Keller: I’m Barbara Keller. I live in Rancho Mirage. My husband Jerry and I own a California bistro in Palm Springs called Lulu.
DCN: Barbara there’s no mystery about the fact that you and your husband are tremendously involved in the community. Tell me, on a personal level, what giving is all about for you.
Keller: Giving is really getting back. It seems like there is some altruism involved but really I think that we probably get back more than we give. Jerry and I try to give a lot and in a variety of ways.
DCN: What would this community be without the tremendous generosity of its community sisters and brothers?
Keller: I don’t think Jerry and I would have remained here if not for the wonderful involvement of all of the people we know and all of the charities in the Desert. It gave us a life here. We came from New York where our lives were extremely different. We got involved with everyone here who’s so incredibly generous in so many ways – and I’m not saying just writing out a check, although that’s a wonderful and necessary thing, but from stuffing envelopes, to helping to put on fundraisers, to teaching children in schools. I personally started out in the Desert volunteering to help children read in the Rancho Mirage Elementary School, and then I became a docent at the Palm Springs Art Museum. I think there are seventy, eighty docents at the museum, and so many wonderful volunteers. The volunteers at the Desert AIDS Project are outstanding, as are those for Jewish Family Service. These are primarily not wealthy people, they’re just big-hearted people who want to give of themselves in some way and feel so good doing it, as do we.
DCN: Tell me what your, your personal life philosophy is.
Keller: I think that we need to have a purpose in our lives. Jerry and I have 3 grandchildren in college who knew exactly what they wanted to major in, what floats their boats. And they’re all familiar with community service, as well. It’s so important for young people to be out helping others. In addition to becoming familiar with the great feeling one gets from helping others, they also stay in touch with their own good fortune. In the last thirty years, our major purpose was really to be able to give back to the greater Palm Springs community.
DCN: You’ve brought up a wonderful subject about instilling in our youth, the power of contribution…the power of philanthropy. Talk about how you and your husband have bread that, or encouraged that within your family.
Keller: I think our kids follow by example, really all of them. They’re so proud of what we do. They love what we do, they read about it, they come to different events and they’re all in some way involved. Our grandchildren range from eleven to twenty and our children, our four children, are all very much involved even if it’s just in their kids’ schools. They are working and giving, and they love it and they love that we do and we’re very, very proud of them.
I can tell you one story about someone who’s not my own child. I was at a doctor’s appointment and my doctor asked if I was going straight home from his appointment, and I said no, I was going to meet a young woman named Shaindy Friedman who was running something called the Sunshine Circle, which puts together teenagers with Holocaust survivors so that their stories live on. He said to me, “Barbara, my daughter is involved in that”; “she’s very involved, and she’s a teenager in Palm Desert High School.” I was so thrilled to hear that. You are never too young. Since then, former students of Shaindy have gone on to work against anti-semitism in their respective colleges. I’m in awe of what Shaindy does and how she’s inspired young people to champion such an important cause.
DCN: So, pitch it, to young people, to teenagers, too – if you aren’t already, it’s time to step up and get in the game of supporting your community.
Keller: It is absolutely the time to start doing this when you’re young, because you’ll never feel wonderful about anything as much as being able to see a poor person getting food because you’re standing there giving out that food or, or helping young children. There’s a teen docent program at the Palm Springs Art Museum. The name of the program has changed over the twenty years I’ve been involved, but teenagers are learning to give the love of art to young children and you can see how thrilled they are to do this.
You need to pick something that really touches your heart, even as a child and that thing may change over time or it may be multiples of things by the time you get to my age, but you’re just never too young to begin.
DCN: You are always very much in the news limelight, the social limelight, the who’s who of the Desert limelight but clearly that’s not what you’re about on the giving level. Talk about that…
Keller: You know my Dad is a 103. My mom died just short of her hundredth birthday. My Mom would sit with a stack of newspaper articles next to her all about her daughter and when she was gone I thought okay, I don’t have to be there when the photographers are there anymore. This is not what I’m really about, and I mentioned that in front of my Dad and he looked at me and said but what about me? So I’m hoping we’ve got another five years from him and I will stand there and let them take my picture. After that, I’ll be content to just stuff the envelopes.
DCN: That’s beautiful. Now, go ahead and share or talk about your pet, or your favorite involvements, your favorite organizations if you would like to.
Keller: I’m extremely involved with the Desert AIDS Project. I co-chaired the Steve Chase gala for 7 years. This is my 3rd year as board chair. I adore the organization. I love that they give comprehensive and compassionate care to so many people in the Valley. I love the passion of the staff, led by the incomparable David Brinkman. It’s just an extraordinary organization that does so much and you feel as though when you give to it, you can actually see the results. Get Tested Coachella Valley is a region-wide public health campaign, led by DAP, dedicated to dramatically reducing HIV by making HIV testing standard and routine medical practice and ensuring linkage to care.
The Palm Springs Art Museum gave me my life here in the Desert when I became involved as a docent and I continue to do fundraising for the museum. I love what they do for kids in the valley, especially because the arts are not as prominent in the schools as they should be so this augments their education in a really compelling way. We have an exciting new Director of Education at the Museum who just started this summer, Keri Jhaveri. She’s a dynamo and I know she has some exhilarating plans to match her personality. And everyone at the Museum is in awe of our new Executive Director, Liz Armstrong. She’s already been so warmly embraced by the staff and the board.
And I have worked on One Night Only since its beginning with Michael Childers. Michael’s been producing this event for years for the Jewish Family Service of the Desert and it is spectacular. JFS is a very fine organization that helps people regardless of what religion they are or what they do in life, or how they live. Just about anyone who’s in need is helped by Jewish Family Service if they ask for it.
And I’m attached to Sunshine Circle with Shaindy Friedman. She found me on the phone one day. She’s become like another daughter to me. I think what she’s doing with the Holocaust survivors and teenagers is extraordinary and there’s not too much longer a period of time that she can do this so that the memory of what happened lives on. But Shaindy is full of powerful ideas. My money’s on her!
I’m also very involved with Equality California, which has helped lobby for the passage of 96 bills including the nation’s first same-sex marriage bill approved by a legislative body. I fought for Civil Rights and Women’s Rights and the EQCA leadership understands that none of us is equal unless all of us are equal. It’s a brilliant organization of wonderful people.
DCN: Thank you for that. One last thing…. Because you have such a high profile, and you are so generous with your time and your resources, I’m sure that you are bombarded daily, with requests. How do you, from your heart, decide, how to divvy up your time? There’s only so much Barbara to go around. So how do you prioritize?
Keller: It’s really difficult. Sometimes I’ll go to Jerry and say honey, do you want to give to this? Or we’ll figure out a way to help through our restaurant, LULU. Jerry and I are each giving about as much time as we can give. He’s involved with the Israel Cancer Research Fund and on the board of the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre. We choose to go to some functions just because they’re being chaired by friends or because someone we care about it being honored. There’s almost no charity that isn’t worthwhile. There’s just so much money and time to go around and so we have to be a little bit careful with that. Sometimes, I’ll call a friend and we go down a list of three or four different functions and decide to share tables because we want to honor our friends who are working on these functions and so we do it that way.
DCN: Thank you. Would you identify yourself, almost like a close.
Keller: I’m Barbara Keller, I work on many charities here in the Desert, love doing it, thrilled to do it, love living here and my husband and I are very happy to be able to use LULU to help charities as well.
DCN: Thank you.