Mission to Mentor
Philanthropist of the Year Linda Youngentob helps students in high school and college find a path to success
Youngentob and her husband moved to Montgomery County in 1987, and she continued to climb the corporate ladder in telecommunications and information technology consulting until a series of events led her to reorient her life more toward serving others.
In 1991, Youngentob chaired Mitzvah Day at Washington Hebrew Congregation in the District, organizing about 1,000 volunteers to work on projects ranging from cleaning up parks to making food for the homeless. She noted the impact the volunteer work had on recipients and the sense of community and purpose that the event fostered among those at her temple.
Two years later, Youngentob, then 32, was seriously injured in a bicycling accident, shattering her elbow and breaking her shoulder. The long recovery led to a realization that her job wasn’t “warming her heart.” She found she was more motivated to help others than to return to work. “It gave me the vision to get off the fast track,” says Youngentob, whose daughters were 10 months and 4 years old when she had the accident. “I had been on this high-achieving path all my life. I thought, ‘Do I really have to do this?’ ”
At the time, Youngentob says there was tremendous pressure for female Harvard MBA grads to show the world that women could have it all. After the accident, she reassessed her situation. “I figured, instead, I’d live my life in chunks. If I couldn’t have it all, I’d live each chunk of life and experience it to the fullest, knowing it wasn’t going to last forever,” Youngentob says.
Then, in 1999, a good friend of Youngentob’s, Randi Waxman, died suddenly at age 35. The high-powered attorney-turned-business law professor had told Youngentob about how rewarding it was to mentor low-income students. “I got a sign from God during her funeral that my job was to continue her work,” says Youngentob, who was moved by the diverse range of people Waxman had touched and who filled the Washington Hebrew Congregation for her funeral.
At that point, Bob Youngentob says, his wife began to realize she could use her skills to have a greater influence in the world of nonprofits. In doing so, she changed his outlook as well. “She has made me more sensitive to the needs of the community, being exposed to it through her eyes,” says Bob, who serves on the advisory board for The Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville and whose business has been recognized—locally by the Affordable Housing Conference of Montgomery County and nationally by the Urban Land Institute—for developing affordable housing in the county.
To reach the most students in need, Linda Youngentob decided in 2007 to work at Montgomery College as an adjunct business professor. The following year she learned of the college’s Macklin Business Institute, an experiential learning program for business students where she now teaches an honors seminar one afternoon a week and guides students who are transferring to four-year institutions.
Lisbeth Medina is one of those students. She wanted to continue her education after community college, but didn’t know whether her family could afford it. Youngentob, who was her professor at Montgomery College, convinced Medina to consider Georgetown University and share her personal story in her application essay. “She helped me get out of my comfort zone and express myself,” says Medina, 20, who lives in Silver Spring and now attends the university.
When Medina ran into a snag with her financial aid package at Georgetown, Youngentob called the office of the university president and wrote a compelling letter to advocate on Medina’s behalf. After Medina learned that she was getting a full scholarship offer, she called Youngentob, who took the call while celebrating her 31st wedding anniversary at Legal Sea Foods, a local outpost of the New England chain where she and Bob had their first date in Cambridge.
At Macklin, Youngentob is known as “Mama Bear,” says Hannah Weiser, an associate professor of business and management at the college. “She acts like a mom for all the students. Anytime you talk to her, she ends a conversation asking: ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’ ” Weiser says.
There was the time when one of Youngentob’s students wasn’t connecting with her economics professor and was considering dropping the class, although doing so would have meant losing her scholarship. Youngentob took the student to Starbucks and role-played what to say to the professor so they could get on the right track. The student went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, and the two are still in touch, Youngentob says.
She recalls receiving a phone call in the middle of the night from a Latina student at a small college who told her about a fraternity’s plans to hold a party with an illegal immigrant and Border Patrol theme. The student was so upset that she wanted to leave school. Youngentob says she told the student that her job was to prove to other students that Latinas were intelligent and valued. “I was the only person she could call and vent” to, Youngentob says. “Being a safe place where these kids can talk about these challenges and obstacles they face, it’s really powerful work.”
Youngentob says she tries to be a voice for students who are struggling with procedures, communication or other issues on campus. At her first meeting as a board member of the Montgomery College Foundation, the discussion focused on real estate and investment portfolios rather than students, she recalls. “That was unacceptable to me,” says Youngentob, who says she has worked to change that culture. She is co-chair of the foundation’s $20 million capital campaign, and she and her husband set up a fund that provides tuition assistance to Montgomery College students with developmental disabilities as well as small emergency grants for students who need help in order to remain enrolled in the college.