Early days set tone for United Way chair Alison Lebovitz

Early days set tone for United Way chair Alison Lebovitz

August 21st, 2012 by Clint Cooper in Life Entertainment

United Way of Greater Chattanooga campaign chairwoman Alison Lebovitz, center, talks with Hamilton County PTA communications vice president Scottie Goodman, left, and United Way of Greater Chattanooga president Eva Dillard, right, as they work during United Way's Stuff the Bus fundraiser at the Chattanooga Market on Sunday, August 19, 2012. United Way filled a school bus with new school supplies to be donated to the Hamilton County PTA's Teacher Supply Depot in order to equip students from low income families with the supplies they need.

Photo by Allison Love /Times Free Press.

One of the stories that stuck out as she was growing up, said Alison Lebovitz, concerned an incident surrounding her grandfather's Red Bell Cafe in Montgomery, Ala.

Seems in the mid-1950s he spotted a woman who looked lost and out of place standing outside in the pouring rain, brought her inside and seated her at a booth to dry off and have a bite to eat.

The woman, Lebovitz said, turned out later to have a part in the implementation of the Montgomery bus boycott that many credit as being the ball that got the civil rights movement rolling.

Helping others, she said of her family during her childhood years in Birmingham, Ala., "really was a priority. I grew up with a sense of philanthropy and kindness in everyday actions. That continues to inspire me."

Lebovitz, an author, television host and nonprofit executive, is chairwoman of the United Way of Greater Chattanooga's upcoming community campaign. The campaign kickoff is Tuesday, Aug. 28, at noon, at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

The organization's 2011 campaign raised $11,932,321, passing its stretch goal of $11.6 million and meeting or exceeding its goal for the 90th straight year.

Lebovitz said her parents always supported the United Way, through both her father's family business and the retail culture in which her mother worked.

"That brand, that name, that entity was synonymous with giving, with community," she said. "I never thought of it as an institution."

Lebovitz says she may have taken the organization for granted because she didn't think a lot about it during college, graduate school and beyond. But when she married Alan Lebovitz and moved to Chattanooga, it became ingrained in her, personally and professionally.

"[Alan] was leading me back to my United Way past," she said.

While Lebovitz maintains she still is a newbie - in only her third year on the campaign cabinet - to the local United Way, she is not new to its effectiveness.

"Knowing that you can support one organization and [it's] going to be responsible for that money, that it will take the utmost respect and care of it and funnel it into the agencies doing the best work," she said, "when it is partnering in the education of our children, building stable lives and serving those people in our community who need the most - when you can accomplish that with one gift, no other gift touches as many lives."

Brent Taylor, vice president of resource development at the local United Way, said Lebovitz has done her homework on the organization, its agencies and why its supports the agencies its does.

"She's the kind of person who puts the fun back in fundraising," he said. "She's learned everything she needed to learn to do what she needs to do."

Lebovitz said that because of the sluggish economy, she went into the campaign's annual meetings with business executives expecting a bit of skepticism.

"I was shocked and inspired and excited by the overall sense of optimism [in] every sector - real estate, banking, legal, medical, manufacturing, nonprofit," she said. "Across the board, there was a real sense of recovery that's going on."

But the response by Harold DePriest, president and chief executive officer of EPB, among others, assured Lebovitz the United Way is buoyed by more than the economy.

The workforce cares about community, she recalled him saying. Giving back makes for a better working environment. It's productive. It makes sense.

United Way board chairman Dr. Bill Stacy said prior to Lebovitz taking the campaign reins, Chattanoogans would "see her just everywhere" and with "every good cause."

"What tickles me is you see the next generation stepping up," he said. "We see the baton passing right before our eyes. I love her commitment to Chattanooga" and how she has embraced "the aims of the United Way campaign goals."

Chattanooga, Lebovitz said, seems to have the same giving spirit she saw in her family while growing up.

"Even when you are down in your luck," she said, "someone needs more than you do. Someone is earning less than you are. There is understanding and empathy toward our neighbors - that we're responsible for them."

Contact Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to my posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.