Nelle Miller

Image: Evan Sigmund

In the 1970s, when Nelle Miller was growing up on the north shore of Long Island, her parents gave her an allowance of 15 cents a week. Miller would spend a nickel on herself, put another in her savings account and drop the final one in a tzedakah box, a fixture in many Jewish homes to collect money for charity.

Miller, 57, who now lives in downtown Sarasota, is still giving much of her life to charitable organizations. Since moving here 16 years ago, she has become a leading figure in the area’s nonprofit sector, including serving three years as president of the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee. As a lifetime board member, she remains deeply involved in that organization’s efforts here and in Israel. Miller is vice chair of the board of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, and chairs the board of All Faiths Food Bank. She is also the incoming board chair of the Glasser-Schoenbaum Human Services Center and chairs financial resource development and community outreach for the community services committee of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Before launching herself into 40- to 60-hour weeks in nonprofit work, she was a tech entrepreneur, helping found and lead PlanetResume.com. She also co-founded Software House, Inc., which was acquired by TYCO International, and BizTank, which focuses on business strategy and fund advisory services.

“I was adopted as a baby out of an orphanage in Harlem. I’ve searched for my birth parents without any luck, which tells me one thing: They probably did not want to be known. There’s a good chance I was born to someone very young who never told anyone about me. But it turned out that I was lucky. I was raised by great parents who instilled in me the values that have guided my life. My father was an architect in Manhattan and my mother was a lifelong student with many degrees.”

“I went to Brandeis University intent on majoring in pre-med. But as a woman I was not supported by the academic community, and I chickened out, which I see as my biggest mistake. One reason I like to help people is that I always wanted to be a doctor. I ended up majoring in anthropology. My liberal arts education taught me how to write and communicate, skills that have been enormously beneficial in business. I started my career working for a bank. Two friends from Brandeis were doing a tech startup and they saw me as a business person. I said, ‘OK, I’m a business person.’ Later, I was one of the founders of an early dot.com called Planet Resume, an early online job search site before the Monster Board.”

“These days, I devote most of my time to volunteer work. I get asked a lot about what drives me. I owe a debt of gratitude to the world because I’ve had a fortunate life. It’s not been perfect, but nothing is. When I was 50, my husband, who I had been with more than 30 years, left. My son was going into 11th grade and I knew that I had to be OK. More importantly, I knew that I wanted to be OK. It can be hard as a single, middle-aged woman in Sarasota. But I was clear that my life would be a luxury for many people in the world.”

“When I moved here 16 years ago, I was shocked to find people who had never met a Jewish person. Where I grew up, it seemed like everyone was Jewish. For me, Judaism is a cultural and ethnic identity. A core mission of Judaism is to repair the world. I have traveled to Israel many times and feel its existence is more important than ever with so much anti-Semitism in the world.”

“One of the joys of Sarasota is seeing how people are reinventing aging. One of my closest friends, Betty Schoenbaum, is 100. Her vitality and intellect inspire me. I’m also learning
that some of the physical limits we used to associate with getting older are not nearly as great as some people fear. I run five to 10 miles a day, eat well and never get sick. I feel much younger than my physical age.” 

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