Utica native Sadieann (Zogby) Spear grew up in a family that was dedicated to giving back to their community. This was driven in large part by her father, Wadih Zogby, who had a passion for helping the local Lebanese community, especially those who arrived in the United States in need. Zogby immigrated from Lebanon in the early 1900s and made a life for himself as an entrepreneur, working and owning several businesses throughout the Utica area.
“My father and his family helped a lot of people as they established their businesses,” she recalled. “I always saw people come to our home that would be invited to sit for dinner, and my parents would invite them to come stay if they needed help.”
In recognition of their father’s generosity over the years, Spear and her sister, Miriam (Zogby) Balutis, established the Wadih & Juliette Zogby Family Fund in their parent’s names in 2006.
“We thought the fund would be a great way to perpetuate his ideals and generosity,” said Spear.
Hearing their father’s stories informed the sisters’ understanding of the obstacles that refugees face day to day, especially in our local community. Inspired by this, grants from the fund are often focused on organizations and programs that assist refugees and address their hardships, including the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees and Midtown Utica Community Center. The fund also supports other causes Zogby cared strongly for, such as helping to sustain children’s educational programs, through support for organizations like The Neighborhood Center and Utica Public Library.
Spear is a firm believer in helping those in need overcome adversity. And, she says, she is grateful that she has been fortunate enough to make philanthropy a part of her life.
“Honestly, I feel very grateful every single day; and I consciously try to put that out at the forefront of my life. To be able to help other people, especially when we see a benefit, is gratifying, and I do believe people can rise above challenging circumstances.”
Spear worked for The Arc Oneida-Lewis Chapter for several years and was amazed by the individuals’ willingness to overcome hurdles when given the skills and opportunities to do so.
She also worked at The Community Foundation in the early 2000s, experiencing firsthand the value of donor-advised funds and their role in meeting the needs of local nonprofits.
“The job was very rewarding because I was able to see what we were doing in the community and what donor money was doing for the community. It was very enlightening to know about all of the different programs out there and helping the people who are suffering and truly need help.”
These days, her focus is on motivating others to explore all the great things our community has to offer, and to help when possible.
“Volunteer somewhere where you know you can make a difference. Even if it’s a small thing, every small act counts.”
Currently, 4Elements Art Studio in Utica is a big part of Spear’s life. She enjoys jewelry-making and participating in some of the studio’s art programs in her spare time. She also supports the studio’s partnership with local nonprofit organizations coordinating adult and children’s programs that use art as therapy. Spear was also an art teacher for many years, so she recognizes the impact that art can have on people’s lives.
“I love what 4Elements is doing with various agencies. It helps kids express their lives through drawings, paint, sculpture and other media in a safe space. It opens the door for them to speak their feelings.”
Spear continues to be excited -and inspired- by the community she has always called home.
“There are a lot of young people who are coming here, and people are staying here instead of leaving. There is a lot of excitement and energy in the air that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in this community until now, and it’s creating vibrancy.”
In 2017, Spear opened a second donor-advised fund with her husband, the Robert and Sadieann Spear Family Fund, to extend the couple’s philanthropy generationally.
“We thought this would be a great way to keep our children connected in the long run, to establish a fund that would be perpetual, so that they can become involved even though most of them now live out of state. They love to connect with each other; they all love where they are from; and some of them would love to come back here one day.”