Between work and family obligations, finding time to fuel one’s passions can be difficult, but RBC Wealth Management – U.S. Lead Senior Counsel Lee Thoresen makes sure she finds a balance.
Since 2017 Thoresen has served as a board member and volunteer for Simpson Housing Services, an organization that works to combat homelessness across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. Simpson Housing serves around 3,000 people annually, both through their temporary emergency shelter as well as in the long-term shelter they provide for individuals and families while they find permanent housing.
Thoresen first took notice of the issue of homelessness while attending law school at the University of California-Berkeley and living in San Francisco.
“I lived there for 10 years, and was saddened by the stark contrast of wealth and poverty in that area,” she says. “When there are families sleeping on the street just down the block from million-dollar homes, it made me want to understand more and get involved.”
During law school, Thoresen became involved in legal clinics and community organizations that dealt with homelessness. However, when she moved to Minnesota the demands of work and family left her with little capacity to serve the community.
“The struggle to balance work and family is huge,” she says. “I had two young children and no capacity to do anything besides go to work and care for my family.”
Finding the time
Ten years later, Thoresen and her family now live in Minnesota, where harsh winters make homelessness a matter of life and death.
A 2018 report by Wilder Research found that there are more than 10,200 people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota, an increase of 10 percent from 2015. Homelessness in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area increased by 9 percent from 2015, and the population not in a formal shelter was up 93 percent in the metro.
“There is visibly less of a homeless issue here in Minneapolis than in cities like San Francisco, but poverty and homelessness are still a fact of life for thousands of people in the Twin Cities,” Thoresen says. “And while the Minneapolis housing market and rental construction are booming, affordable housing for low-income people is decreasing. Trying to figure out solutions is something that I’ve always wanted to help with.”
So when a friend of Thoresen’s asked her to take his place on Simpson Housing Service’s board in 2017, she decided it was now or never.
“I felt like I hadn’t been doing anything,” she says, “so when I was asked to join the board, even though I still felt stretched thin, I felt like I needed to do it.”
Thoresen has been a board member for three years, and in 2020 was appointed to Simpson Housing’s executive committee. She uses her expertise to make sure the organization’s legal requirements are met, and connects the organization with other attorneys in the community.
Thoresen (front) and her daughter serve dinner at the Simpson Housing Services emergency shelter. Dinner is served at the shelter 365 days per year. (Photo credit: Simpson Housing Services)
“Lee has helped guide us through our fundraising efforts, and we receive generous funding through the RBC Foundation,” says Elizabeth Loeffler, director of Development & Communications at Simpson Housing Services. “She helps raise awareness in our community and in her network, and has really been an ambassador for our organization.”
Thoresen agrees that RBC has been an integral part of how she is able to give back.
“RBC is so supportive of people doing community work, and it is because of RBC that I’ve been able to bring in financial resources that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” she says.
Even though Thoresen still struggles to find free time between work and her personal life, she’s glad she got involved with Simpson Housing Services several years ago.
“It has become a priority for me,” she says. “You have to figure out how to prioritize your life when you have limited time and resources, but I have such respect for the people that are running the organization and the work that they do in the community, that it has become one of my priorities.”