THE CHARITY LIST
Mary Cooper is a fundraiser extraordinaire. As volunteer development manager for the New York Junior League, she has been the group’s top fundraiser for the past three years.
“My mother got me started when I was young,” Cooper said. “I know that I have privileges that other people don’t, so I just continue to give when others can’t.”
Even her involvement with the Junior League began at an early age in her hometown Galveston, Texas.
“I joined the Junior League on the advice of my mother, a longtime Junior League volunteer. I actually attended some Junior League meetings with my mom when I was a child,” Cooper said. “She helped put on puppet shows for underprivileged children.”
When she moved to the city in 1998, Cooper transferred her membership in Galveston to the New York Junior League. She now heads the training and development of the organization’s many volunteers.
Her early work in New York involved mentoring teen mothers who were starting independent lives after spending time in a group home. To ease the transition, Cooper created a toolkit that covered the basics of city life, including finding an apartment, making a budget and running a household.
“There are now adults living on the Upper West Side, with children, who can credit Mary with being their mentor,” said Amanda Parrish Block, the league’s communications manager. “She really helped to invigorate their sense of confidence and independence.”
Since joining the league in 1985, Cooper has built or renovated a dozen city playgrounds as part of the Playground Improvement Project, which aims to improve recreation facilities in underserved areas of the city. In the aftermath of the 2004 Christmas tsunami, those skills took her halfway around the world to Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. With a team of her colleagues from Thomson Reuters, where she works as a product manager and with sponsorship from Habitat for Humanity, Cooper spent five days rebuilding five family homes from the bottom up. And when Thomson Reuters challenged each employee to raise $400 dollars for tsunami victims, Cooper raised $5,000.
For the past three years, Cooper has worked to raise awareness of domestic violence at the league’s annual “Race to Erase Domestic Violence” in Central Park on Mother’s Day. The women’s half marathon, plus a co-ed 5K, also features an onsite “Domestic Violence Awareness Pavilion” with information about service providers and community programs.
Next up is the league’s 18th Playground Improvement Project, scheduled for the spring of 2009.
Cooper’s advice for other volunteers is simple: “Follow your passion. Always believe in your cause. If you don’t, it shows. If you do, it shows. Enthusiasm is contagious!”
With additional reporting by Stephanie Lee.
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