Where Privilege Meets Pavement: TAO Cares Sleeps Out for Covenant House
You might think being a key part of the TAO Group restaurant/nightlife empire would be enough for Judy Tepperberg. But perhaps you underestimate Judy, who might not settle for working nineteen hours on a day when she could work twenty.
That level of drive is an important part of TAO Group’s high-end brand. They have a string of hugely successful New York, Las Vegas and Sydney venues that run around the clock, including TAO, LAVO, Stanton Social, Marquee, Bodega Negra and Beauty and Essex. Judy’s been a part of it from the beginning – her brother is one of the founders. These are hard-working, fast-movers, no lie, but does such a fancy group have a culture of helping others?
Judy’s relentless zeal – in concert with her impeccable time-management and artful persuasion — has made her the driving force for New York sector of “TAO Cares.” TAO Cares was conceived as a community outreach initiative to support important social issues like youth education, hunger, and the environment. Through volunteering, fundraising, donating and the creation of unique events, the goal is to drive awareness and impact change for the causes that are near and dear to them.
Walking The Walk
Judy inaugurated the East-coast TAO Cares effort as a participant in the annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. She was inspired by The Today Show one morning when Katie Couric was discussing Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Judy vividly remembers asking herself “why has no one hit me up for money?” She took it upon herself to do the hitting up. She walked to her office at Marquee and signed up a team that consisted of friends and family. She attended a Marquee nightclub “preshift” and explained what she was doing. Multiple staff members approached to hand her money, telling her about the women – grandmas, friends, sisters – who had lost their lives to breast cancer.
The next year, the team doubled in size and included some staff that stayed awake to walk after their all-night shifts. The trend continued, and on the third year, she had forty people, all exhausted from working all night.
How did she mobilize so many people? Judy put her skill-set to work. In addition to getting the managers at each venue to “preshift” the importance of “doing something bigger than yourself,” Judy made a limited number of event t-shirts. If you wanted a shirt, you had to show up and walk. Marquee staff were proud of their brand. They jumped on board.
The Breast Cancer Walk is now a tradition that hundreds of TAO Group staff from multiple venues look forward to every year. This past year, their tenth, they were the #1-ranked team, raising over $100,000.00. Judy is especially proud of this since finding out that her oldest childhood friend is now battling an aggressive form of triple negative breast cancer. She now walks for her friend.
Each year in the U.S., as many as 2 million youth experience a period of homelessness. Every year more than 5,000 of these young people lose their lives to the streets.
Covenant House (headquartered here in NYC) is the largest privately funded agency in the Americas providing shelter, food, immediate crisis care, and an array of other services to homeless and runaway youth aged 14-20. In addition to basic needs, Covenant House provides the kind of care designed to transition homeless kids into an independent adulthood free from the risk of future homelessness, and to protect their rights: The right to a home, to food, to guidance and education, to freedom from sexual, emotional, or physical abuse.
To support this effort, across the U.S. and Canada, dedicated men and women “sleep out” for one night, on a piece of cardboard outside, raising critical funds and awareness. They sleep out so that homeless kids don’t have to.
Covenant House came to Judy’s attention via TAO Group CEO Bill Bonbrest, who took part in the Executive Sleep Out. He told Judy that he was feeding homeless kids on Thanksgiving, and asked if she could bring a group of volunteers. Once the Covenant House coordinator explained the resources and programs offered, Judy knew this was a place that needed their attention.
“They have extraordinary programs,” Judy says, “health and wellness, guidance, nutrition, education, legal advice, shelter.”
When she left the first meeting she attended at Covenant House, she had a unique inspiration that blossomed right out of her skill set: Get these kids jobs. Teach them how to interview. She recently attended a short volunteer mission at the Covenant House Mother & Child Program, where she met homeless 18-to-21-year-olds with their young children. The group was welcomed by an impressive young woman who lost her job, who told her story with her little daughter sitting on her lap.
Judy is always on point: She left that encounter with the young woman’s resume. They’ve since met at Judy’s office, and the young women is currently interviewing for a job.
“We talked about determination and overcoming the awful hand she was dealt,” Judy tells me. “We talked about defining moments, and not allowing her past to define her future.”
So Judy is thrilled to be sleeping out. She’s taking part in the Covenant House Sleep Out: Young Professionals Edition on Friday, March 18th. She’s personally raised $3,000.00, and only wishes she’d been able to create a team and raise even more. Unfortunately, those overnight hours are precisely when her service-industry colleagues are all on the clock!
Is Judy privileged? Judy considers herself very fortunate. She cites her loving family, wonderful role models, and considerate and supportive coworkers in a close-knit community. With so many important needs more than covered, she’s motivated to give back! If there’s one thing Judy knows, it’s that skill-sets are mutable. She delights in motivating motivation.
Judy lost her father to a form of cancer in 1999. She tries to honor him by living as brightly and as “in color” as possible. She feels as though she’s been “chosen” by her passion to get involved and leave the world better. Her days are so packed, I could barely pin her down for this interview. But guess what? We got it done. One more thing on the list.
Support Covenant House! You can still contribute to Judy's sleep out here.
Judy is also on the board of two foundations: Band of Parents, which raises money by parents for their children with neuroblastoma, and Spirits Up, founded in honor of her friend JP, a charitable organization that leverages the strength of the hospitality industry to raise awareness and advance research for rare cancer and autism.
Save these dates:
May 4th: Fifth Annual Evening of Hope Gala @ Marquee. Her family is being honored and an award is being given in her late father’s name.
Oct 11th: Second annual Spirits Up fundraiser.