Newlyweds, “proud Valley girls,” and Liberty Hill Advisory Council members Rabbi Heather Miller and Melissa de la Rama wouldn’t call themselves philanthropists—it sounds outdated and limiting.

Heather and Melissa fulfill multiple roles in their social justice work, showing up at one grassroots organization as volunteers, at another’s fundraising event as donors. They bring social media savvy to campaigns for change, but are just as likely to show up in person at a rally. They act as mentors sometimes, organizers other times.

Heather, a rabbi who you might find presiding at a prayer service at Beth Chayim Chadashim (the world’s first lesbian and gay synagogue when it was founded in 1972) or officiating at a wedding or funeral around Los Angeles, was Liberty Hill’s first intern and later a staff member. She has continued to participate in the activities of Liberty Hill and grantee groups such as Community Coalition and Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice.

Melissa, a marketing executive at Warner Bros., was a student volunteer on a number of political campaigns. “I carried the ‘Boxer Box’ for Barbara Boxer. Everywhere she goes you put a box underneath the podium and she stands on it.” Later, for three years, Melissa recruited and oversaw the deployment of thousands of volunteers for Christopher Street West, the organization that manages the L.A. Pride festival and parade in West Hollywood every June, and she has volunteered for other Liberty Hill grantees. In her professional life she works to drive progressive causes serving on Warner Bros.’ social responsibility committee.

The depth and breadth of this couple’s community involvement is inspiring, but it’s their thoughtfulness about where they put their energy and how they make their choices that really defines “philanthropy” for a new generation of idealists.

“I'm privileged in many ways,” says Heather, “I'm white and went to a Seven Sisters school and have several educational and social advantages. But I'm also a Jew and a woman and a lesbian and grew up with class disadvantages. I have experienced injustice and am sensitive to the fact that others do, too. The question now becomes how am I going to use the privileges I do have in a way that will make the biggest impact and help the most people institutionally gain access.”

Melissa adds, “We give money to our high schools and colleges and grad schools because we want to give back to those that helped us. But we also want get out there and change the system. We support social action that leads to legislation that changes policies or brings about a change in thought.”



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At Liberty Hill, Melissa says, they and other supporters are creating “a new model of philanthropy."

“Liberty Hill donors are people who want to support good organizations and want to know for sure that the money's going to good use. It's an organization of interesting, like-minded, engaging people you want to get to know. It's not just, ‘Oh I'm writing a check, giving money.’ It's about ‘Let's interact with each other, let's support each other as well. I think that's really cool that there's also support for the donor-activist.”

Says Heather, “It's like catalyzing your privilege for positive social change.”