Fall 2012
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Chuck cooks his strata recipe in the kitchen

Photo: Jack Greene

Cooking Up Spiritual Engagement

Chuck's strata recipe iconIn appointing Charles G. Lief as president, Naropa University is welcoming back an old friend. Social entrepreneur, lawyer, nonprofit executive, and chef, Lief served as chair of Naropa's board of trustees before this most recent appointment.

Charles Lief has been actively involved in the Naropa community since its beginnings. As an early student of Naropa's founder, the Venerable Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Lief participated in some of the first discussions about the creation of the Naropa Institute in 1974. He was an inaugural member of the Nalanda Foundation, and has served on Naropa's board of trustees since its formation in 1986, spearheading such important projects as fundraising for the Allen Ginsberg Library. Lief is excited to turn his attention more fully to the university he has helped nurture. "I am happy that in the President's Office, I am able to make Naropa's success my primary focus and to work more deeply on the shared issues that are important to the Naropa community."

Lief's love for Naropa has been a family affair. His wife, Judy Lief, was also an early student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, working with him at Vajradhatu Publications, where she has served as executive editor since 1989. Judy was dean of the Naropa Institute (1980-85) and has served on the board of trustees since 1986. Chuck and Judy's two daughters are graduates of Naropa.

Lief credits his early meeting with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, as a turning point in his personal and professional life. "As a nineteen-year-old not knowing all that much, I experienced the rug being pulled out from under me. I didn't even know I was standing on a rug, but definitely noticed when it was gone. I believe that anyone entering Naropa and diving into the deep end here, can experience the same scary and exquisite groundlessness."

Encouraged by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche to pursue his interest in law, Lief received his Juris Doctor from the University of Colorado. His work with nonprofit law, mental health law, and in the legal aid clinic highlighted the intersections between his spiritual practice and social enterprise. After graduating, Lief served as managing partner of the Colorado law firm, Roper, Lief, Mains, and Cobb from 1977–1983, with Naropa as a client.

At the invitation of fellow Naropa board member, Bernie Glassman, Lief and his family moved to Yonkers, New York, in 1993, where he served as the first president of the Greyston Foundation. One of the earliest models of integrated nonprofit social enterprise in the United States, Greyston offered services including permanent housing for formerly homeless families, accredited child care, HIV/AIDS housing and health care, and the famous Greyston Bakery. Recognizing the interconnectedness of social issues, Lief lead Greyston's mission to move beyond the conventional view of providing the minimum services in the form of transitional housing, instead aiming to provide richness and dignity to the lives of those it serves. Under his leadership, Greyston Foundation expanded its staff from fifteen to 180 employees.

While we might all be familiar with the brownies that Greyston Bakery supplies to Ben & Jerry's, we're perhaps less familiar with the bakery's real work: economic justice and community development. The motto of the bakery is: "We don't hire people to bake brownies. We bake brownies to hire people." Aware that experience and employment history can be an obstacle for those who have struggled with substance abuse or prison records, if Greyston Bakery has a job opening, they hire the first person to walk in the door and apply. Lief explains, "The bakery's model always was we're going to take everybody as we find them, and it's completely up to the individual who arrives, in working with their peers, to make it work or not."[1]

In 2003, Lief moved to Vermont, where he co-founded the Hartland Group, Community Developers and Consultants. Having witnessed the transformative effects of establishing permanent housing for previously homeless families, Hartland invests in creating mixed income housing, contributing to the diversity and cohesiveness of the local community. They are also known as leaders in the fields of historic restoration projects, reclamation and remediation of abandoned or underused industrial sites, and green and LEED® Certified construction.

Lief remains involved as a strategic planning consultant to Amida Care, a nonprofit HMO focused on patient-centered care for low-income persons living with HIV/AIDS in New York City. He is vice-chair of the board of the Vermont Community Loan Fund, founding director and chair of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund Flexible Capital initiative, and is on the board of the award-winning Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, and Vermont Works for Women. He served as the board chair for Intervale Center in Burlington, Vermont, and for Shambhala International, the worldwide association of Buddhist communities founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Naropa students will also have a chance to study with President Lief who will be guest teaching in Peace Studies in November.

Chuck Lief on Social Enterprise and a Naropa Education


Read Shambhala Times article, "Naropa in a Nutshell"

[1] Cooking Rice with Marty Janowitz, http://www.chronicleproject.com/ChroniclesRadio_Rice/chuck-lief.html