Tracy Bender, '01
Originally published in September 2010
Tracy Bender, '01, has always had a passion for two things: advertising and football. She has not only incorporated those passions into her professional life as the president and CEO of the Souper Bowl of Caring, but she also has a strong desire to stay involved with the University that helped her reach her goals.
Tracy graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2001 with a degree in advertising. Having been born in Florida and raised in Roswell, GA, she grew up cheering for two rival schools, but had no problem converting to the garnet and black.
“I had two requirements when I was looking at where I would go to college,” Tracy recalls. “It had to offer advertising as a major, because that’s what I always wanted to do, and it had to be in the SEC, because I love football. South Carolina had the eighth-ranked advertising program in the country. Being born in Florida and growing up in Georgia, I always followed SEC football. Once I discovered South Carolina, I never went back.”
Following a Dream
Growing up near Atlanta, Tracy was exposed to a lot of major advertising and marketing campaigns. This sparked a desire in her at a young age.
“I think the ability to influence the way people think or act was always fascinating to me,” Tracy says. “When I was a kid I wanted to be the head of Coca-Cola advertising.”
Tracy dove right into college life and was involved with many extracurricular activities with her sorority, Delta Delta Delta. She also established a great relationship with her advisor, the late Alan Fried, with whom she would later serve as a co-instructor for a University 101 class.
“So many good memories,” Tracy says. “I met my husband, Edward, at USC, so that was certainly a highlight! I tried to be involved in a lot of different things. I was there when we started Dance Marathon, and I’ve stayed involved as an advisor for my sorority.”
Ironically, Tracy and Edward were both recipients of the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award during their senior year. The awards are given each year to one graduating woman and one graduating man for outstanding achievements, campus leadership, exemplary character and service to the community. The award is named for the 19th-century New York lawyer and philanthropist.
Tracy was a member of Garnet Circle, which is a student leadership organization sponsored by the Carolina Alumni Association. The organization exists to foster relationships between Carolina students and alumni. While she may not have realized it at the time, Tracy was also involved in the implementation of what has become a growing tradition on the Carolina campus.
“I was tasked with planning the first Official Ring Ceremony,” Tracy says. “We only had eight people come for that first year, but it was something we had the chance to create, and now I can look back and see it has become a tradition. So that’s very rewarding. It wasn’t exactly perfect that first year, but it’s become a tradition that was worth starting and continuing.”
The inaugural event has caught on. The Official USC Ring Ceremony is now held twice per year and has grown to more than 300 recipients at each event.
A “Souper” Career
After graduating from Carolina in 2001, Tracy worked as an account executive at Erwin Penland advertising agency in Greenville. She returned to Columbia in late 2002 to be the director of marketing and development for the Special Olympics of South Carolina, before becoming director of public relations at the Souper Bowl of Caring in 2004. She moved into her current role as president and CEO in April of 2010. The Souper Bowl of Caring is a national non-profit that encourages young people to get involved in service around the time of the Super Bowl.
“We work with schools and congregations to get their students involved in fundraising events or fundraising projects,” Tracy explains. “The unique thing about what we do is that 100-percent of the food or money that’s raised goes directly to a local non-profit. We share the ideas and give them resources to help them reach their goals. We set goals based on the amount of money raised and the number of youths we want involved. Our goals for this year are 275,000 youth involved and $11 million in food and cash.”
The Souper Bowl of Caring started in Columbia at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church more than 20 years ago and is now in all 50 states. Since then, volunteers have raised $71 million on Super Bowl Sundays with donations going directly to community food banks, soup kitchens or other charities chosen by each group. Having spent a large portion of her professional life working in jobs that serve the community, Tracy has earned a great deal of satisfaction with how she has used her skills.
“Service is what we’re supposed to do,” Tracy says. “When I was at Carolina, I discovered more about who I was, and I wanted to make giving back a priority. I think the great thing about working here is that I can grow professionally and personally, and every day is different.”
One of the biggest challenges Tracy faces is helping people understand what the Souper Bowl of Caring does, and why it is important to the community.
“Souper Bowl of Caring uses the energy of the big game to raise awareness and support for people living with the issues of hunger and poverty,” Tracy says. “Not everyone realizes that it’s a local issue, but the reality is that there are people living in poverty in every community and there are children in all of our schools who are hungry. So it’s a very relevant cause.”
Tracy enjoys the challenge of her job and that she is working as part of a national campaign while still living in the city she is proud to call home. She continues her connection with the University through membership in the Carolina Alumni Association, and she is also former member of the board of directors for the Young Alumni Council.
“Those four years at Carolina were life changing for me, so it’s important to stay connected and to try to give back,” Tracy says. “When you have a positive experience with something, it’s important to try to share that and give those who follow you the same opportunities that you had.”