Jay Uiberall Legacy Fund recognized on Philanthropy Day

November 15th, 2016

Michael Uiberall is so proud of some of the kids benefitting from the Jay Uiberall Legacy Fund that he carries photos celebrating their achievements on his iPhone.

This week, the local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) gave Jay Uiberall’s father another reason to feel proud. At its annual Crystal Awards banquet on Tuesday, AFP named the Jay Uiberall Legacy Fund its outstanding foundation for 2016.

“It gives our family a lot of joy that Jay is being recognized for what he was and what the fund is doing now,” Michael Uiberall says. “If he could see what these kids are accomplishing… well, it’s just amazing.”

Jay Uiberall (pictured at left) died in 2010 at age 37 after an accidental fall. At the time, Jay co-owned and managed four restaurants and a catering company in Memphis.

The Jay Uiberall Legacy Fund supports several programs related to the food service industry, including the Jay Uiberall Culinary Academy; the Jay Uiberall Legacy Fund Scholarship in the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management at the University of Memphis; and Serving Memphis, an organization that provides services to restaurant workers. Another beneficiary is the Jay Uiberall Scholars program, which works with Reach Memphis to help prepare promising local high school students for success in college and in life.

John Thatcher of AFP’s Memphis chapter says, "The award selection committee was very impressed with the Jay Uiberall Legacy Fund's commitment to fund programs that Jay Uiberall was passionate about, along with their strategic approach to philanthropy by supporting programs that provide healthcare, financial services, and education to individuals currently employed or interested in a career in the hospitality industry."

The Uiberall family wasn’t considering a memorial event to honor Jay during the months following his tragic death six years ago. A group of Jay’s friends approached them with the idea. The group included Sandy Robertson, Jay’s business partner in several restaurants; John Pugliese, vice president of marketing and related services for the Grizzlies; and Cindy and Kevin Brewer, owners of LEO Events agency.

“The fundraiser they suggested was a casino night on Beale Street, the street where Jay had spent almost 20 years working,” Michael Uiberall says. “How the proceeds would be used was to be determined later. At the time, I had no idea what this would become. I’m a believer now.”

Jay Uiberall loved the restaurant business. He started working at a Shoney’s while still in high school. He earned a degree in accounting at the University of Memphis, but Michael Uiberall never thought his son would follow in his footsteps and become a CPA.

“Jay was independent,” his father says. “He knew an accounting degree could help him be more successful in owning and operating restaurants. I’d go with him to look at a restaurant that was for sale. He’d pick up the financials, go through them quickly and see what the problems were. At the time of his death, Jay had a business interest in five restaurants, and every one of them was in the black. That’s saying something these days. Jay definitely left his mark.”

Michael and his wife Andie serve on the Board of the Jay Uiberall Legacy Fund, as do Jay’s sister, Jill Shanker, and her husband Scott, along with the friends who suggested that first fundraiser. In determining who will receive grants from the foundation, Michael Uiberall says the Board looks for “holes in society where a program could help deserving kids and people better themselves. We look for programs that don’t have easy access to funds but could have a real impact.”

The Jay Uiberall Culinary Academy meets those criteria. The Legacy Fund teams with Knowledge Quest, a nonprofit founded in 1998 and serving inner city children, to teach basic cooking and business skills to participating youth. The program also helps build self-confidence. The 2015-16 Culinary Academy class recently won over $40,000 in scholarships at a statewide culinary contest.

“What the kids learn is not only cooking but math, teamwork and strategic planning,” Michael says. “The kids get mentors who give them direction. They get to go places and meet people they wouldn’t have. And their food is to die for.”

Thus far, funding for the foundation has come primarily from people who knew Jay and those who are impressed with what the Fund has done in the community. The Board is planning a broader fundraising program in the future.

“We want to ask people to do some ‘venture funding,’ to let us decide where their money will be spent,” Uiberall says. “We plan to invite people we contact to visit the Culinary Academy, to come to a session with the Jay Uiberall Scholars. People often want to control who gets their donation; they want to contribute to what they know. We’ll be asking people to trust us to find programs that don’t exist but should.

“It’s like when Andie and I contribute to the Community Partnership Fund at the Community Foundation,” he says. “The Community Foundation identifies projects that need funding, things we don’t know about. We trust their ability to see things we can’t see.”

When the Jay Uiberall Legacy Fund first began, people made contributions to it because they remembered Jay, his father says. Now, he believes more and more people – including several Community Foundation donors - are supporting the fund because of what the fund is accomplishing. “That’s as it should be,” says Michael Uiberall. “It’s a fitting way to keep Jay’s spirit alive.”

To learn more about the Jay Uiberall Legacy Fund, visit

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