Laura Lee is a member of the 2021 Rising Stars Under 40 recognized by the 7 Rivers Alliance and the River Valley Media Group.
Age as of Sept. 1, 2021: 36
Town of residence: Houston, MN
Occupation/company: Sr. Manager, Digital Product Management. OptumServe (formerly LHI)
Family: Husband, Tyler – first child (son) due in January
What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
In 2015, I was able to work with the senior leaders at LHI (now known as OptumServe) to create and manage an employee volunteering organization that they wanted to give money to. It was amazing to see how many employees gave their time and to such a variety of organizations. We ran the program for two years before we fully integrated into OptumServe/United Health Group’s volunteering program, but we gave back close to $40,000 to local organizations through our employee’s requests.
I pushed myself to connect with senior leaders, practice speaking in front of large groups and connect with other employees who shared a similar mindset. But most importantly, I saw the benefits that volunteerism and small monetary grants being given to local organizations can do for our community.
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Please tell us what community and volunteer activities you’re involved with – and why?
I am a very active Rotarian with the Rotary Club of La Crosse – After Hours. I’ve been a member since February 2012. I sat on the board of directors for six years and was also the Service Committee Chair for three years. During that time I was able to learn more about Rotary as an organization and how it makes a difference in our local community, but also across the world. I’m currently serving on our District 6250 Board of Directors as the Youth Services Chair. In the last five years, my focus has really shifted to the Youth Programs that Rotary offers.
I regularly participate as an adult Rotarian for the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) event each year. That event is one of my favorites as we bring in around 100 students from across Southwestern Wisconsin and teach them about Rotary and challenge them to bring out their inner leader. The amount of growth that we witness over two short days is inspiring.
Interact is another big aspect to the Youth Programs that Rotary offers, and the La Crosse area is thriving with Interact clubs. These are basically Rotary clubs, made up of high school students. There are seven Interact clubs in the La Crosse area and the members of these clubs are the future leaders and givers that will shape our communities going forward. It’s so great to partner with them and see the impact that they can make!
One of my favorite parts of Rotary is the Youth Exchange Program, where our club hosts a student from another country for 11 months and helps them to experience life in the La Crosse area. In addition, we send a local student to another country, and our club gets to live vicariously through them and their experiences in their "new home" for the year. I act as a Youth Exchange Counselor and regularly connect with the student while they’re here and help them to assimilate to the area and ensure that they get to experience all the great things that our area has to offer.
The Rotary groups in the La Crosse area are so special because we partner to make a bigger difference. We have individual efforts for each club, but also have large efforts like Rotary Lights that make a huge impact on our community. It’s great to see what can be accomplished as big group.
Rotary really has shaped me as a person and helped me grow into who I’ve become both personally and professionally. I’ve learned about local organizations that need help, partnered with other nonprofits to support their efforts and gotten to travel to Africa to help build a block of classrooms for students who were in desperate need. It’s opened my eyes to the need that lives both in our backyard, and across the globe and it pushes me to give more of myself. It’s given me opportunities to go out of my comfort zone and build skills that have helped me immensely in my professional career.
Tell us what inspired you to be a leader in your organization and in your community.
My mom has been my biggest inspiration. She was always a person who gave back and lived a life of helping others. She passed away from breast cancer in April 2011 and when I got the opportunity to join Rotary in 2012, it really felt like she was with me nudging me to follow in her footsteps. She taught me to put all of myself into whatever I was doing and that didn’t matter if it was work or volunteering. There’s a quote by Mohammed Ali that states “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth” and I try to live each day making sure my rent is paid.
In addition to my mom, early on in my career at LHI, Don Weber would always talk about how giving and volunteering wasn’t about donating your “extra” time or money. It really is about giving a little bit more of yourself and understanding how to sacrifice to help others. I think the culture that Don established really helped me to give a little more of me back to the La Crosse area. He encouraged his employees to be servant leaders and to lead their teams with that mindset.
What advice would you offer younger leaders to aid their success?
Growing in your professional career doesn’t always happen within the four walls of the building you work in or the organization that you get a paycheck from. I’ve grown professionally because I’ve experienced opportunities through Rotary that have helped me build skills and be a better leader within my team. Expanding your mindset to look outside of your career gives you additional viewpoints, helps shape ideas and allows you to work with a plethora of new people. I firmly believe that my career and who I am as a person would be much different if not for joining Rotary, learning how to be a servant leader through that organization and bringing those skills back into my day to day work.
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