Julie Murray: Making a Difference

WHEN I FIRST HEAR JULIE Murray’s voice as she answers with a hello, greeting me like the oldest of friends, I instantly am awash in a sense of wellbeing. I feel safe. She cannot know my worries; the big and small things that allow stress to injure my day, but somehow it seems that she does. Instantly, I am aware that she is one of those far to rare individuals who have a real ability to inspire. I want to know more about this woman, and I want to know what I can do to help her make the world better.

“Just do one thing,” Murray tells me when I ask what the average Las Vegas resident can do to help. Too often when confronted with the massive social problems facing Southern Nevada and the country at large many of us freeze. There’s nothing I can do about (insert social issue here).

This attitude is easy to understand. Childhood hunger is a massive and difficult problem in America. Access to quality healthcare, despite or perhaps because of Obamacare, remains an issue that can destroy families and devastate lives. The education system in the United States has sunk considerably in world rankings, coming in as “average” in one recent study. Any one of these problems alone seems staggering. Combine them into a fierce juggernaut of social destruction and they seem positively insurmountable.

Yet Julie Murray doesn’t see it that way, and for a woman who has been a fierce social architect for over two decades, building and guiding numerous charitable and philanthropic organizations, her vision deserves attention. She provides a glimmer of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel and she strives daily to bring that illumination closer. She provides hope.

She will be the first to tell you that she has not done this alone. In truth, she emphatically states that it is impossible to do alone. Throughout her career she has been blessed to work with some amazing and diverse people who all share in her desire to leave the world a better place than she found it. To her, this is the core of charity and philanthropy.

A native of Apple Valley, California, Murray’s family moved to Las Vegas when she was just six years old. In a city that has become famous for its transiency, that more than qualifies her as a lifelong resident. She counts her parents and grandparents as her earliest and most strident mentors. It was through them that she first got the hunger to improve the world around her. She quickly learned that she was good at it, and that she could inspire people and rally them to come together.

One of her earliest endeavors was the I Have A Dream Foundation, which “adopted” 55 at risk children and “committed to stay involved in their development through high school and beyond.” Over $225,000 was secured annually by the efforts of Murray and her team. The program has also seen an 83 percent graduation rate—three times higher than their peers. It has been lauded as one of the most successful K-12 education models in the country.

She was also heavily involved with the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation and helped secure $36 million in funding for the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, a K-12 charter school that gives Las Vegas students from the city’s most at risk neighborhoods a great education.

While Murray remains involved with both groups in an advisory capacity, she moved on to co-found a truly revolutionary organization in Three Square that would become a model for food bank organizations across the country. Conceived at her dining room table, Three Square (as in three square meals a day) reinvented the food bank concept by approaching previously untapped sources, such as grocery stores and hotel chains. With the help of these businesses, she was able to take food that otherwise would have been wasted and used it to feed the estimated 210,000 Las Vegas residents that do not get enough to eat.

Just five short years after conception, Three Square now distributes 16,000,000 meals a year through 600 partner programs.

It was through Julie Murray’s fundraising acumen that Three Square was able to grow from a simple idea to the model for food banks nationwide.

Recently, she has taken on what may be her biggest challenge to date with the Moonridge Foundation, a consulting firm that partners charitable organizations with philanthropic donors in order to “get the biggest impact for their philanthropic giving.” Murray understands that to be truly effective, a charity doesn’t just need money or volunteers, but a passionate partnership between those who do the daily work of change and those capable of funding it. Murray even went so far as to suggest that if philanthropists begin to look at their giving as an investment, the rewards would be greater with a monetary outlay that would have a more positive impact on their communities.

That is what it is truly all about. If a sense of community can be built where we all feel like we are home, then we may all find ourselves inspired. “It has been difficult in Vegas to build a culture of community,” Murray says. There are few longtime residents, and many people come and go without ever really calling Vegas home. If those who simply live here can come to call it home then the first step toward improving not only our city, but also our country and our world, will have been taken.

When I ask her about her proudest achievement thus far she immediately says her children. “When somebody tells you that your children are compassionate, smart human beings it is difficult not to feel proud,” Murray says. This proves one of Murray’s core beliefs, that if you start small and can inspire just one other person to make a difference, the world will grow better.

It is a surprise to no one that one of her core philosophies can best be described as pay it forward, and that she is particularly proud to see those she has helped do just that. “I recently ran into one of my Dreamers who started in the projects and now is on her way to be a teacher,” Murray tells me.

With the Moonridge Group, Julie Murray hopes to create new ways to connect and engage philanthropists to help solve the biggest social ills this country has. “Healthcare and education are the two biggest social problems we face today,” Murray told me.

“If you can give people the means to feed themselves and help keep them healthy, especially at an early age, then the problems of hunger and crime will be reduced.”

What makes her so good at her job is her deep understanding of the interconnectedness of all people. When children are hungry, lack medical care and have no access to education it damages not only the child, but also all of those around them. She is passionate about helping to create systems that will ensure that these problems disappear one small, inspired step at a time.

“Just do one thing,” Murray tells me. “Whether it is volunteering an hour to feed the hungry or a million dollars to help build a school, we are all capable of inspiring others.”

Previously published by diamondcake. Updated by smallTALK. Archived for Julie Murray.