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Las Vegas philanthropist’s work is all about inspiring hope

Vegas Voices is a weekly series featuring notable Las Vegans.

Moving from the gaming industry to a utility company to a philanthropic foundation, Punam Mathur has been all over the Las Vegas map. Six years ago, she made the decision to leave her full-time job as an director of human resources at NV Energy to make more time for her three sons and one daughter. But that didn’t mean she was done contributing to the community.

Mathur is the executive director of the Elaine P. Wynn and Family Foundation and has her own business, Punam Mathur LLC, as a speaker and trainer. Ask this energetic single mom her about her work now, and she’ll tell you it’s all about hope.

How long have you been with the Elaine P. Wynn and Family Foundation?

About four years. (Elaine) was my boss 20 years ago in the gaming industry, and she’s been in and out of my life for years. She called me four years ago and said, “I’m ready to write my final chapter, and I want it to be defined by my philanthropy, and I want you to ride side car.”

What was the transition like going from the gaming industry to working in philanthropy?

When I worked for MGM Mirage, now MGM Resorts, I was a senior officer of the company for a dozen years. My portfolio was community, government and diversity. What a blast, right? I feel super grateful for the opportunities, but on a parallel track, I have four kids, and all of them come from the foster system. I ran HR (at NV Energy) for about four years and realized six and a half years ago that I had three teenagers 11, 12 and 13, sitting at a kitchen table. The clarity for me was pretty clear and simple — in this next chapter, I want to be anchored at the kitchen table rather than the conference table.

It felt so natural for Elaine to call. I’ve always been involved in community because it’s been part of my job in the private sector. It’s always been an important part of what I’ve cared about, and I’ve had the privilege, frankly, to be paid to work in it. There’s a transition going from a corporate perspective to a family foundation perspective, but it’s a minor change. The fundamentals weren’t overwhelming or new.

What’s the best part about working for the foundation?

What I see are the faces. I see Michia, whom I met because she was ascending through Nevada Ballet Theater’s dance programs. It turned out she was able to get into the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York, which is a big deal. As I got to know Michia, it turns out she was actually introduced to dance as a third-grader at Elaine Wynn Elementary School. That’s beautiful, and now I’ve got a friend named Michia. It’s the individual kids I meet whose personal stories and the power of what it’s meant to them bring a source of real hope. I get hope when working with champions of the community who are doing wonderful things every day. The fact that we get to fund them is an awesome thing.

What message do you deliver in your speaking engagements?

Most of the things I do have to do with inspiration — helping people reshape their perspective so they can find hope and optimism. There’s so many things that are hard, especially right now. Whether it’s their individual struggles or political realities, there’s an awful lot of weight and negativity that we’re surrounded by right now. What I get called on to do is go in and be Tigger and remind us that it’s going to be okay. We’re powerful, and hope is always going to win and when we’re connecting and caring about each other, the world is a better place. I do a lot of those. Every once in a while, what people need is a “You can do this” and “You got this” and “Be joyful, be grateful, be hopeful” because what’s the alternative?

Your four children, Richard, 28, Devin, 20, Joseph, 19, and Tai, 17, all came from the foster system. Why did you decide to be a licensed foster parent?

Unlike lots of women, I didn’t have a biological clock ticking. But at some deep level, I always knew I would. It wasn’t anything I had thought about a lot. In my mid-30s, when I contemplated creating a family, it just seemed like the natural way to do it.

Favorite restaurant in Las Vegas?

Sin City Sushi. It’s my little sushi place on Maryland and Pebble. Best all you can eat and best sushi in town.

The Strip or downtown?

Probably downtown just because of proximity. There’s an energy downtown. The kids and I have gone to the Container Park because it’s a cool place, and there’s lots of great people watching.

Favorite family hangout spot?

We were specialists in knowing every water park or any place in town where there was even a little bit of water coming out of the ground. Now, there’s an emergence of places — you can bounce from trampoline places to bouncy places. They are teenagers who do that a lot. That’s their new thing.

What are you binge watching right now?

I like comedy. Right now, I’m watching “Nurse Jackie” on Netflix. It’s hilarious. I thoroughly enjoy “Grace and Frankie.” I love those kinds of things, and I love that I can watch them when I want to watch them. I can binge watch in 30-minute bites.

Contact Katelyn Umholtz at 702-383-0279 or kumholt @reviewjournal.com. Follow @kumh0ltz on Twitter.

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