Getting to know the Lee+ Associates team

The Lee+ Associates team recently completed a fun (but surprisingly challenging) poll of some of our favorite things. The resulting responses will give you a snapshot of each of us, including a quirk or two. We hope you will enjoy getting to know us a bit better!

Priscilla Cortez, Associate

What’s your most memorable fundraising related experience?
While working at UT Austin, a student in the College of Natural Sciences passed away -too young – from brain cancer.  I worked with her family to establish a scholarship in her name that would benefit students just like her with a passion for the arts and sciences.  It was a beautiful way for her family to honor the memory of their daughter/sister.

Who were/are your professional mentors?
Marion Lee, Principal at Lee+ Associates;  Jim Noffke, Associate Vice Chancellor for the Center for Enhancing Philanthropy at The University of Texas System; and Cookie Ruiz, Executive Director of Ballet Austin.

What’s the best place you ever ate (and what did you eat)?
A restaurant my husband and I stumbled upon in Siena, Italy, while on our honeymoon 10 years ago.  I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but our meal of peposo (akin to beef stew) and chickpeas was unforgettable!

What’s your favorite movie of all time?
Steel Magnolias:  “I’m not crazy, M’Lynn, I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years!”

What’s your favorite book?
To Kill a Mockingbird

What is a quirky trait you possess that no one knows about?  
As a former ballet/tap/jazz dancer, I choreograph most everything I do in my head.

Alexis De Sela, COO

What’s your most memorable fundraising related experience?
Since my background is in Organizational Development and Human Capital Management, my most memorable professional experience has been related to these: turning a deeply fractured, siloed, and ineffective division into the organization’s most profitable and effective division within a 12-month period. Our efforts saved the organization over $1.5 million in turnover reduction alone! Seeing this division flourish and developing a strong cadre of future leaders was one of the most rewarding professional experiences I’ve ever had.

Who were/are your professional mentors?
I have had three outstanding professional mentors: Jackie Gordon, Steven Flanagan, and Victor Azios. I learned important lessons that helped transform my approach to dealing with issues, motivating others, and helped me become a more effective leader.

Jackie taught me about being true to yourself, acting with integrity, and being kind. She always did what she said she was going to do and treated everyone respectfully and fairly. Steve taught me to be strategic and patient. He had a remarkable ability to plan and wait for the right moment to make an important ask or move a project forward.
Victor taught me to be present and to lean into the “messiness” of a situation. I learned to enjoy organic situations and found the creativity that percolated as a result was worth throwing a “set agenda” out the window.

The one quality they all had in common was their ability to clearly articulate their expectations of my performance, trust that I would perform, and hold me accountable. I felt their trust and did everything I could to deliver on my promise.

What’s the best place you ever ate (and what did you eat?)
I love to eat and have eaten some pretty spectacular meals at some of the best restaurants in the world. One of the fondest memories is eating mojarritas (Tilapia) on the beach in Acapulco. My dad would fish for and cook the mojarritas on a grill, season with lime and salt, and we would devour them. Nothing has ever come close to this culinary experience: it had flavor, ambiance, and tons of love!

What’s your favorite movie of all time?
Godfather I and II

What’s your favorite book?
Try as I may, naming ONE favorite book is impossible! Here are five of the most meaningful books I’ve read: 20 poemas de Amor y Una Cancion Desesperada, Pablo Neruda; The Poet, Kahlil Gibran; The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupery; The Art of War, Sun Tzu; and A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving

What is a quirky trait you possess that no one knows about?
I have to enter an airplane in a certain way always.

Karen Kegg, Senior Associate

What’s your most memorable fundraising related experience?
While working in Maine, President George H.W. Bush called me personally at my hotel.  He left a message with the front desk with a number. I called it back and he answered!

Who were/are your professional mentors? 
Mary Kathryn Cooper, my supervisor at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and my colleagues at Lee+ Associates.

What’s the best place you ever ate (and what did you eat)? 
Pappas Bros. Steakhouse in Houston.  The best steak I’ve ever had!  As well as the sides…

What’s your favorite movie of all time? 
It’s a tie between Steel Magnolias and When Harry met Sally.

What’s your favorite book?  
Beach Music by Pat Conroy.

What is a quirky trait you possess that no one knows about? 
I start talking the minute I get up in the morning!

