This March, it is our honor to highlight major donors Jessica Lee and Deb Fenstermaker.
Jessica and Deb are passionate supporters of SMYAL. Jessica previously served as a member of SMYAL’s Board of Directors.
What brought you to SMYAL?
I (Jessica) became interested in SMYAL when I went to the brunch in 2009 with my friend Schroeder Stribling, whose partner Betsey Purcell was president of the board of SMYAL. I instantly fell in love with SMYAL and its mission to help LGBT people navigate what is often their most difficult years, high school and young adulthood. I think that everyone in our community can relate in a visceral way to the experience of SMYAL ’s youth and hope that today’s youth have a better experience than they did. Because of SMYAL’s mission and this strong connection to our collective experience, I believe that the organization holds a special place in our community’s heart.
What about the organization inspired you to become major donors?
I (Jessica) started giving starting at the 2006 brunch. Then Betsey Purcell and then-Executive Director Andrew Barnett asked me to make a major gift to help roll out the new GSA program at high schools in the area. I did and right after Deb and I got married I joined the board. We gave as a couple throughout, taking advantage of my company’s matching gift program and Deb’s federal combined campaign to increase our impact. The major gift program that SMYAL developed a few years ago is excellent. We love being kept informed of developments at the organization and being invited to great events. In addition to having the ability to make a financial impact, being a SMYAL major donor has made us part of a wonderful wider community of friends of the organization.
Jessica, you recently served on SMYAL’s Board. Are there programs/accomplishments that you are especially proud of from your tenure on the Board?
The program I was most involved in from its early exploratory days is the housing program and that has become a tremendous success. On the subcommittee in charge of the initial forays into housing we learned that the paths you choose not to pursue are as consequential as the ones that you do. It was a learning process and because we had some dedicated and smart people on the board and a wonderful management team (Sultan!) we ended up pursuing a path that has worked out very well for our local youth and for the organization.
With March being Women’s History Month, can you share with us some of the women who inspire you?
Things have gotten so much better since we came out in the 80s. It makes us look back at those days and earlier with appreciation for the brave women who preceded us and had everything to lose. Pioneer athletes like Billie Jean King, writers like Elizabeth Bishop and Radclyffe Hall and an artist we recently learned about named Zilia Sanchez who was ostracized from the important New York art scene of the 50s because she was lesbian and Cuban. She ended up being in something like permanent exile and relocated from New York to live in Puerto Rico in obscurity until the Phillips held Sanchez’s first museum showing two years ago. She is still alive and it is wonderful that she has finally gotten recognition. So many women, and especially lesbians, have been erased from history it is always wonderful when you discover one and learn more about her. So for Women’s History month, it is fun to think about women who never made “history” because they were marginalized or forgotten about.
How are you staying connected to community and the causes that matter to you through the pandemic?
The main way that we are staying connected to the community is through giving to our beloved charities and staying in touch through Zoom events. We look forward to being more involved with volunteering again when it is permissible. The past year has been an inward time for many people because of the pandemic. Hopefully, we can all take the insights we gained during this time of reflection and share them with our communities in the near future.
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
Pretty much everything. Things that jump out as really exciting prospects are things we used to take for granted, like going to the movies, live performances and seeing friends and family. We hope to see our SMYAL community in person soon.