By Joyce Rudolph
Zita Lefebvre was recognized as Zonta’s 2015 Woman of the Year for her many contributions to the city on Saturday at Lakeside Golf Club.
Now retired from Cartoon Network, Lefebvre started there as Director of Operations in 1999, but soon tagged “and Community Relations” on the end of that title when she started doing community outreach projects, originally on her own time. Over the years she created a forever bond with such nonprofits as the Family Service Agency of Burbank, Boys & Girls Club and Stevenson Elementary School.
She continues to volunteer twice a week at the Family Service Agency finding new sources of funding. The agency provides mental wellness counseling for individuals, families and children at the center as well as at all Burbank Unified School District schools.
Lefebvre has been instrumental in supporting the agency’s programs that help battered women and children who have endured abuse.
“The agency does such important work,” she said. “I see so many kids who aren’t having good childhoods and I think, how do you grow up to be a good citizen if you don’t have a healthy childhood? I think these kids have it hard and I feel so sorry for them.”
Family Service Agency has an art therapy program and Lefebvre said when she sees the art the children are drawing about what’s going on in their lives, it gives her “chills.”
“The counselors do wonderful work and they help so many people,” she said.
Lefebvre has joined the board of the new Burbank School Garden Network, whose purpose is to create vegetable gardens in every school in town. She also still helps out at the garden at Stevenson Elementary School, which she has been doing for 14 years. She credits Sheridan Gardens nursery and Kreigh Hampel, the city’s recycling coordinator, for supporting her efforts over the years.
“I recycle my egg shells into the soil around my plants,” she said. “I try to teach the kids organic gardening, healthy gardening and healthy meals. That’s the mission, to teach the kids to grow their own healthy produce.”
Lefebvre just completed a Master Gardening program.
“What you have to do when you graduate from the class is give back 50 hours to teach low-income people how to plant a garden,” she said.
From the beginning, Lefebvre said she felt so welcomed in Burbank.
“People would say Zita’s here, let’s see how we can work with her,” she said, adding that former city manager Mike Flad and others in the city were very supportive from the start. “I was happy to help create the community partnerships and Cartoon Network went along with it, which was really nice.”
Lefebvre is very proud of a gifting program study she wrote for Cartoon Network 12 year ago that logged the projects created for nonprofits like Family Service Agency and Boys & Girls Club. The study included cash donations to the schools, allowing nonprofits to use the animation studio for art shows and the rooftop patio for fundraisers and recruiting animators to volunteer their time helping students make animated film projects.
“The grand total over 12 years came to well over a million dollars invested into the Burbank community,” she said. “Donations, in kind and volunteer activities really do add up. We accomplished so much with what resources we had. The number overwhelmed me and I think more businesses should be doing this.”
Zonta President Brittany Vaughan welcomed more than 100 people attending the luncheon and explained that the luncheon benefits the Zonta Foundation. Funds raised go to such projects as Zonta’s Wings Program. Twice a year, the Zonta Club offers grants up to $2,000. Application deadlines are April 30 and Sept. 30.
The Wings grant is offered to women 21 years and older, who have endured a life altering setback/experience and seek to improve their status through education. The grants offer one-time financial assistance to the recipients.
“There is a really nice tie-in there because a lot of the women that get the Wings grants are clients of organizations that Zita supports, like Family Service Agency and Boys & Girls Club,” Vaughan said.
The chair of the Woman of the Year luncheon was Zonta Club’s Vice President Samantha Mielke, who was assisted by all members in the club.
Family Service Agency Executive Director Laurie Bleick, former city manager Mike Flad and Chris Glennon, one of her former bosses at Hanna Barbara, told humorous stories about Lefebvre as well as re-enforcing her ongoing commitment to local nonprofits.
Glennon recently had attended a conference at which Oprah Winfrey spoke and he said it gave him some ideas for his talk on Lefebvre.
“Oprah is obviously an amazingly successful and dynamic person and I saw a lot of those similarities in Zita in her world,” he said, adding that one thing they have in common is being known by just their first names.
The conference he attended referred to Oprah’s brand.
“I thought about the brand of Zita because Zita is such an amazing mix of drive, passion, commitment and humor, so I thought I’d have a little fun with some correlation with another very famous woman.”
All speakers touched on Lefebvre’s relentlessness for getting things accomplished, Glennon said.