Shannon Kingman, Associate

What’s your most memorable fundraising related experience?
In college, I participated in Dance Marathon, a benefit for the Children’s Miracle Network at UVA Children’s Hospital.  It was a very “active” fundraising tactic; participants raised money by dancing for 10+ consecutive hours.

Who were/are your professional mentors?
I’ve had several over the years, but I worked in strategy at a hospital system directly out of graduate school; my boss during that time served as a wonderful mentor for me.

What’s the best place you ever ate (and what did you eat)? 
Bodo’s Bagels in Charlottesville, Va.  It’s nothing fancy, but they make the most delicious bagels and it will forever remind me of my college days.

What’s your favorite movie of all time?
That’s hard to say….Lion was the best movie I’ve seen recently, but My Best Friend’s Wedding was a favorite for years.

What’s your favorite book? 
To read with my kids at night – The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin.  Another favorite is The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom; it was first recommended to me by a woman I greatly respect, and her recommendation did not disappoint.

What is a quirky trait you possess that no one knows about?  
Juggling!  I tried to teach my three year old recently…you can imagine how that went.

Marion Lee, CEO

What’s your most memorable fundraising related experience?  
An elderly woman reached out to me at the San Antonio Area Foundation, and over the course of a year, we spent time together. A staff member or I regularly picked her up and took her home after our events, and we even took her to the grocery store when needed, although she rarely asked for this kind of help.  So, I was very surprised when her attorney called me to say that she had passed away and had left the Foundation $6.8 million to establish a fund.  The circumstances under which she lived did not demonstrate that she had this kind of wealth.  We knew she had some wealth, but not like that, and what we did for her, we did out of respect and just general kindness to an elderly person.  The staff enjoyed her so much.

Who were/are your professional mentors?  
Maria Eugenia Cossio Ameduri is hands down the best strategist and best fundraiser I ever met.  She was my former boss, known as “Boss” at the San Antonio Public Library Foundation, and, to this day, she is a mentor and is an inspiration to me.

What’s the best place you ever ate (and what did you eat)?
The very first time, probably 1973, at the Quarterdeck in San Antonio, it was a meal of   King crab legs with sautéed mushrooms.  I was a college student, working two jobs and eating rice and beans and scavenging through the mall on Saturdays to eat samples at Dunderbacks.  To this day, this meal stands out as the best meal I have ever had, and it started me on my life-long love of Tanqueray and Tonic.

What’s your favorite movie of all time? 
Rear Window, Big Jake or Fried Green Tomatoes

What’s your favorite book?  
The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It was the coming of age book.

What is a quirky trait you possess that no one knows about? 
When I am alone, I have a book or my kindle in my hand and I read while I cook, clean, bathe, watch TV, sit on the porch, and if I could, I would read while walking the dog. But with my three dogs, I would end up in the hospital!

Covita Moroney, Associate

What’s your most memorable fundraising related experience?
In the 1990s, while at the Symphony, a group of office volunteers came every Thursday morning. The group included Laura Richmond, who was the ring leader. The group included wives of corporate CEOs and had organized themselves to assist my department. Every Wednesday the team fell into a panic, scrambling to prepare enough meaningful work for as many as six very capable women who would arrive the next morning. I had a saying back then: “Hell hath no fury like a group of volunteers with no work.”

Who were/are your professional mentors?
Early on I learned everything from scratch from my executive directors— including my first nonprofit boss, the Symphony’s Executive Director Rick Lester. Later Jo Long (Carver Center) informed me that foundations don’t award grants based on the word count. Margaret King Stanley has been a wonderful mentor, and we stay in touch. More recently I’d say that Rebecca Brune opened my eyes to numerous key organizational strategies and best practices when I was at Methodist Healthcare Ministries. Our own Alexis De Sela worked over a period of time as a professional coach and was very impactful. Nowadays Marion (Lee) and Alexis are my “go-to” resources since between the two of them everything is revealed.

What’s the best place you ever ate (and what did you eat)?
Kohinoor on Fredericksburg has absolutely the most authentic, delicious, to-die-for Pakistani / Indian cuisine. It’s such complicated food to prepare with a jillion steps and spices. The Butter Chicken and the aloo palak are amazing and the naan is ridiculously good. Best cooked cuisine I’ve ever enjoyed.

What’s your favorite movie of all time?
Close Encounters of the Third Kind

What’s your favorite book?
If I had to choose one for the desert island, Liberation in the Palm of Your Hand by Pabonka Rinpoche is a vast survey of traditional Tibetan Buddhism and culture. It’s so much fun to read and re-read this dive into the old Tibetan world view.

