Two years ago, Sunny Nixon received the best birthday gift ever, from a friend who struggled to decide what to give her.
After all, Nixon seemed to have everything already. She’s an attorney, and at the time was engaged to future husband Aaron Cornell, a financial consultant. To boot, she’d found fulfillment helping those less fortunate through volunteering.
So Nixon’s friend — Jamie Sullivan, a worker at Greater Cleveland Food Bank — took an uncommon approach. On Nixon’s behalf, Sullivan bought a one-night hotel stay for a foodbank client awaiting permanent housing.
“That really moved me,” Nixon, 41, says of the gift. “I’m fortunate that I have the things I need. Jamie knows this is important to me, that people are cared for and treated with dignity and respect.”
Community involvement isn’t new for Nixon. Growing up in Dover, she was active in several school and non-school groups, including 4-H and Key Club International. After her graduation from Cleveland State University with a degree in communications, Nixon joined the Cleveland Professional Twenty-Thirty Club, which aims to turn young professionals into community leaders.
Nixon blossomed further after she enrolled in CSU’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. When not studying, she served meals to the inner-city food insecure through West Side Ecumenical Ministry, which later merged with the Centers for Families and Children.
“It was an eye-opener to see how many people were food insecure,” Nixon says. “If you’re going to school hungry, or have to choose between medicine and food, that’s something I can’t handle.”
“The kids in Cleveland are our responsibility,” Nixon says. “We need to show them we are here for them.”
Also while in law school, Nixon was awarded a fellowship to work in Cleveland Housing Court, where she helped inner-city residents with cited properties resolve tangled-title issues. Her pro-bono efforts allowed these residents to emerge from legal messes and move on with their lives.
Today, Nixon is on the advisory committee of Cleveland Bridge Builders, a Cleveland Leadership Center program that shows business people how to become civically engaged.
“That program is one of the best things someone can do to expand their circle of friends and be exposed to the most diverse group of people you would ever want to meet following college,” Nixon says.
Nixon easily finds time for volunteering and philanthropy because she is passionate about helping others, so much so that it’s part of her social life. Meanwhile, she has worked for companies — including her employer, CoverMyMeds, a Columbus-based health care IT firm — that encourage employees to get involved. She serves as the firm’s senior corporate counsel.
Nixon has no plans to enter politics — “With a name like Nixon, I don’t know how successful I would be,” she jokes. But she is concerned that bitterness and hostility are poisoning political dialogue. She’s convinced that volunteering is a great way to understand other people’s perspectives.
“Most people want to do what’s right,” Nixon says. “If you give them a vehicle to do that and things to get excited about, most people are willing to help.”