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Chelsea Clinton talks ‘The Power of Caring,’ shares personal stories

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05/21/2013

Chelsea Clinton photo 1

Chelsea Clinton, the only child of former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, is a powerhouse in her own right. The world saw her grow up as "first daughter" in the White House; today Chelsea is harnessing her own power to mend a broken world.

She currently is pursuing a doctorate at Oxford University, reporting for NBC News, and working with her father at the Clinton Foundation. The organization seeks to improve global health; strengthen economies; promote healthier childhoods; and protect the environment by fostering partnerships among governments, businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and private citizens.

Chelsea proved an inspirational guest speaker for more than 1,000 women attending the Jewish United Fund Women's Division Spring Event luncheon, a JUF campaign event held three days before Mother's Day. The theme of the luncheon, "The Power of Caring," emphasized that for the more than 1,000 women in attendance, there are 1,000 different ways to care, 1,000 ways to give back.

The power of caring

During the luncheon, several women—all Jewish leaders in the community—spoke about the power of caring in their lives, and why they give to the Jewish United Fund.

Chelsea Clinton photo 2

Among the handful of speakers was Olga Abezgauz, who immigrated to Chicago with her family from the Soviet Union just after the fall of Communism in 1992. A host of Jewish organizations supported by JUF/JF—including HIAS, JCFS, JVS, ORT, and the JCC-helped Abezgauz's family adjust to life in the Windy City.

Agnes Schwartz, a hidden child during the Holocaust, spoke about her struggles with her husband's mental illness, and how the Jewish Vocational Service helped her find employment and the Jewish Children's Bureau counseled her kids.
Chelsea told the audience how moved she was by these women, especially Schwartz, who reminded Chelsea of her maternal grandmother.

"I'm so grateful to hear from someone [like Schwartz] who is many generations wiser and a couple generations older than I am," Chelsea said. "That, in some ways, captures the mystery of caring. We never know what we give to the world—whether it's our stories, our dollars, our power, our energy—we never know what those gifts will yield in other people's lives."

Then, Chelsea shared with the women the story of her late maternal grandmother, Dorothy Emma Howell Rodham, who passed away 18 months ago.

Born in Chicago to teenagers aged 15 and 17, Dorothy was abandoned twice by her own family before she was eight. She and her two-year-old sister were put on a train from Chicago to go live in Los Angeles with their grandparents, who told Dorothy she'd have to earn her keep.

She worked in the orange groves with immigrant children until, at 13, her grandparents kicked her out of their house. She moved in with a family where she cared for children in exchange for room and board. Dorothy earned straight A's in school and later returned to Chicago to study at the University of Chicago. Back in Chicago, she eventually put herself through secretary school, where she met her future husband, Chelsea's grandfather.

Her grandma thrived, Chelsea said, because certain teachers and other role models outside the home believed in her. In the home she and her husband built, she nurtured her children, including her daughter Hillary Rodham Clinton, to be anything they wanted to be.

"Who would have ever known that her [mentors'] gift of faith in [my grandma] would manifest in my mother who would one day run for president?" Clinton said. "…That is the power of caring…we have no idea what gifts we give to the world will have for future generations. I find that mystical and magical and really from the hand of God."

On the other side of the family tree, Chelsea's father was raised in a "dirt poor" home by his single mother, the late Virginia Clinton Kelley, who believed in her son and spent what little money she could on him. Besides "putting food in his belly—and he ate a lot back then," Chelsea said, her grandma would give him books to read. "That investment by her," Chelsea said, "…would one day help him grow up to be president."

The power of Chelsea

After Chelsea spoke, Helene Diamond, president of the Young Women's Board, asked her questions from the audience.

Chelsea Clinton photo 3

Chelsea was asked what Jewish traditions she shares with Marc Mezvinsky, her Jewish husband of three years. "We're developing our own family traditions," she said. Chelsea also told the women how much she loves sharing Passover seders with him. In fact, she had planned to travel to Israel with him this past Passover, but canceled her trip after her mother became ill late last year. She said she hopes to travel to Israel someday.

She also spoke about her work at the Clinton Foundation, which tackles problems including childhood obesity and lowering the price of HIV/AIDS drugs around the world. She currently is trying to educate mothers about childhood diarrhea, which she said "unconscionably" kills a million children around the world each year.

When the question of having children inevitably surfaced, Chelsea told the women that "there's no pressure" from her husband's side of the family (he has 10 brothers and sisters and his mother has 18 grandchildren). But she said she's feeling the heat from Bill and Hillary. As anyone who watches TV can glean, "my parents embarrassingly talk about becoming grandparents frequently."

And does Chelsea hold any political aspirations? As a little girl, she said, when her dad was Arkansas governor, she'd be at an "international duck calling contest," for example, and someone would ask her if she, too, wants to be governor one day. Chelsea said she'd think, "I'm 3-years-old. I just want some watermelon."

But as she grew up, and later assisted on her mother's presidential campaign, she became more engaged in politics. Still, she said, politics isn't her calling—at least not yet.

Listen to the podcast interview here.

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