What is a quirky trait you possess that no one knows about?
In the late 1970s I played and sang pop music in cocktail lounges with my (now) husband, in and around Boston and Cape Cod.

Joyce Penland, Senior Associate

What’s your most memorable fundraising related experience?
As Development Director at Trinity University, our team introduced various giving levels between $100 and $1000. It seems simple, but we didn’t have that essential “pathway” at the time to influence donors to upgrade their gifts. So, we created the $250 and $500 giving “clubs” as well as the higher $2500, $5000 and $10,000 giving levels. As the saying goes, “If you build it, he will come” and donors readily began contributing at the new giving levels.

Who were/are your professional mentors?
Margie Kintz hired me at Trinity University and gave me the tools and training to become successful in the world of philanthropy. For most of my 22 years at Trinity Marc Raney was my boss and provided all of us the freedom to create programs and initiate new fundraising ideas. In addition, especially in the early years, I learned so much from other fundraising colleagues through the Association of Fundraising Professionals…Mike Davis, Frank Elston, Barbara Anne Stephens, and many others, and I never hesitate to recommend AFP to newcomers.

What’s the best place you ever ate (and what did you eat)?
I had never had breakfast tacos before arriving in San Antonio in 1984 and now it’s my favorite food. I’m a big fan of the migas taco (with a strip of crisp bacon) at Panchito’s on McCullough Avenue here in San Antonio.

What’s your favorite movie of all time?
Dave – I could watch this again and again–an intelligent and funny movie.

What’s your favorite book?
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows & Mary Ann Shaffer.

What is a quirky trait you possess that no one knows about?
I can play the saxophone, but rarely get called upon to do so!

Amy Phipps, Associate

What’s your most memorable fundraising related experience?
Being on the incredible team of volunteers and staff that raised $14.1 million for The Children’s Shelter’s new campus on West Woodlawn during the first campaign in the organization’s 100-year history.

Who were/are your professional mentors?
Being surrounded by other AFP Presidents in the “early days”, including Kathy MacNaughton, Larry Tuttle, Joyce Penland, Ellen Lueck, Connie Munn…and others…you know who you are! …we all mentored each other and cemented lifetime friendships.

What’s the best place you ever ate (and what did you eat)?  
Knowing that hunger is the best sauce, one of my most memorable meals was a fried-fish lunch at Canyon Lake after spending three hours wrestling a disabled sailboat back to shore.  We fell on that food — fish, fries and cole slaw — as if we hadn’t eaten for days.  It was restorative and brought us back to life.

What’s your favorite movie of all time?  
O Brother Where Art Thou

What is a quirky trait you possess that no one knows about?  
This one has me stumped.  It would be like picking a favorite child.

What is a quirky trait you possess that no one knows about?  
I can say the alphabet backwards in less than 6 seconds.  Also I can whistle with a blade of grass.  And recite the opening of the old “Superman” TV show.  This is what hours of childhood idleness spawns!

Rhonda Serna, Senior Executive Assistant

What’s your most memorable fundraising related experience?
When I worked at the corporate office of HEB, in Public Affairs, our department was responsible for coordinating hundreds of HEB sponsored events each year, the largest of which occurs during the holiday season, The Feast of Sharing. The Feast of Sharing serves communities across Texas in fighting hunger. Along with the delicious holiday meal, guests enjoy music, health screenings, children’s activities and Santa even joins in the festivities. It truly takes a “village of volunteers” who gladly give of their time to make this event successful. One year an elderly woman approached me at the event to ask if she could give me a hug as a “thank you”. She said that she had no family and the Feast of Sharing was her only holiday event to attend. I was pleased to play a part in giving so many people a sense of belonging and joy during a season that otherwise can be very lonely.

Who were/are your professional mentors?
Marion Lee and Alexis De Sela, here at Lee+ Associates, and Debbie Sutton, Manager of Occupancy Planning Services at USAA.

What’s the best place you ever ate (and what did you eat)?  
Restaurant Paradis, Rosemary Beach, Florida. Truly a religious experience!

What’s your favorite movie of all time?  
Steel Magnolias (Laugh, cry, laugh, cry some more…) and On Golden Pond (Who doesn’t love Katherine Hepburn and Henry Fonda?)

What’s your favorite book?  
To Kill a Mockingbird

What is a quirky trait you possess that no one knows about?
I cannot drink something hot when I am eating something hot!

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