For Benée Hilton-Spiegel, the road to tzedakah began as a student at the University of Arizona. “When I would come home for the weekend, I would go to this salon that my friend owned and get my nails done or my hair cut,” she explains. During these visits, she would talk to the other women in the salon. One of these women was Fran Sachs.
“Fran and Al Sachs are the most generous, kind and fun people, and the first people to talk to me about tikkun olam – repairing the world,” says Benée. At home, her mother was happy to help in the Jewish community, but she was not involved with organized philanthropic work.
The woman that Benée considers her “true mentor” is Shari Kanefsky. They also met at the same salon where she met Fran. Shari said that when Benée graduated from college, she would take her to the young women’s forum program through the federation.
True to her word, Shari took her to one of those young women’s forums. “It was intoxicating to see all these incredibly beautifully dressed woman talking about taking care of other people. I learned tikkun olam from that moment, and from age 22 until today, it has become very important to my family and me.”
Shari also took her to New York City to attend the Jewish Federations of North America International Lion of Judah Conference. “I saw what the federation does and also the power of what women working together can accomplish,” says Benée.
Another mentor, who helped Benée see into the spiritual side of Judaism, is Mim Bottner. “Mim told me that ‘giving always feels good’ and she also taught me the spiritual way to bake challah,” Benée shares.
Benée’s mentors read like a who’s who of women in philanthropy in the Valley, and she herself has been involved with numerous organizations in a leadership, chair or board position; most recently as past chairman of the board and current leadership chairman of Cortney’s Place, a day program for adults with special needs. Benée’s friend Cindy Carpenter founded Cortney’s Place when her disabled daughter, Cortney, turned 22 and was getting ready to age out of the school system and there was no place for her to go.
It was at Cortney’s Place that both of Benée’s daughters, Shari, 24, and Eva, 20, would share their time as teenagers. “Throughout high school, I always volunteered my time by spending the day or afternoon with students at Cortney’s Place,” explains Shari. She was also a peer assistant in the special needs classroom at Chaparral High School and the treasurer of the school’s Best Buddies chapter, which helps intellectually and developmentally disabled students form meaningful friendships with their peers.
Eva echoes a similar story of her service time in high school. She explains, “I started a club in high school called Cortney’s Club to help high school students understand all about adults with special needs. We had monthly visits [to Cortney’s Place], where we interacted with the students. We also participated in the annual Miracle League softball game.”
When asked what their earliest memory of performing service work was, the girls’ answers were identical. When they were younger, they participated with Cortney and her sister, Chelsea, in the Emily Anderson Fashion Show. This event benefits the Emily Center at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, which is a resource library for families that contains pediatric health information that is accurate, easy to understand and free of charge.
“The Hilton and Carpenter girls strutted the runway for over five years at this event,” Shari recalls. “My mother made sure we knew why we were there and how important it was to raise money for such an amazing cause. Phoenix Children’s Hospital is where Cortney spent the first month of her life, as she had many complications after her birth.”
Eva also recalled an early memory, “At my day school, King David, we used to visit the elderly at Kivel [Campus of Care], an elderly care facility in Phoenix. My mother came with us each and every time. She loved interacting with people. In Judaism, this is called performing acts of love and kindness, gemilut chasadim.”
“There is no one more dedicated and motivated to help the community than my mother,” says Eva. “If she could be on the committee for every nonprofit or volunteer event, she would be. Philanthropy, I believe, is her calling and she thrives on it. I am so proud of her and everything she does.” Shari agrees with her sister, “She is so passionate about everything she does. She is extremely generous with her time in serving the community in any capacity she can.” Both of the girls shared the same sentiment, “My mother told me that whatever I choose to get involved with needs to make my heart feel good.”
Fortunately for all of us, what makes these women’s hearts feel good is also making the people that they serve, mentor and assist feel good, which makes our community a better place.