Lea Porter is living out her own dream
and helping to make others’ a reality
Lea Porter calls herself a simple girl from Texas, but she has traveled to more than 30 countries throughout the world, shared drinks with the Queen and dinner with Prince Charles, mingled with socialites at the home of Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, and skied with Olympic medal winners Franz Klamer, Picabo Street and Donna Weinbrecht.
Throughout the years, Porter has done things in life that many only dream about. However, her life wasn’t always like this.
Porter was born in Israel and raised in Egypt until she and her family were forced to flee the area because of their Jewish religious beliefs. Her parents then relocated the family to Mesquite, Texas, a far cry from the temperate weather, luxurious spas and high-end boutiques of Beverly Hills, but an undoubtedly better alternative to the unrest in Egypt.
“I think in another life I was a sailor on a ship,” Porter says about her travels. “I’m convinced. I was not descended from royalty. Let me say this: I was swabbing the deck.”
But, now, many years later, she’s the captain of her own ship.
With three kids — Brandon, 11, Bryce, 9, and Cory, 7 — successful husband and a spacious home in Brentwood, Calif., Porter knows exactly what she wants from life and how to get it.
And, what Porter wants, is to help children.
“Being able to change a child’s life — I mean really, really change it — it’s touching,” Porter says. “It really is my passion. I mean, it just is my passion.”
Porter’s desire for helping kids began a few years back when a family friend approached her and her husband, Barry, about serving on the board for a new, struggling charity called the Independent Alliance. This Alliance helps poor, underprivileged children obtain elite private school educations.
At first, the Porters were skeptical, but after observing their own children in their classrooms, the two reconsidered.
“I realized after I had heard about this organization that the Alliance kids are at this school [with my children],” Porter says. “It was a seamless transition into our school.”
Shortly after, Porter’s husband, Barry — the co-founder and managing general partner of Clarity, a private equity firm — became Alliance’s newest board member, and the couple went to work to come up with ideas to help the struggling children’s charity raise money.
A few weeks later, Porter struck gold. She suggested that the board hold a bi-yearly luncheon at which many of the area’s most prominent headmasters and educators could meet Alliance kids and discuss the education system. It was the perfect plan. But, there was one catch – the attendees (young, dynamic families, who would just be starting the process of entering their children into school) would have to step up and pay $2,500 for the luncheons and promise a three-year commitment, making the total cost $7,500. The hope was that they would stay on board for years after.
Many Alliance board members and administrators were in opposition to this plan, saying that no one would ever pay $2,500 for two lunches. But Porter disagreed.
“I know this crowd. I know the West side.” Porter says.
So, in the next few weeks, she and her husband approached many of the headmasters in LA’s independent school system, many of which were good family friends and business partners, with the plan and asked them if they would be willing to participate. The headmasters agreed, and Porter began planning the first lunch for Independent Alliance.
Since the success of that first lunch, there have been many more. But the one thing that remains the same throughout all of the lunches is each headmaster’s commitment to helping underprivileged children succeed.
“There is not a dry eye in the house when you see a child in their little uniform,” Porter says.“You will hear this child get up so articulate, so lovely, and tell you: You know, I was in school. I was never going to get ahead in this school. You know, I didn’t even have a school book. I didn’t have a computer, and all of a sudden I’m going to one of the top private schools.”
Porter attributes much of this commitment to the high cost of membership. She believes that because she has kept the membership payments and donations at such a high level, the luncheons have become more exclusive.
“It’s like if I charged a hundred dollars, no one would think it was any big deal,” Porter says. “But I want a level of commitment from people, and people who will pay $2,500 a year for two lunches — there is a huge commitment here, and they either get what the organization is about or they don’t get it.”
According to Porter, this charity has helped 1,600 to 1,800 kids that otherwise would not have had access to a quality education to go through LA’s independent school system.Impressively, 100% of Alliance kids have continued on to college.
Porter believes that children will not realize their potential without a proper education, and that it is the responsibility of adults to introduce children to the opportunities necessary for their success.
“You know you can write checks, but there is something about giving back with time and effort that invests you in these different organizations, and that’s what I wanted from my luncheon series,” Porter says. “I wanted to invest these people. I wanted them invested in this organization.”
Porter and her family’s commitment to the welfare of others extends beyond their work with Independent Alliance.
As a matter of fact, the Porters traveled to Shanghai last summer to help those in need rebuild their homes. The family did not stay in fancy hotels, even though they definitely could have. Instead, they lived and worked as if they were members of the surrounding community.
Porter says that she wants her children to know that there are other people in the world who aren’t as privileged as they are — and when she sees the compassionate looks in their eyes as they bend down to help others, she knows that they understand.
After all, Porter may never have been able to dine with royalty, party with presidents, and send her children to elite independent schools if, when she was a small-town girl living in Texas, someone hadn’t bent down to help her.