Donor Desk: Betsy Blumenthal

Donor Desk: Betsy Blumenthal

Tell us about yourself:

I grew up in Connecticut, and my mom was very civic minded – volunteering at Planned Parenthood, The Urban League, and numerous other organizations. My husband and I are passionate about many issues including refugees, medical research, mental health, and the environment, just to name a few. Leadership and efficiency are important to us.

Tell us about an organization you are passionate about:

In the early 1980s, I was living in New York City and while in between jobs, was working at Pierre Deux, an antique and fabric store. They employed some Vietnamese refugees who had been sponsored by the International Rescue Committee. In talking with one employee, Thom, I learned of his harrowing story, escaping Vietnam and ending up in a refugee camp in Thailand run by the International Rescue Committee. A few years later, Thom and his wife and infant daughter ended up in the South Bronx. The Pierres, as they were called, hired seven clients of the IRC, including Thom.

Thom and his family taught me so much. I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for the seven Vietnamese families, and after year one, I learned it was best if I hosted two separate dinners:  one for the Chinese Vietnamese and one for the ethnic Vietnamese. Sitting around a Thanksgiving table and listening to people who have recently arrived in America tell their stories is something everyone can understand.

To this day, we host IRC clients for an annual Thanksgiving meal. In lieu of flowers, lining the center of the table are flags that our now grown sons made when they were young, representing the counties from where our guests emigrated. We include the flat of Germany, Russia, England, Italy and other countries where our own family and friends arrived from. In welcoming everyone, I say “You will note, there is no American flag on the table. None of us are originally from here, and whether you are Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or Jew, this is the holiday we all celebrate.”

Lynn, the infant I met in the 80s, is a lawyer, and she’s married to a doctor whose parents also arrived in the United States as Vietnamese refugees in the 80s.

The IRC tag line is “From Harm to Home.” This resonates with just about everyone. In so many cases, returning to what had been home is not a safe option. It is an honor to get to know some of America’s most recent arrivals. Over the years I have served on the IRC Board, and I now serve on the Advisory Board.