: How did you become a vocalist in the Army?
I was one of the first vocalists that the enlisted Army had. I came in as an automotive logistical specialist. When I went to Germany, I got to audition for the E-7 band. That audition let me front the chorus, sing with the band and perform with them.
I did my audition and won it. For the next 11 or 12 years, I served with bands around the nation. They gave me a rock band, so I’d have a pianist, guitarist, horns. We’d just go around and perform for wherever we were, for communities that we serviced.
We’d perform at balls for the military. I’d sing the national anthems. I did the monster truck thing about three years ago here. I had a really good job, when I was in Germany.
I’ve sung on Red Square in Russia, did tours in Norway, England. I performed for the royal family there. It took me a lot of places.
Each major station has a band. There are specialty bands in Washington that perform for the White House and do all those missions. But the regular stations, like Fort Bliss and Fort Bragg, they have their own band that performs duties for their region. There are more than 50 Army bands.
Q: How has your shared love of music connected you to Khalid?
Early on, I knew he had a talent, especially with singing. We used to take long drives and he used to sing with me. Whatever was on the radio and whatever was playing. I knew I had to put him in chorale, and keep him in there, to help develop that gift he had.
He was in chorale his whole scholastic career. As a mom, I’m singing in the band, he used to come to a lot of my shows. He knew he wanted to do something in music.
It wasn’t initially that he wanted to be a star, he wanted to be a music teacher. Of course I’m going to encourage anything he wants to do in life, but I’m glad music was a part of that.
Q: Are you still based in El Paso, and what was your path to the borderland?
I am still based in El Paso because the foundation is here. But I do want to spread our wings with the foundation. We will always have offices and initiatives here, but want to spread the love out to the nation.
I’m an Army brat, like my son. Brat is an endearing word.
I was born in Germany, and my father did three tours in Germany. Then I toured in Germany for six years. Being moved around and around like my son is why I identify with him and what he was going through, because I went through that myself.
We ended up in North Carolina, where I graduated from high school. Being a brat, you kind of look like things a lot differently than a normal person would.
You’re forced to see a lot of cultures and different ways people live, and you’re well-traveled. I think that kind of lends to the personality, and you’re not stuck in one place, so you can really identify with a lot of people.
Q: What’s the nonprofit world here like in El Paso? What’s unique or missing?
When I got into the foundation world, I went to other events to see what right and wrong look like. We did some foundation things in Los Angeles, and they do things a lot differently here. We went to New York to see how they were doing things.
I think the foundation world in El Paso is different, not in a bad way. But I want to do things differently than they do in El Paso, I think because I’m not from here. I wanted to take things from other places, to bring into what I’m doing.
It’s hard when you’re not from here and you don’t know anybody here. I think it’s who you know is in this city, so networking is very important. And networking during a pandemic is very hard for me to do.
I support the Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers Big Sisters. I look at some of the things they do and I put that in my back pocket. We’re going to lead with how we want to do things, with all the influences we have around us. We’re here to learn, and to pick up what’s good for us and leave what’s not.
We have a lot of work to do, a long way to go, and we just continue to learn on the way.
Q: Where are some spots you enjoy in El Paso?
When we could go out in the world? We used to hang out at Topgolf. I love hanging out there. I didn’t even want to hit balls, but it was a great place to hang out and be competitive with my husband.
There’s a restaurant downstairs at the Indigo Hotel, Mamacitas, where they have the best Impossible burgers, and you just can’t tell it’s all plant-based. If you want to try an Impossible burger, go there first. Don’t get an Impossible burger at Burger King, that’s not what you do.
We bought an RV during the pandemic, because we wanted to go out and be safe in our own environment. San Antonio, Galveston, places in Texas. I don’t even have to get out of my RV if I don’t want to.
Q: How can El Pasoans get involved with the Great Khalid Foundation?
Donate, follow us on Instagram @thegreatkhalidfoundation. The more people know about the great things we’re doing, it eases people’s minds to know they’re giving to a good cause. This year is gonna be great, and we’re looking forward to our benefit dinner at the Plaza Hotel. You’ll hear more on that soon.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Sara Sanchez at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422.