In the early 2010s, Debra Smith’s friend invited her to a fundraising event that was part of the Boeing Classic Golf Tournament. She didn’t know just how much the mission of Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI), the tournament’s beneficiary, would come to mean to her.
“It became personal when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2013,” Debra says. “Not long after, my then 28-year-old daughter Sofia was also diagnosed with MS, and I was absolutely shattered.”
Inspired by BRI’s commitment to finding better treatments and cures for autoimmune diseases, Debra attended more fundraising events over the following years. In 2020, her friend and BRI Board Member Diane St. John encouraged her to get more involved by joining BRI’s Ambassador Council.
Though owning and running a real estate business keeps Debra busy around the clock, she was happy to do more to support BRI. As part of the council, she helps spread the word about BRI’s work and brings new people into their community. In 2020, a big piece of that was rallying support around BRI’s virtual Illuminations luncheon. Nearly 400 guests tuned in and donated over $310,000 for BRI’s groundbreaking research.
“We basically invite people to get involved and raise awareness in the community,'' Debra says. “Since everything was virtual this year, we were able to broaden the audience — I even invited my parents who live in California. We miss seeing everyone face-to-face but it's been great to get a wider audience involved.”
Her motivation to give back to BRI is simple: Their groundbreaking science gives her hope.
“I remember being at Illuminations with my husband when it was in person — he kept giving me this look when I raised my paddle again and again,” she says. “I just told him, ‘this is for Sofia.’ I don’t know how much this research will help me, but I firmly believe that it will help my daughter.”