CoachArt's Heart & Humanity Champion, Alibaba's Jennifer Kuperman Johnson

Philanthropy and retail came together Thursday night at CoachArt’s fund-raiser and dinner at the Fairmont Hotel, where the children’s nonprofit honored Alibaba’s Jennifer Kuperman Johnson as its Heart & Humanity Champion.

Attendees hailed from finance, technology and retail, including several of the honoree’s friends and family members. The festivities kicked off with drinks and mingling before segueing into the Fairmont’s Grand Ballroom, where classic cuisine met classic architecture. Guests enjoyed a three-course dinner of hand-pulled mozzarella salad, grilled chicken or vegetarian gnocchi, and chocolate tart or vanilla-bean creme brulée. The tables surrounded the stage, where a fun, lively lineup of speakers and heartwarming videos spotlighted the children at the heart of CoachArt.

The Los Angeles-based organization provides arts and athletic programs to children with chronic or life-threatening conditions. “We match volunteers with kids impacted by chronic illness, based on a shared interest like soccer, drawing, dance, cooking, really anything,” said Zander Lurie, founder of CoachArt and chief executive officer of SurveyMonkey. “The world is full of families facing these challenges, and it’s full of adults who want to make a positive difference. We bring them together. We’re honoring Jennifer this year because she exemplifies the leadership, commitment, and generosity that’s essential to advancing CoachArt’s mission.” Lurie was inspired by watching children and their families at the hospital while visiting his father, Art, before he passed away.

Kuperman Johnson has worked with CoachArt for 10 years. Today, her daughters Grace and Lucy are the inspiration for her and her husband, LaneOne’s Eric Johnson. The couple joined the board in 2016.

At Alibaba, she runs international corporate affairs for the commerce and tech giant. Balancing a high-powered career, family and philanthropy can be tricky, but she’s in it for the kids, not the kudos. “I was frankly kind of surprised to get the honor,” she told WWD. “It’s amazing, and I hope that my getting the honor only helped inspire all the people that I know and love to get involved themselves.” 

This San Francisco outpost for the group seems to be taking on a life of its own, which was evident in its fund-raising. Last year, the event hosted 399 guests; this time, 542 people gathered to celebrate Kuperman Johnson and others — including Deepak Srivastava of the Gladstone Institutes and a CoachArt Shining Star named Aura. The 12-year-old girl has battled brain cancer, but that can’t quell her love of ice-skating, cooking, dancing and sewing classes.

The nonprofit has new ways on deck to match participants to volunteers: CoachArt Connect. Instead of manually pairing, the system will speed the connections, so that children like Aura don’t have to wait for weeks to pursue their passions. That could help the group scale, as CoachArt hopes to bring its volunteer services nationwide.

Fund-raising efforts like this event will help drive that development and expansion. Over dessert, guests pulled out their auction paddles to bid on donation amounts, bringing in $947,000 for the evening.

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