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A conversation with Sonya and Art

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Art and Sonya

Sonya Priestly is a long-time New Mexican whose work supported the medical field. Art Gardenswartz is a native New Mexican who experienced great success in the sports equipment retail industry. They’re both curious by nature, share a love of the outdoors, have a close blended family, and a second career in real estate. They also have a lot of different interests, but they share a common commitment to the future of their children and their passion for the well-being of our community. 

The Priestly Gardenswartz team recently made a $1 million contribution to UWCNM to fund immediate needs and opportunities as well as an endowment for the future. Recognizing that Covid-19 has sharply escalated the challenges to family stability and success for children, Sonya and Art converted their previous long-term real estate gift commitment to cash contributions totaling $1 million, including $400,000 in 2020 for current needs and $450,000 for an endowment in 2020, plus $150,000 of increased annual giving over the next 10 years for the endowment. 

With their $600,000 gift for endowment, UWCNM will create the Priestly Gardenswartz United Way Impact Fund, for the Creation and Support of Strong, Resilient Communities in New Mexico at the Albuquerque Community Foundation. 

We chatted with Sonya and Art recently to learn about what drives them and what they hope happens with their gift.

Tell us about your first giving experience. Did someone ask you to give? Did you grow up giving? How do we develop a culture of givers? 

Sonya: My initiative to give is because I received. I was from a very poor family, I didn’t expect to go to college, and when I finally did go to college, I received help from a state and federal program that provided daycare. I also received a Pell grant and low-interest loans and that is how I got through school. Leading to that I had teachers that encouraged me to go to college. They felt that I could handle the workload. Those two factors have led me to believe that education is the most important thing for our society. We should all be fighting for all citizens to get an education; everyone who shows drive no matter what their circumstances should receive help. Some people paint these programs as a negative, a crutch, but they really are a step ladder to a better future.   

The first time I gave was when I was a student in middle school. I started a club where we cleaned up a yard. That experience was really wonderful. I started giving blood when I was in college because I didn’t have money. There are lots of ways that you can give, it doesn’t always have to be monetary. My life has changed and now I’m able to give money. I think instilling in children and grandkids the value of giving is important, and it feels good to start at a young age.  

Art: My parents were my example. I remember when I was about eight or nine years old, my father was a President of the Jewish Federation, he said “give as you live.” His point is that you don’t exclude your philanthropic tendencies by consuming it yourself, you have to share. One of the things I acknowledged in the last ten years personally is that the more we give, the more it pays off – both emotionally and financially. GIving hasn’t affected our lifestyle negatively at all. As we’ve given more our personal circumstances have improved.   

You’ve been very generous members of our community, and particularly to UWCNM, where you’ve been Tocqueville Society donors since 2007. What inspires that generosity? Why United Way? 

SonyaWe both believe that there is no other entity that supports the entire community the way United Way does. We do give to others, but United Way has a bird’s eye view of the entire community and of the needs. I don’t think that we have a better example than how they handled the COVID crisis. They sought out agencies that were deeply hurt by this and they switched out and steered money toward those agencies. We trust United Way to be the eyes of the community and to see what is needed in any given sector. It’s important to me that we give to all four counties – and they are poised to do that in a way that I don’t believe any other agency is able. 

ArtIt’s very clear that the business community, the corporations, and its employee ambassadors understand United Way. For me, there’s not a lot on the individual side so we need individuals who have been successful to join in the effort. The Tocqueville Society is very good and broad in that it helps the community by letting individuals designate funds on their own. That is a big factor.  

Your most recent contribution to UWCNM is the creation of the Priestly Gardenswartz United Way Impact Fund, for the creation and support of strong, resilient communities in New Mexico. Tell us about that and what inspired you.  

ArtWe believe in the idea of an endowment – invest a large sum of money, you get to spend the “milk,” but you don’t spend the “cow.” You invest in something that is going to grow and the dividends go back to the community. That’s theoretical, but it can go on forever.  

SonyaIn this way, there is a lasting legacy for United Way. Hopefully, we can be an example for others who can look at their philanthropic planning and see that they can leave a legacy – which I think is very important for many people. The hope is that the way it was named will give United Way the ability to fulfill that mission to help our community thrive. That’s the ultimate goal.  

Art and SonyaOur goal is to reenergize donors in the community to give and to bring the Tocqueville Society back to what it was. We’re working on a challenge. We want $100,000 of the contribution to be a match of some sort.  

You’re probably growing a family of philanthropists.  

ArtWe were nervous when we went down this path, so we had a meeting with our kids – it impacts estate planning. Doing the right things for your kids and also doing the right things for your community is important. Our children endorsed the plan so that made us feel good. They’re proud of us. That’s a lesson for people. When you start talking to your kids and telling them what your intentions are, then the whole thing could shift, but it’s important.  

SonyaYes, to create this fund, we had to talk to our children to find out if they’re interested in carrying it on. It opens many paths for you to follow.   

We let our grandkids give away a certain amount of money to any foundation they want – animals, plants, people in Africa, anything they want, we don’t care. We want them to learn that giving something away doesn’t take anything away from you. And also we did see it as an obligation. We’ve been fortunate – to those who much is given, much is expected. We believe that this is our community. Who’s going to make it better, who’s going to help people if we don’t try. We believe strongly in that. 

What else do you want people to know?   

SonyaIf you haven’t looked at United Way, give it a new look. There’s a new plan to become a Modern United Way. And we want the community’s help in that. Meet with Rodney, meet with staff, or with any of the board members. Meet with me. It’s a fresh new United Way. Give it a new look.  

ArtYes, United Way represents our community: the structure, the foundation of our community – the backbone.  

SonyaWhen we gave the building, which was the original gift – I liked that I would be able to help the community. But being able to give is the hugest gift to me. We’ve gotten way more out of giving than the actual gift -- in our lives, our hearts, and in the way we deal with our children and in what our children see in us.