Valerie Sobel: A Personal Mission for Compassion

andres_mother-300x184A survivor of the Communist era, Valerie Sobel fled her native Hungary during the 1956 uprising against the Soviet regime, eventually to settle in Toronto, Canada. She recalls carrying her younger brother on her back while walking eight miles with her parents through a marsh to cross the forbidden border to the safety of Austria, and the many months in refugee camps.

In high school, Valerie was interested in acting. Through a fortuitous encounter, she was flown to Los Angeles for a screen test and won the role in “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation” with Jimmy Stewart. In 1962, she became a California resident and has lived there ever since. Marriage was followed with the birth of her son, Andre, and daughter, Simone. She eventually left film to focus on her family and later developed a successful career in interior design with her projects appearing in several books and magazines, including Architectural Digest. She remains a member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) as a “keepsake from that career.”

A new period marred the life of Valerie the day her teenage son Andre was diagnosed with a malignant and inoperable brain tumor. A year after, in 1995, the family suffered his devastating loss. Shortly thereafter, Valerie’s mother died, and a year later to the day, her husband Erwin, 54, took his own life. Through the subsequent months of crushing grief, Valerie sought to redirect her life. What has continued to haunt her was the witnessing of children who were alone in hospitals: having to face their fears, their pain, treatments, and, at times, even their death alone. In most cases, these children were from single parent/single caregiver homes. Upon reflecting on her own experiences with her child, she found it hard to imagine how brutal it must be for those in a similar situation, without financial means or the emotional support of a caring partner.

This injustice was the motivation for establishing the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation (ASRL). As if surprised by a spiritual revelation, the vision of the foundation and its purpose became clear to her. “Experiencing the sudden onset of a life-threatening illness of a child devastates every family,” she said. “But for the single parent without financial resources, it is inconceivable.”

In addition to serving as Founder and President of the ASRL Foundation, Valerie is a recognized public speaker on the subject of caregiver support, a trained Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), a charter member of the Women of Washington/Los Angeles, the Music Center’s Blue Ribbon Society, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, The Council of Women World Leaders, and a founding member of the Women’s Foundation of California’s Donor Circle.

When she is not traveling, Ms. Sobel spends time between Los Angeles and her mountain home in Idyllwild, California. Her daughter Simone is a nationally high ranking chess player and chess instructor.

Ms. Sobel has received many honors and awards for her philanthropic vision:

• Under Ms. Sobel’s leadership, ASRL charitable events have appeared in Art and Living Magazine, LA Confidential, Angeleno, Santa Barbara Magazine, C Magazine, and more.

• She has given many radio interviews, including Voice of America, The Lisa Birnbach Show, and others.

The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) honored Ms. Sobel with its “Inspiration of the Year Award”.

• On The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, a feature story shined a spotlight on Ms. Sobel and the ASRL Foundation,

• Ms. Sobel appeared on The Montel Willams Show in a segment on supporting families of sick children in need of financial support.

• The February 2007 edition of Lifestyles Magazine featured Ms. Sobel and her philanthropy.

Ms. Sobel appeared in PEOPLE magazine in an article entitled “A Mother’s Bereaved Heart.”

• Ms. Sobel was honored with the prestigious Los Angeles Business Journal’s Women Making A Difference: Philanthropist of the Year Award.

Reader’s Digest named her “Best Caregiver” in its “Best of America: 35 People Who Inspire Us” issue.

• Ms. Sobel was a finalist for the national Smart Cookie Award, sponsored by Cookie Magazine and Citigroup.

• Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa honored Ms. Sobel and the Andre Sobel River of Life Foundation with a Resolution commending their work.

• She became a Purpose Prize Fellow, a national honor recognizing social entrepreneurs over the age of 60, being housed at Stanford.

• She won Harlequin’s More Than Words Award for her philanthropic work, and in 2011, Harlequin released a novel featuring ASRL and Ms. Sobel.

Town & Country Magazine and Longines honored Ms. Sobel with its Women Who Make a Difference Award.