Voices From The Garden: Annie Sandler

The smallest, kindest, and quietest gestures are what make the greatest impact.  There are very few people who recognize the impact of the arts as much as Annie Sandler.  Alongside her husband Art, they recognized Virginia Beach’s need for a cultural center and supported the architectural masterpiece the Sandler Center of the Performing Arts.  It was dedicated in November of 2007.   

Mrs. Sandler has been a pioneer in the greater Hampton Roads community by helping the arts come alive for all ages.  In the beginning, when asked to be President of the Sandler Center Board, she was hesitant at first but felt the responsibility to help lead the team since everyone was completely committed.  Together they raised $3 million more than what was expected of them to match the city’s contribution.  

As Annie would describe, leading from the “middle or even the back” has been her secret to success in paving the way for others in the arts community.   She told us that it is quite hard to engage others if you haven’t instilled self-confidence and to guide others so that they will be able to lead on their own.  Annie sees it as a team approach and we all become better once we are inspired.  Choosing to be connected with what we are passionate about leads to much more effective results.  


Sandler Family atop Mt. Kilimanjaro

“Women especially are incredible when energized and introduced to something they are passionate about. The more people who are engaged, the more people you can impact with your work.  This becomes a real win-win for all”, Annie said, which certainly rings true of the Sandler Center.  


Gabrielle’s Project partnered with the JDC to assist the slum children of Mumbai, India receive an education

The Sandler Center of the Performing Arts’ abundance of volunteers have not only saved the city thousands of dollars a year, they have helped pave the way for the Sandler Center to be the culture epicenter of the community.  Gathering this amazing bunch of volunteers has been one of the most exciting things that Annie Sandler has done for the Sandler Center.  As she described they have allowed the Center to not only develop and grow but, “basically explode”.  The volunteers are the forefront of the outreach programs that span across all ages throughout our community.  Annie has cited this as one of the most important things she has done based on the Sandler Center goals.  

One of Annie’s true passions is education. When she originally inquired as to how much money she was going to have for educational programs at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, it was laughably low.  Shocked and dismayed, she certainly did not let that stop her and thus started the Access to the Arts Program.  The goal of that committee was to facilitate bringing many Title I schools to matinees at the Center.  14,800 underprivileged children thus far have been able to experience shows that tie into their curriculum. 


Annie Sandler with young students in the Philippines

The Sandlers and the Performing Arts Center are also not strangers to the military community that is so abundant in the Hampton Roads area.  Together, they have developed relationships with our military and brought in comedy groups to help with subjects like PTSD and re-integration within the community.  This highlights the fact that the Sandler Center is accessible to all.  

The success of Annie’s dream now lives at the Sandler Center allowing everyone to benefit from the arts!

Annie Sandler believes that each of us has certain values with which they lead.  Bringing those to light will allow others to follow, and Annie Sandler posses an enviable talent in drawing out the strengths of others in the Hampton Roads Community.

When asked how she would explain her philanthropic work in the community Annie said that word, ‘philanthropic’ is just “too high up on a pedestal” for her taste.  

She went on to describe the word philanthropy as alienating people from contributing to certain organizations because they are afraid of the price tag that follows that service.  However, Mrs. Sandler believes that what you give to an organization with regard to a philanthropy could come through a variety of different avenues.  Many individuals tend to not involve themselves with a cause or organization if they are hesitant about contributing dollars.  The contribution of talent and passion is what is most important.    

When offering advice to the future generations of leaders, Annie believes that, “young people especially need to find what makes them passionate.  Once these values are defined they will follow throughout their lifetime and will propel them to lead. Young people do not have an abundance of free time so therefore, what they become involved in better be good, it better be impactful and it better be successful”.  

“I find people who become involved for a long period of time tend to vaporize, but your work is truly never done until you’re dead because those who come after you need a visual, they need guidance and it is still important to lead them to participate in something, otherwise what you do loses credibility.  A balanced life is the most important life to live, and the key factor overall, rather than solely focusing on happiness.  If you can balance what speaks to you and what enriches your life, that is the most meaningful contribution you can give to others.  You should never negate the fact that someone else is behind you watching”.  

Thanks to both Annie and Art Sandler rolling up their sleeves and taking action to motivate others, the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts is thriving in our Hampton Roads Community and continues to spread the good works of the arts for future generations to come.  

Not only has the Sandler family made extraordinary contributions to our community, but we realized after diving a little deeper, their contributions extend worldwide.  The Sandler Family cannot turn a blind eye to others in need.  

One of the most interesting things we found out about Annie Sandler was about her deep spiritual beliefs.  Annie has literally incorporated the Jewish belief of tikkun olam (repairing the world), into every facet of her life.  This basic tenant of Judaism stresses the important concept of leaving the world a better place than we found it, our great responsibility for “repairing the world”.  

Our Hampton Roads Jewish community does much great work through its partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).  The JDC was founded in 1914, during World War I, as the first Jewish organization in the United States to dispense large scale funding for international relief from those living around the world who are suffering from extreme poverty or crises.  Annie Sandler’s commitment to the JDC has taken her literally around the world, where she delivers her hands-on methods to help those in need.  

From her amazing work in the slums of Mumbai, India, to a Druse Village in Mozambique, creating schools in Ethiopia and the Phillipines, building camps in Romania and helping communities in Israel, Annie Sandler is part of it all.  Annie Sandler and her family inspire and encourage voices and minds around the world to take action and become the best version of themselves.