20: Foundation and Fund

For nearly a decade before the Hagedorn Foundation was born, the Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund was the vehicle for their philanthropy. And beyond the life of the foundation, the fund endures.

As Horace structured the fund, when Amy died, the New York Community Trust gained control of its principal. But Amy’s daughter Lisa Valentine and Horace’s daughters, Susan Hagedorn and Kate Littlefield, the fund’s new donor advisers, continue to make grants out of the accruing interest. Horace’s grandchildren, Hope Reeves and Will Paterson, are next-generation advisors to the fund. In the years ahead, Susan said, the fund will continue working “in the areas that mattered most to Horace and Amy: hands-on empowerment of children and families, education, and economic equity. We look forward to generations of Horace and Amy’s family doing the good work they started.”

From 2005 on, the fund and the foundation had existed side by side, with different but often complementary philanthropic goals. “The foundation has a very specific mission, whereas the fund could be loosely categorized as the catch-all for helping organizations that don’t necessarily fall under the mission of the foundation,” said Lisa, who succeeded Amy as president of the Hagedorn Foundation board. “And that’s the beauty of it.”

While Amy was alive, Lisa had no formal role in the fund, but she always had a sense of what Amy was doing with it. “I was frequently a site visitor, along with my mom, to the grantees,” Lisa said. “So, when there were events or notable achievements going on with the grantees, sometimes I was present for it. Mom and I talked about the grantees a lot. I would say more than half of our conversations were based on the work that she was doing. She wanted to tell me about what was going on, including some of the problems that were encountered—some of the personalities, sometimes the conflicts, certainly when things were resolved. She celebrated those successes and wanted to share them with me.”

On the long list of grantees, perhaps the one that Amy worked most closely with over the years was Sustainable Long Island. It was the kind of social change agency that Horace had a difficult time understanding. The planning and development agency’s job was tough: advocating for sustainability in a region whose suburban, picket-fence-and-lawn, single-family-home lifestyle was becoming increasingly unsustainable as the population grew. It pushed for smarter development, including revitalized, walkable downtowns. And its goals of economic development, environmental health, and social equity appealed strongly to Amy. That focus on justice was also the core of Amy’s support for ERASE Racism, which worked on the difficult task that its name spelled out, in a region that ranked among the most segregated in the nation.

Among her other contributions to ERASE Racism, Amy funded a documentary called A Tale of Two Schools: Race and Education on Long Island. It follows two African-American students in their senior year in two sharply different school districts. Amy went through ERASE Racism’s Unraveling Racism Training and provided scholarship funds so that others could also experience the two-day workshop. “She said it changed her life,” said V. Elaine Gross, the organization’s president.

Coming from an immigrant family with roots in Italy, Amy had experienced a taste of otherness. “When I was a kid, I asked my mom why she and my grandparents didn’t speak Italian,” Lisa said. The answer had to do with fear. Amy’s grandparents didn’t want their children speaking Italian, Lisa said, “because they felt that the kids would be chastised or certainly discriminated against, and that they wouldn’t have a chance of making it in America if they just didn’t learn English and speak the English language exclusively. And it was a loss to Amy that she didn’t have that part of her heritage. She mourned it.” That history helped give Amy the sense of justice and equality that shaped her philanthropy.

Sustainable Long Island’s mission included three Es: economic development, environmental health, and social equity. “It was the social equity part that for Amy was the driver of her involvement and passion for the organization, to make sure that everyone, regardless of where they lived, had access to quality schools, quality neighborhoods, to make Long Island a better place,” said Sarah Lansdale, who served as executive director of Sustainable under Amy’s leadership as its tenacious board chair. “She cared about the organization, in a way that I don’t really see anyone else having that level of commitment, where she thought about it all the time.”

Amy was also deeply involved with Herstory Writers Workshop, whose goal was to bring “unheard voices into the public arena, transforming lived experiences into written memoirs powerful enough to change hearts, minds and policy.” In fact, Amy wrote her own Herstory memoir, about living in a family of recent immigrants and dreaming of one day becoming a writer. Instead, what she grew up to be was a mother and a philanthropist. Her fund, like her foundation, supported many groups.

Liz Axelrod, who served as a grants manager for the foundation, and an independent grants administrator for Amy’s fund, worked with her closely and gained insight into what moved her.

“She put a lot of heart into everything she did,” Axelrod said. “She had a way of wanting to get to the bottom of what we could do to help, not just the organizations, but the constituency, the people on the ground, the people that needed help….There are so many things that nonprofits worry about: bottom lines, budgets, making the kind of change that needs to be made. Amy saw through all of that. She cut to the chase. She would say, ‘OK, how can we help? And how do we help the most people?’ ”

One example of that was the money that Amy directed to a fund set up to support those who had suffered serious loss in 2012 from Superstorm Sandy. Typical of her, Amy’s questions were: “Who’s doing the best work helping those people? How can we add to that?” And she was typically generous. “Where everyone else was giving $10,000, $15,000, $20,000, Amy literally said, ‘No, we need more,’ and gave $100,000,” Axelrod recalled. “She said, ‘I know what happens to people. I’ve lived this.’ ”

Amy’s life experience, as a single mother with limited resources, had given her a real feeling for what people needed. As Axelrod saw it, people who rise suddenly from penury to philanthropy can react differently. “It either makes you feel like you’re above everybody else, and you look down on them, or you’re always afraid that you’re going to lose it, or it gives you this wonderful insight and understanding into the people you can and want to help,” Axelrod said. “Amy had that. Amy had that insight.”

