Woman of Influence: Paulette Greenberg

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Paulette Greenberg, co-founder, The Greenberg Center for Learning and Tolerance

Don’t tell Paulette Greenberg she can’t do something, unless you really want her to do it. Every time she hears “You can’t do that!” it strengthens her resolve to make it happen. “I do not like to hear those words!” she says.

Greenberg is co-founder (with husband David) of the Greenberg Center for Learning and Tolerance. The Greenberg Center was started in 2003, with funds the couple received as part of the Humanitarian Award from their temple, Temple Shalom. So, in a way, the recognition of good works spawned a new resource for good works.

“When we got that award and the money, David and I decided we had to do something positive for the community with it,” she recalls. “And it turned into something unbelievable.”

The Greenbergs came to Colorado Springs when David, a heart specialist, opted for a two-year tour of duty as part of the medical team at Fort Carson. That was 1976. “We loved the place. It just seemed like the kind of place to raise a family,” Paulette says. They stayed, which turned out to be quite a fortunate decision for Colorado Springs.

As a community leader, fundraiser, philanthropist and educator, Paulette Greenberg has carved out a rare niche in Colorado Springs. The extensive list of her accomplishments, honors and activities testifies to her countless contributions to the community. By the time the couple was recognized by their temple with the Humanitarian Award, the Greenbergs had seemingly done more than their share. But they viewed the award as a rare opportunity. They would use the money to build bridges of understanding among the diverse segments that comprise Colorado Springs.

Certain people thought her vision for the Center was too grand. It reminded her of the naysayers in 1983, who said, “Oh Paulette, you can’t do that!” That was when she wanted to hold a fancy ball to raise money to support heart disease research. Spurred on by the doubters, she organized the first Heart Ball. “We had 69 attendees and raised $69,” she says, laughing. “But that was just the beginning.” Today, it raises $260,000 for heart disease research.

As with the Heart Ball, she believed the Greenberg Center had transformative potential. Its beginnings were modest: a few community forums, annual programs that examined prejudice and its affect on the community and traveling exhibits. As a fundraiser par excellence, educator by background and connector by nature, she was determined to broaden its horizons.

She created a writing competition to get students and their schools involved. She brought in speakers, top names in philosophical and ethics circles, to anchor conferences on intolerance. Under her guidance, the center has consistently sought to examine and improve Christian-Jewish dialogue and relations. But that was just a place to begin to raise awareness. Greenberg has since pushed its mission beyond religious differences. Each year, the Center focuses on a new central topic. This year, it’s “Whose Land is This Anyway?” which examines the history and rights of the American Indian.

The Greenberg Center continues to expand its influence. This year, an executive director, Robin Sumners, was hired. “We’re raising enough money to start building a staff. That will take us to another level,” she says.

Although Paulette Greenberg now has Sumners to share management chores with at the Center, that doesn’t mean she’s slowing down. In fact, she’s already scanning the horizon for her next challenge. Certainly, she is listening for someone to say, “Oh Paulette, you can’t do that!” And then she’ll be off like a shot.

By Dan Cook