By Jamie Shafer
Her path to leadership has been a natural progression over the years, stemming from her deep roots of faith. Karen Alter, named in 2011 as a principal in Borshoff, a leading Indianapolis based public relations and advertising agency, grew up in a strong Christian home with family members who served as church leaders. Her church served as a cornerstone of her upbringing. She attended its school, following the footsteps of her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. As she moved on to college, she became involved on campus but kept close ties with family and church by regularly coming home on Sundays.
Serving in the church was a part of her identity. She helped with Vacation Bible School and Sunday school during the summers. Her voice resonates with love for her church home as she talks about her baptism and later her marriage in that place where her roots have run so deep.
Alter found that placing her roots at Borshoff over the past 15 years has also been a natural fit. “I have always aligned with organizations that share my values,” says Alter. “I wanted a place to stay, grow, and make an impact. The values of Borshoff allow me to be who I am. It’s very personal and relationship based.”
During her time at Borshoff, she has continued to develop her leadership ability. “The best leader is a person who cares the most,” says Alter. “I lead with my heart. I truly want to help others reach their potential.” She strives to motivate others while demonstrating her commitment to them, modeling servant leadership.
An Unexpected Gift
The Borshoff environment has been a good match for Alter’s philosophy and she has found her coworkers to be like family over the years. They are open about their life struggles and even about their faith. Alter has invested in many lives and has been blessed by those relationships. In her early years at the agency, one coworker made a contribution to her life that was both unique and extraordinary.
Alter and her husband had been struggling with infertility for nine years, when Jennifer, a coworker, approached Karen and told her she believed God was leading her to serve as a surrogate mother for the Alters. At first, Alter was so stunned that she didn’t know what to think. But, over time, their conversations continued and Jennifer, who came from a strong Christian family and had children of her own, stood firm in her belief. Alter said they couldn’t help but ask, “Are we trying to do something that is not in God’s plan?”
Both families prayed and spoke with leaders in their churches about the decision, and came to the conclusion that this was a door they should walk through. Karen and Jennifer grew understandably closer through the experience and have remained friends and coworkers. “She is a very special person to me,” says Alter, mother of Matthew, who is now 12 and was recently honored by his school with a Christian leadership award.
Moving through Loss
Not long after the joy of Matthew’s birth, Alter also experienced extreme loss. In 2001, her sister Kristi was killed by a drunk driver at age 41, leaving behind a husband and three children. During her life, Kristi had opportunity to impact many in the community through teaching and as a cheerleading coach. “Our whole family rallied around her memory,” shares Alter. “We wanted to make sure she wasn’t forgotten, and to support causes that were near and dear to her.”
In 2002, her family and the school administration launched Kristi’s Games, honoring a vision Kristi had to create a community festival that would support the school’s athletic department. The festival has continued successfully for a decade now, and during that time Alter has also been blessed to be a close part of the lives of her sister’s children, offering love and help whenever needed.
Alter learned a verse at a young age she says has come to fit her perfectly over the years. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” She has come to live this with even more devotion since her cancer diagnosis in 2010.
“I’ve learned that life is not about what happens, but how you deal with it. I know that God has a purpose for everything. I don’t need answers, because the Lord is
Jamie Shafer is the communications director at East 91st Christian Church, in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband, Eric, have two children.