TIPS FOR ENTREPRENEURS:
ACTIVIST CLEA NEWMAN SHOWS US HOW TO PLAY IT FORWARD
The youngest daughter of the legendary acting couple Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Clea Newman inherited her parents’ commitment to giving back.
She started her philanthropic endeavors by working for three years on the development team at The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the first SeriousFun camp that her father founded in 1988.
In January 2013, Clea joined SeriousFun Children’s Network as senior director of External Affairs. She also works as part of the advancement team to raise money to support SeriousFun camps and programs around the world.
In addition, Clea serves as a spokesperson for the organization, helping to elevate awareness of the brand and advance the legacy of her father and SeriousFun founder Paul Newman. Additionally, Clea is building a Legacy Giving Program and an International Board of Governors chaired by her mother.
Prior to joining the SeriousFun team, Clea served on the SeriousFun board of directors, where she was the chair of the Development Committee. She continues to sit on the boards of various nonprofits, including The Newman’s Own Foundation, The Gillen Brewer School, Fauna & Flora International, and the EQUUS Foundation.
For seven years, she was the director of development at Giant Steps School in Southport, CT, a private school for students between the ages of 3 and 21 years old who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders or other neurological impairments. While there, Clea spearheaded the school’s Next Steps Developmental Center, Connecticut’s first multidisciplinary center for children and adults with autism and other related neurological disorders. The center is dedicated to comprehensive clinical care, and diagnostic and case-management services.
A serious horseback rider since the age of 6, Clea is still an avid rider competing in show-jumping events throughout the United States. Clea holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and resides in Fairfield, CT, with her husband, Kurt Soderlund.
Scroll down for our Q&A. — Hope Katz Gibbs
MASTERING THE ART OF GIVING BACK
Be Inkandescent: Clea, you obviously inherited your parents’ desire to give back. Prior to joining the SeriousFun team, you worked with kids who are autistic at the Giant Steps School, and you also sit on the boards for other philanthropic organizations. What inspires you?
Clea Newman: From a very early age, my parents instilled in us that when you come from privilege, your job is to give back. We were incredibly lucky to have two very loving parents who were very successful in what they did. They gave us all the opportunities in the world. In turn, they helped us realize that no matter what your job was, no matter what your career was, your life’s work should be to give to people who are less fortunate—or to animals that were less fortunate, or to give back to the environment. Whatever your passion was didn’t matter; the key was to give back.
Clearly, my parents walked their talk. But they didn’t just throw their money at things. They gave their time and their energy, and I thought that that was also a great lesson for us. You don’t just send a check (although that’s a great thing to do, as well). Truly getting engaged in things doesn’t just make you feel good—it makes you feel like a whole person.
And what’s great is that this lesson didn’t just stick to my siblings and me. My parents’ philosophy of giving has expanded to include our friends, and the friends of our friends.
Be Inkandescent: The idea for the SeriousFun Children’s Network grew out of your dad’s creation of Newman’s Own and the Newman’s Own Foundation. But initially, he hadn’t planned on getting into the food business. How did he become an entrepreneur?
Clea Newman: My father was known for being a crazy prankster, so you never quite knew what he’d do next. That was true of the Newman’s Own brand, which started because he used to make salad dressing and give it as a gift at Christmas to his very close friends. When he was travelling and making films, he would find antique bottles to put the dressing in, or he’d use empty wine bottles. It was really wonderful.
And it was so delicious that come January, all of his friends would be knocking on the door asking if they could have more salad dressing. We had a friend who owned these huge supermarkets and he said: “Paul you should really think about selling this salad dressing.” He said he would never do that for profit, but his friend was insistent, saying: “Well I think you should put your face on the label,” and he kept pressing it. So Dad said: “The only way I would do that is if I gave all the profits to charity.”
Soon after, he and his good friend, screenwriter A. E. Hotchner, put in $20,000 apiece, and Newman’s Own was born.
Be Inkandescent: We talked about the origin of the camps earlier in our interview. Is there any more to the story?
Clea Newman: It was definitely his luck and good fortune that made him want to move forward on starting the first Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. But I remember that there was another piece of the puzzle. We had a very close friend of the family who got sick, and we all spent a fair amount of time in and out of the hospital visiting him.
In those days there wasn’t a separate pediatric wing except in large hospitals, and during his visits my father saw all these children in the hospital and felt badly that they were missing out on all the things his children were getting to experience—like camp. In the end, I think he was inspired by the combination of feeling truly lucky in life and seeing these kids who were struggling even to connect to people besides doctors, adults, needles, and treatments. He wanted to create a place where kids could just be kids and be rejuvenated.
Be Inkandescent: Did he spend much time at the camps once they took off?
Clea Newman: He spent a lot of time at camp. For him it was truly a haven because the kids didn’t really know him as a movie star. I think most of the younger kids at camp knew him more for the Newman’s Own products, or from when he played Doc Hudson in the movie, Cars.
At camp, he could be himself. And he was kind of a big kid. He would go fishing with the kids, and sit in the mess hall and eat with them and have food fights—just whatever he wanted to do. He also loved being in these amazing performing nights. He simply enjoyed himself and loved being with the kids.
Be Inkandescent: Talk a little bit more about your career.
Clea Newman: Initially, I wanted to be a doctor but I’m terrified of needles, so that didn’t work. Then I wanted to be a lawyer. And then I was going to work in Wall Street, because for some weird reason I had a math and science gene, which no one can understand in my family. But while I was in transition from one thing to another, my dad asked me to help out at Newman’s Own.
I’m not sure if he did it on purpose or not—if he saw something in me that I didn’t see. The bug bit me almost immediately. I spent a little over a year helping to do research to learn about some of the organizations that requested funding from Newman’s Own. The amazing things people are doing all over the world and how they are giving back blew me away. One person can really make a difference. Ten people can make even more of a difference, and it really opened my eyes at a pivotal time in my life. I grabbed on to that.
I got to work with the first camp when it first opened. Then I went off and did my own thing because I’m a horseback rider and I ended up working with Pegasus Therapeutic Riding for 10 years. That’s how I got interested in working with kids who have autism. Initially, our program focused mainly on children with physical issues, and increasingly we were riding more children on the autism spectrum. Soon after, I got involved with the Giant Steps School, and I was truly inspired by the families.
Then when my father got sick and wanted me to help continue his legacy, and be involved in it in a more significant way, I took a spot on the board of SeriousFun. After he passed, I spent so much time participating in his legacy because it’s what I really wanted to do. I gave up my job at Giant Steps, which was very difficult for me to do, but I decided to focus full-time on this. It’s great. I love coming to work every day.
Be Inkandescent: What are your goals for the future?
Clea Newman: I think my goals are the same as every staff member and every volunteer and doctor and nurse: I want to provide this program for every child who wants it, all over the world. It’s mind blowing to see how much it has expanded already.
I think the passion people show for our programs is equally inspiring. If you want to get involved, get involved. If you want to support us financially—we could always use the help. It takes $70 million each year to provide all these camps around the world. Get out there and volunteer. Long-term, this is the kind of thing that feeds your soul. Whenever I’m having a bad day, I get in the car and go to camp. That experience can hold me for a whole month. It does the same for everyone. And I think that every day my father is looking down and feeling good about it.
For more information, visit www.SeriousFunNetwork.org.