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Celebrating Women: Rabbi Laurie Coskey

The President and CEO of United Way of San Diego County is focused on the next generation


Photo by Becca Batista

What has been your career path?

I grew up in a Jewish family and went to Jewish summer camp in Malibu. At the age of 10, I knew I wanted to be a rabbi. My parents were supportive and never told me I couldn’t do it even though there were no women rabbis at the time. I went to Stanford with the ambition of becoming a rabbi. I had no role models.


When were you ordained?

In 1985, and I served as a rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel. I started working with Father Joe on The Hunger Project, which still exists.


What was your next move?

I left the synagogue and got my doctorate at USD in leadership studies. During that time I realized I wanted to have an impact on the systems that cause so much challenge in people’s lives—poverty, hunger, lack of opportunities, and lack of education.


What brought you to United Way?

I think I was a surprise to everyone. The staff and board have been very supportive. I wanted to be a part of trying to stop poverty for the next generation.


How does being a rabbi benefit the organization?

Because clergy, any clergy, is trusted, we have a lot of integrity, and we are a servant of the common good.


Has United Way changed its focus?

Yes. In 2014, United Way made a pivot. The board and staff determined that the greatest need is preparing our youngest for their future. United Way wants to close the gap for children through education and family stability. We work within schools along with social workers. We keep students in a classroom so they have a better opportunity to learn. Third graders must have learned to read to prepare them for their future. Reading is all-important.


I wanted to have an impact on the systems that cause so much challenge in people’s lives—poverty, hunger, lack of opportunities, and lack of education.


What was your greatest challenge when you joined the organization in 2016?

Within the community the biggest challenge was that everyone knew of United Way, but didn’t know what we did.


Which of your accomplishments makes you most proud?

I believe it was saving two young Albanian women from being deported and sold into human trafficking. They are both college graduates and are married now.


What is your greatest disappointment?

That we haven’t made more headway in ending cycles of poverty here in San Diego.


Tell us about you.

I have a good work/life balance, but I’m working all the time. I’m not an anxious person; I’m not a worrier. I live looking out the front windshield rather than in the rearview mirror. I wake up happy and I always have.


What about community activities?

I am past chair of the convention center board; I’m on the Union-Tribune policy board, the Regional Task Force for the Homeless board, the Workforce Partnership policy board, and I’m active with San Diego Community College District.


How do you see the future of United Way under your leadership?

That we take our current programs further and deeper into the communities of San Diego County as they evolve.

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