Sarah Brelvi

Retired President, United Way of Warren County.
Volunteer Fundraising Director with the Rutherford Hall Foundation
Board member for the Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Crisis Center 

LK:  Tell us a little about yourself and your career. 
SB: I started as a project manager at AT&T and was heavily involved with community service work while there.  It led me to being in charge of the United Way Workplace Campaign, and after I retired I was recruited by United Way to start a WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP PROGRAM, which I then became a part of nationally.  I was able to mentor 40-50 women in Hackettstown, and many more in surrounding communities. 
I have always had strong passion and sense of outreach to the community, and my work has afforded me the opportunity to integrate my passion and professionalism in a way that resonates effectively with others.  

LK: What did you want to be when you were little? 
SB: I’ve always wanted to help people, so as a little girl I wanted to be a teacher or a nurse.
I also wanted to be Annie Oakley, and I think I still kind of do!

LK: How did you become interested in your field?
SB: My parents were very generous and philanthropic, so volunteering has always been part of my life. I’ve always had the great joy in knowing the work I can do to support, empower, and mentor others. It gives them the ability to then do that for others.
United Way is a non-profit supporting people in health and human services and while canvassing for them in my job at AT&T,  I became more educated in the needs of the community.   My mission was to marry the benefits for the donors with the community need, thereby maximizing benefits for all. 

LK: Was there a specific moment where you knew this was what you were supposed to do?
SB: I was a Database Project Manager for AT&T, and one year before the campaign started, I got a call from the president of our business unit asking me to  run the campaign for 35,000 people across the United States. I knew this would be an opportunity to showcase a skill that I didn’t get to use normally and it was something I was already interested in, so I accepted.
Later,  I got a call from the  CEO for a special dinner, wanting to recognize myself and the others who worked on the campaign.  I was there and I thought “I’m sitting in this room with these incredible people and I never would’ve been here if I wasn’t doing something I love.”

So I petitioned for it to be made a full time position, and it for the next 5 years for 175,000 people. I was able to use my skills from project managing to revamp and modernize our process, and I got to work with and give back to the community. Whatever I’m working on in something like this, I’m doing it because it’s where the universe needs me to be. 

LK:  How did you become a “learned lady” (aka, what path did you take to get to where you are?)
SB:  I got my B.A. in Communications from Ramapo College (now university).  And I’ve always been very curious, very open, honest and upfront. I have always valued education and intelligence, but a lot of people want to be pleased. I have vowed not to compromise myself for another person, and that’s the first requirement to truly being a “learned lady”!   That trait has given me the ability to mentor women and to become personal so that they can learn the same thing.

LK: What has been your proudest moment? 
SB: I am so proud of my family and my children. Everyone has their ups and downs, ins and outs, and they’ve been the biggest blessing for all of it. We balance each other and I’m lucky for them.

LK:  What did a typical day look like in your career?
SB: As the President of United Way, we were always looking at how to raise money to support the community. This meant interacting with all types of people so we could find the needs in the community and collectively align our goals and their interests into projects. Sometimes, this even meant learning to emotionally disconnect. The good we were doing wouldn’t work if we were all sitting at the table crying- we had to be able to make phone calls and find the help. It gave me a greater understanding; when you have a gift like food on your table or gas in your car, don’t take it for granted and be benevolent in any way you can.

LK:  Our premise for this feature is “empowered women empower women”.   Do you have any  role models,  you’d like to share with us?  
SB: I have also had so many role models, and really, each one of the women I become engaged with becomes a role model to me in their own way, be it my childhood babysitter, the founder of the Domestic Abuse Center, and so on. Women are powerful, and I’ve always said that when you empower the woman, you empower the family, and you empower the community.
I also have a huge role model in my husband. He emigrated from India, and had to work to transport and assimilate himself. He’s a doctor, and the patience he has with people has taught me the same.