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Where Young Lives Take Shape: Estee Portnoy

For Estee Portnoy, the BBYO experience did not end in high school. Estee, a BBG alumna from New Castle, PA, says that she is grateful to the organization for her public leadership beginnings, her commitment to social action and many lifelong friends. Not only has Estee has established herself as a successful businesswoman, as the Vice President of Jump.DC, a division of LiveNation Entertainment, in Washington, DC, and business manager for NBA legend Michael Jordan for the last fifteen years, Estee is also a committed social activist; she started a non-profit volunteer organization providing recreation and sports programs for children and young adults with disabilities. And, Estee’s network of friends includes many former AZA and BBGers, not to mention her husband who she met in BBYO!

“BBYO was such an integral part of my high school life,” said Portnoy, who served as Regional Orechet, S’ganit, and N’siah of what is now Keystone Mountain Region in Pennsylvania. She also attended CLTC, ILTC, ISI and two International Conventions. “It was about friendship and leadership. You can pick back up with friends from BBYO so quickly because it was such a bonding experience.” During her first BBYO weekend in 7th grade, Estee (Mermelstein) Portnoy was selected “MIT Queen,” but that is not the only reason she remembers that weekend as special. She also met her future husband, Elliott. The pair dated a little in high school but lost touch while Portnoy attended college at the University of Michigan. It was after college that she reconnected with her BBYO sweetheart. Estee and Elliott moved to the nation’s capital and Estee received her MBA at the University of Maryland. Now married for 18 years, the couple has three children, Josh, 12; Noah, 9; and Daniela, 6.

The professional impact of BBYO has been just as significant as the personal impact. Portnoy is now the vice president of Jump DC in Washington, DC and has been Michael Jordan’s business manager for the last decade.

“When I first began working with Michael [Jordan], it was a very exciting time in his career, and mine, as he was with the Chicago Bulls, starring in Space Jam, launching a cologne and building on his line of Air Jordan Shoes,” said Portnoy. Portnoy believes that getting into the field of sports marketing requires a lot of leadership and work experiences while you’re young. “I give a lot of credit to BBYO for setting me up to build a good resume, and how to be a good business leader.”

Along with her family and her career, Portnoy has made helping others in need a priority in her life. Kids Enjoy Exercise Now (KEEN), a non-profit foundation in which young people with mental and physical disabilities have the opportunity to participate in social and athletic programs, was begun by her husband, Elliott Portnoy, in England when he studied at Oxford University. After they married, the Portnoys re-started KEEN in America and there are now seven KEEN affiliates across the country, which serve disabled children and their families each day.

KEEN athletes have disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome and various intellectual and developmental disabilities. Unlike other recreation programs for individuals with disabilities, KEEN provides an open, unstructured environment for people with any type of disability, including those with significant needs. For some of the children and young adults who are unable to participate in other programs, KEEN may be their only recreational activity.

“We wanted to make a difference in this world; a lot of my inspiration for this stems from when I was younger,” said Portnoy. “Being involved in BBYO taught me that giving back to the community was important. For example, when I was in BBYO, we wrote to pen pals in Russia who were “refusniks,” and now BBYO is rallying for new issues; it’s all in the same desire to make the world a better place than when you found it.”

Not only is Portnoy thankful to BBYO for her leadership and social action beginnings, but she is also grateful to the organization for the people she has met and the connections she has made. She keeps in touch with many BBYO friends and is always excited to randomly reconnect with BBYO alumni. Estee was elected to begin serving as the Chair of BBYO’s Board of Director’s on July 1, 2010.

For more information on KEEN, please visit www.keenusa.org.

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