Deb Lawrence’s introduction to United Way dates back to the first day of her first job in banking. Walking through the city on her way to Shawmut Bank, Deb was struck by how many people she saw living on the street. Growing up in Concord MA, she knew that there were homeless people in Boston, but until that moment, she hadn’t understood the enormity of the problem. She resolved to do something about it, handing out dollar bills to people on her way to work as a way to alleviate their immediate suffering.
As time passed, Deb realized that distributing cash on the sidewalk was neither sustainable nor safe. The people she met living on the street needed more than a few dollars a day- and she wanted to be part of a larger effort to solve the problem. So she became involved in the bank’s United Way campaign, helping to raise funds and rally volunteers in a cause that would become near and dear to her.
Deb’s passion for helping others has deep roots: “I was brought up in a family that felt very strongly about always giving something back. There was no entitlement – we knew that we were fortunate.” Deb and her husband George have carried this tradition forward. “My husband and I both feel that philanthropy is something that starts early. United Way makes this easy. Though it’s hard to pick one favorite experience, the Thanksgiving Project Family Night this year was really special. We brought our 7 year old granddaughter and she had such a great time. It was a perfect opportunity to talk about people who need our help.”
In the years since that first walk to work, Deb has become increasingly committed to United Way’s mission, serving for 10 years on the United Way Development Committee, 2 years as co-chair of the Women’s Leadership Breakfast and a bit over a year as a member of the Board. “I’ve always loved United Way. There are so many organizations that work on parts of the problem – it’s hard to know where to put your support. Being involved with United Way covers all the bases – they give money to organizations that are in the weeds of helping homeless families, but they also help shape policy and provide thought leadership that changes the way people are talking about these huge, complex problems.”
Though her interest area is homelessness, Deb appreciates that it’s just one piece of the puzzle in helping people in need: “For any of these issues, you need a broad approach and you need smart people to come together and figure out the way forward. United Way has that.”
Now residents of Boston’s South End neighborhood, Deb and George are in agreement about the problem of homelessness. George – a Distinguished Engineer who retired from Cisco Systems last year – is also interested in helping young people gain access to tech skills. United Way provides great opportunities for them to work together. “It has been great for us to spend time together, on causes we both care about, in the same organization. We were asked to co-chair the Tocqueville Council, which was a lot of fun. For people who want to have their significant other involved, it’s easy to do and a great way to spend time together.”
Deb has come a long way since her early days, now Senior Vice President of Global Commercial Banking for Bank of America NA, which is also a United Way corporate partner. “I’m grateful that I work for a company that’s a long-time supporter of United Way and philanthropy in general. The bank has a strong commitment to help strengthen the communities in which we work and live.” She encourages young professionals to look for leadership opportunities that align with the causes they care about. “For me, it’s homelessness. Get involved in something that’s important to you.”
We appreciate Deb and George’s deep commitment to helping families in our community.