Laura is a senior attorney in the trial and construction group at Shapiro, Lifschitz & Schram. She is also incredibly involved in the DC intramural sports leagues and serves on the Board of Team DC.
What brought you to SMYAL?
I first learned about SMYAL through a friend, Milla Sanes, who is now a Board Member. I attended my first SMYAL event and was immediately impressed and inspired by the amazing work that SMYAL does. I’ve been attending SMYAL events whenever possible ever since. Watching the video profiles and hearing youth speak at the SMYAL Brunch and other SMYAL events is what keeps me coming back.
What inspired you to get involved with the organization at a deeper level as a major donor?
A few years ago, I decided that it was important to take a serious look at my charitable giving. I wanted to be sure that I was giving back to my community in a meaningful way and that included giving generously where I was able. I grew up in a family that needed community support to make it and now I want to support my community so that others can have the same help when they may need it, so this was very important to me.
At the beginning of that next year, I set a charitable giving goal for myself and I tracked my giving against that number all year. At the end of the year when I hadn’t hit that target, I sent a bunch of donations to get me there. It worked and I was proud. I truly believe that giving to organizations that do work in the community is the most direct way we can help make our communities better. Now, I look at that number every January, increase it a little bit, and stick to it.
The next step for me was thinking about where this money should go. At some point, as I looked around at the amazing network and community that I had built for myself here in D.C., I realized that this was where I wanted to concentrate my efforts. The amount of money that I can give may be a drop in the bucket for a big national organization, but it can make a real, tangible difference for an organization the size of SMYAL. And, more importantly, SMYAL will turn around and use that money right here to directly benefit the community that I love and has given so much to me. When the Major Donor program was launched at SMYAL it was a natural fit.
I would tell them “you won’t regret it.” You will get to see photos of Little SMYAL’s kids marching in their own Pride parade with enormous smiles on their faces, talk to parents of Little SMYAL’s participants and hear how much the program has changed their lives and the lives of their entire families, listen to youth speak at various events about how much of a difference the SMYAL programs have made in their lives, and see the housing program grow. Everywhere you look, you will see evidence of real, meaningful, and immediate change being made in the lives of LGBTQ+ youth and their families right here in our community as a result of SMYAL’s hard work. SMYAL does an excellent job of keeping its major donors informed of just how meaningful their donations are to keeping these programs going and growing. Plus, SMYAL knows how to throw a party! SMYAL events are not just meaningful and personally rewarding, they are fun and you always meet great people at the events!
How else do you personally build and support community in DC?
I’ve spent plenty of time in my life feeling like I didn’t fit into my small-town, somewhat conservative, community. I’ve learned that the best thing to do when you don’t quite know where you belong is to look around and build your own community of people who don’t seem to fit in, make your community inclusive, and welcome others to join you. The LGBTQ+ community here in DC is vibrant and strong. As a community, we are thriving. But, there are those in our community (especially youth) who need our support and need to be welcomed in.
In addition to supporting SMYAL, I try to attend other LGBTQ+ community events when I can. I particularly enjoy the performances of the Gay Men’s Chorus. I also currently play darts with Rogue League Sports – an LGBTQ+ sports organization that has darts, cornhole, and e-sports leagues. I used to play rugby with the DC Furies which is an LGBTQ+ inclusive team and I continue to support the team and that community. And I am on the Board of Team DC, which is the local non-profit association of LGBTQ+ sports leagues in the DC area.