Lee C. Shapiro, regional director of AJC Cleveland, notes that while most of the time, she’s working in the community in a professional capacity, she has volunteered her whole life.

“I have deeply held Jewish values that lie within,” she said, citing values such as tikkun olum. “I grew up with that and in an environment that encouraged me to give back, get along with others and make this world better than we found it.”

Shapiro spent most of her professional career in network news. The effects of Sept. 11, 2001, changed her. At the time, Shapiro was living in New York City and had recently vacated an office in the World Trade Center. 

“I realized I wanted something more in my life and to give back in a different way,” she said.

She helped with the aftermath of 9/11, volunteering in rescue and recovery. In 2006, through a turn of events, she found herself at AJC Cleveland, which she said “speaks to the brain and the heart.”

“It allows me to apply intellect and heart to all the work we do,” she said.

Her position at AJC Cleveland allows her to work with others in both the Jewish and general community to advance AJC’s priority issues, thinking globally but acting locally.

In New York, she volunteered with the Starlight Children’s Foundation to grant wishes for critically and chronically ill children. At AJC Cleveland, Shapiro works with others to use their voices to create change.

“I think the reward for me comes from watching my leadership here be able to truly impact and make a difference in our community around the world,” Shapiro said. “When I was volunteering with Starlight, the children gave me more than I gave them. When I did rescue and recovery after the events of 9/11, the first-responders gave me more than my time gave to them. All of that was rewarding. It was rewarding to know we made a difference in their lives. It has been a great journey; my career path was not a straight line”

AJC Cleveland wasn’t Shapiro’s first stop when she got to Ohio; she was working for Adelphia Communications Corp. and was laid off. Shortly after, she received a call from a woman at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland whom she had never met. The woman told Shapiro she understood she had been laid off and asked how the Federation could help to keep her in Cleveland.

“It was at that moment I knew I found home and found community,” Shapiro said. “This Cleveland community is like no other. It is supportive, it is embracing, warm and welcoming.”

She encourages younger people who want to be involved in the community to just go out and get involved.

“Follow your heart and passion by doing what is right and what your inner self leads you to and be open to new experiences, new people,” she said. “Look to the people who you admire and see what they’re doing. And find yourself a really good mentor.”

– Ed Carroll

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