Meet the "Lucy and Ethel" duo propelling the annual gala
Nancy Brodovsky and Maria Kaufman chuckle about the nicknames they've been given. Many at the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute fondly refer to them as “Lucy and Ethel” — a respectful nod to their boundless energy, infectious enthusiasm and strong friendship.
“I'm ‘Ethel,’” said Kaufman, the more reserved and analytical of the two. “And Nancy is ‘Lucy.’ We're very different from each other, but we have a knack of reading each other's minds. Our strengths complement each other.”
Brodovsky agrees. “Maria is marvelous at specific ideas and details, whereas I'm a 'big picture' concept person. She and I have a wonderful working relationship,” she said.
This “Lucy and Ethel” pair co-chair the M.I.N.D. Institute gala, which they have transformed from “wish-list” item into an “A-list” community event. They shepherded the initial sold-out November 2005 gala that generated $125,000 in proceeds. To date, countless hours have been spent organizing this year's event, which is scheduled for April 28 to coincide with Autism Awareness Month.
“They are a dynamic force of nature,” said Terri Contenti, M.I.N.D. Institute development officer. “They bring passion, energy and life to everything that they do for us. Their goals are to raise awareness of the M.I.N.D. Institute, raise dollars for important research and create an entertaining and festive event. We are fortunate to have their support and are grateful for their many efforts.”
Long-time friends and partners in philanthropy
The two originally met when their husbands' business interests crossed paths more than 20 years ago. Along with five friends, they have celebrated birthdays together ever since. Nancy and Maria's joint venture on the M.I.N.D. gala actually began on a cocktail napkin, when they were attending another organization's fundraising event. On the napkin, Brodovsky scribbled, “I've been asked to create a gala at the M.I.N.D. Institute. Are you interested?” She passed the note to Kaufman, who replied, “Yes!”
Through more notes, Brodovsky said the gala needed a theme to convey the significance of the institute's research and clinical work. After some thought, Kaufman handed a note to Brodovsky. “It's a journey to find an answer, like taking a spaceship to Mars, so we should call it 'Journey of the M.I.N.D. — A Promise for the Future.'”
— M.I.N.D. Institute gala co-chair Nancy Brodovsky
Within six months, the forces of “Lucy and Ethel” and a committee of community volunteers transformed that idea into an imaginative event that dramatically elevated awareness of the M.I.N.D. Institute.
Brodovsky and Kaufman are inveterate volunteers with rich experiences serving civic organizations. Both spent countless years at the Crocker Art Museum as board members and volunteers. Brodovsky's countless volunteer activities include the Shalom School, Sacramento Country Day School, River Oak Center for Children, Families First and Mosaic Law Congregation. Currently, she is a M.I.N.D. Institute board member and serves on the UC Davis Health System Leadership Council.
Kaufman dedicated herself to volunteerism after recognizing a dramatic societal shift. “As a result of a significant revolution in the composition of the work force during the past three decades, far fewer women had time for volunteer work,” she observed. She and her husband, commercial real estate broker Dan Kaufman, agreed that he would maintain the family business, while Maria maintained the commitment of philanthropy to the community. Her volunteer interests include The Sacramento Opera, St. Francis High School, Jesuit High School, Junior League, Symphony League and the Greek Orthodox Church.
She strayed from that course only after her children were grown. That's when she and a longtime friend launched a popular gardening and home accessories shop called “Two Potted Ladies.” She drew inspiration for that and other endeavors from a declaration by the late painter Georgia O'Keeffe: “I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life — and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
Brodovsky's initial career in hotel sales and marketing evolved into expertise in catering sales and management, which led to her involvement with community organizations. She enjoys serving on boards because it gives her a role in shaping and advancing policy. Her husband, attorney Alan Brodovsky, agreed that is where her talents shine and encouraged her volunteerism.
Recognizing the M.I.N.D. Institute and families of children with autism
Brodovsky and Kaufman both felt drawn to support the M.I.N.D. Institute because they both have friends and family members who are affected by neurodevelopmental disorders. They empathize with the difficulties of parents who have children with autism. That's largely the inspiration for making the M.I.N.D. Institute gala fun for attendees, who include many parents of patients and research study participants.
“Our primary goal is to raise awareness about the remarkable work that the M.I.N.D. Institute is doing and to throw a fun party to recognize that.” This year will be even better thanks to the involvement of talk show host Montel Williams. Brodovsky and Kaufman were thrilled when he agreed to participate.
“He is a strong advocate for children and health issues and a shining example of community responsibility,” said Kaufman. “He'll bring his star quality and motivation to the event.”
“We recognize that everybody knows somebody affected with some neurodevelopmental disorder,” said Brodovsky. “Whether you are a parent, sibling, student, neighbor, business colleague, employer, teacher or grandparent, each day can pose a challenge. Montel says, 'Success is determined by what you give back to others.' These are words Maria and I live by everyday because that is who we are.”