The daughter of a surgeon and a nurse, Ellen Hoberman grew up believing from her father’s example that health care was a universal right, not a privilege only for those with the means to pay. “I never saw him turn anyone away,” she says of her father’s work in her hometown of Salisbury, Md. “People would come to our back door and bring eggs and chickens and crab meat to try to pay him. My parents instilled in me the understanding that but for the grace of God any person might have changed lives with another person.” She is now the co-chair for the Friends of the Saban Community Clinic’s annual Dinner Gala; its 37th edition will be held on Nov. 25 at the Beverly Hilton.
After moving to Los Angeles in 1980, Hoberman took the advice of a friend and volunteered to spend a day answering phones for the L.A. Free Clinic’s sex help line. “I came in the door and never left,” she says. “I spoke to a lot of people that day who were confused and scared, and just wanted a friendly voice who could give them accurate information about sex and health.” The spirit of the enterprise, housed in a storefront on Beverly Boulevard, and the dedication of its staffers appealed to her immediately.
Hoberman early on co-chaired a three-year building campaign for the clinic that helped drive its expansion. Another volunteer, Mimi West, wife of comedy writer Bernie West, recruited her to help run the annual dinner event, and by 1988 Hoberman was flying solo. “Mimi was a wonderful woman who made a big impact on me,” she says.
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After so many years of producing the dinner and attending other fundraisers, Hoberman has come to understand what makes a successful charity event. “It has to be meaningful. You have to be moved by what you see, and it has to be fun. And it has to be short. There’s nothing worse than looking at your watch at 10 p.m. and hearing that the musical act goes on in half an hour.”
Hoberman says the Saban clinic’s dinner gala has been blessed by the good will of great performers over the years (this year’s comedy guest is Sarah Silverman). But finding a musical act for the evening is always the toughest part. The event rarely locks in that talent until a few weeks before the event, by design. “The music business has changed so much that people have to tour so much,” Hoberman says. “We’ve found that it’s easier to get people when they’re in town to do ‘Jimmy Kimmel’ or another show.”
Most gratifying for Hoberman is the support she’s received from her family for her work at the clinic. It was love at first sight for her and her future husband, Tom Hoberman (now a partner in the showbiz firm Hansen Jacobson) in Washington, D.C., in the Carter administration era. And her adult children, Eric and Sarah, have logged many volunteer hours at the clinic. “I am so proud of all we’ve done in 35 years of marriage,” she says.
NAME: Ellen Hoberman
TITLE: Co-chair, Friends of the Saban Community Clinic’s annual Dinner Gala
FIRST YEAR SHE ORGANIZED THE DINNER: 1988
$$$ RAISED BY EVENT: About $1.5 million annually in recent years
YEARS AS A CLINIC VOLUNTEER: 33
KEY MENTOR: Mimi West, the Free Clinic volunteer who recruited her to handle the dinner
SIGNIFICANT OTHERS: Husband Tom Hoberman, partner in the Hansen Jacobson law firm; son Eric Hoberman, VP of development at Entertainment One; and daughter Sarah Hoberman, associate producer for ABC News’ “20/20”
(Local Hero is a tribute to the people who are invisible but invaluable: They’re not in the spotlight, but the biz couldn’t function without them.)