Helen Robinson, director of administration at the Clinton Foundation, sat down with our team to reflect upon her nearly four decades of working for President Clinton
Helen Robinson started working for Governor Bill Clinton in 1986. A native of East Arkansas, she remembers the first job she had in government and the impression a little-known governor from Hope made on her.
From her first moments in the Arkansas state government, to the White House, to supporting the Clinton Foundation from our earliest days — Helen has played a critical role through much of President Clinton’s life in politics, the presidency, and philanthropy. When the Foundation first opened its doors in Harlem in 2001, she got right to work by overseeing office operations and recalls shuttling supplies, furniture, and staff in her car.
She sat down with our team to reflect upon the transition from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to 125th Street, the joyous opening day celebrations in the community, and her experiences working with a future, current, and former president in his enduring mission of putting people first and improving lives across the country and around the world.
1.) As we celebrate our 20-year anniversary, what was it like when the Clinton Foundation first opened its offices in Harlem more than two decades ago?
The first thing I remember is the warmth of the Harlem community welcoming President Clinton. There were people everywhere, on the streets, and on every corner. Everybody wanted a piece of President Clinton and wanted to see him. It is amazing how, even now, I think the community, still embraces his presence.
I started as a receptionist and my role grew as we got the office up and running. I was the first one on-site during the construction project that was going on when we moved into the Harlem office. The office was under construction for weeks before we could get settled in. At one time, we had three offices in the building. We were on a mission to make change and we did.
During our first years in Harlem, we invited many ministers and small businesspeople from the Harlem Community to meet with President Clinton. A few months later we formed one of our first initiatives — a small business initiative with Booz Allen Hamilton and the Stern School of Business at New York University. We aimed to help local Harlem businesses reorganize their business plans and stay on the right track for success. Many of those businesses are still up and running today.
2.) Any favorite memory from your time working for President Clinton out of our Harlem office?
One fun memory is during the first few years, when staff had the opportunity to visit and get a photo with Nelson Mandela at his hotel in downtown Manhattan.
3.) Given the unique experiences that you’ve had working in public service, what advice do you have for others who are hoping to forge a similar career path?
Do not let anybody take your joy or take your dreams from you. There will be distractions, do not stop, you must keep going. There is always more than one way to do most things. I am incredibly grateful to have worked for President Clinton for so many years. I do not take one day for granted.
4.) What keeps you optimistic and inspired?
What has really kept me inspired is President Clinton’s mission to make changes in people’s lives, helping people live their best life stories, and staying focused on putting people first. Making a difference in people’s lives is so important. That is what really draws me to President Clinton, he has done so much for so many. When it comes down to what he is doing, or who he is doing it for, it does not matter — and I am not saying this because I have worked for him for many years. He will try his best to help. That is the one thing that has really inspired me about him. He is a giving person — and this, I knew that from the beginning.