The scope of her philanthropy covered not just major needs, like the Sandy fund, but small ones. Amy would run into someone at an event, learn of a need, and ask Axelrod to check it out, like the Long Island Community Agriculture Network. “They did eco-literacy for gardening for children,” Axelrod recalled. “They also did a veterans’ vegetable garden project. It was really wonderful. This was an organization that Amy really, really enjoyed.” She was also enthusiastic about a Northport High School student who helped raise funds for a beloved teacher suffering from ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. “What we’ve always tried to do at the foundation, especially being social justice funders, is fund things that it’s a little harder to get funding for,” Axelrod said. “Things like Lou Gehrig’s disease, it’s got a high profile, and it’s easier to get funding for things like that. Amy knew that, but she said, ‘This kid, he’s the future. Look what he is doing. Let’s keep supporting him.’ ”

That outreach to young people was typical. Among the fund’s grantees, Amy’s daughter detected an overarching theme. “If you look at every grantee of both the foundation and the fund, you can see the word ‘children’ and the concept of children worked into it,” said Lisa, who witnessed her mother’s concern not only for her own children, but for those she taught in pre-kindergarten for 23 years. “If you look at every one of the grantees, you can trace it back to children.”

In fact, one of the earliest connections that Amy and Horace had made, at the start of their philanthropy, was with an agency called Family and Children’s Association. One of Amy’s last efforts for children involved an outreach to Northwell Health, the health care giant where she served on the board. What she wanted was to encourage Northwell to run a home visit program, to reach out to families of young children in their homes and help them to thrive.

“She had a really clear vision of what she wanted,” said Arda Nazerian, the Hagedorn consultant who helped Amy shepherd the idea into reality. “She wanted this established, far-reaching medical institution to formalize this concept she had. So she wanted to make a sizable gift, but to her credit, she was very specific in what she wanted.”

That home visitation idea wasn’t an easy sell, but Amy was persuasive, as Michael Dowling, the Northwell CEO, acknowledged in his keynote talk at the January 2017 funders’ briefing. “She got you to do things,” he said. “She got us to develop a special focus around home visiting. So we built that into the curriculum of the nursing school. We probably would never have done it that way. But it was important.”

The idea was to have Northwell professionals visit homes from the time a child was in the womb until age three, especially in cases where children would seem to be at risk. Focus groups helped examine the evolving idea to make sure the program as structured would be “directly responsive to parents’ needs and the needs of community-based organizations,” Nazerian said. “It took several years to get there, because she was so sure of what she wanted, and she was so specific in how she wanted it to be implemented.”

In fact, the fund made the grant to Northwell just a few months before Amy died in September 2016. Actually, it was two grants. One was $3 million over three years for a pilot project to develop, implement, and evaluate a home visitation and navigation program. Its goal is to work with 400 families in communities with real need, linking them to community agencies and healthcare providers, to support the healthy development of newborns in Nassau County. In addition, Amy made a $5 million grant to support Hagedorn scholars in the family nurse practitioner program at the Hofstra-Northwell Graduate School of Nursing.

Those Northwell nursing scholars are not the only students Amy encouraged. She had a long history of supporting students at the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College of the City University of New York. At a gathering of those scholars in 2015, a year before her death, Amy used the occasion to announce a dollar-for-dollar matching scholarship gift, to praise the students and the diversity of their backgrounds, and to thank the nearly 50 nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies that have welcomed them. She also spoke a little about the act of giving away money.

“Philanthropy is also about making change, and we all know that change is really tough,” Amy told the young scholars. “Systems at rest like to stay at rest. Nudging them in a different direction, toward the greater common good, takes time, money and energy.”

In 2017, it was her daughter Lisa who met with the Baruch scholars to praise and encourage them, as Amy had. For a decade, Lisa had served on the Hagedorn Foundation board, under Amy’s leadership as president. And when Amy died unexpectedly, Lisa stepped up to the role of president. She knew what the foundation was about, and she knew her mother’s heart.

“Amy’s mantra was to leave places better than when you arrived there,” Lisa said. “She would come into our house and feel the need to straighten up. It’s a metaphor for how she approached situations, places, organizations, communities. If she saw a need, she wanted to help. This goes back to Amy in her pre-philanthropic days, as a community organizer, as someone who was involved in the United Community Fund in Great Neck, committee member, someone who wanted to make things better, wherever she was.”

Lisa, like her colleagues at the foundation, believes strongly that the foundation that Amy created, using the money Horace left for that purpose, has made things better. One example Lisa cited was the progress on the issue of immigration, especially after seven teenagers attacked and killed Marcelo Lucero in 2008 simply because he was a Latino immigrant. “It’s a discussion, as opposed to a war,” Lisa said. “There’s a different climate.” The 2016 election of Donald Trump brought new pressure to bear, but the foundation had unquestionably brought about real progress.

In so many areas, measurable and immeasurable, the Hagedorn Foundation delivered on Amy’s simple goal of improving the region it served. It truly made a difference in helping people in communities of color to register to vote and participate in shaping the destiny of our fragile republic. It amplified the voice of immigrants, guided them to develop the leadership they needed to advocate more effectively for themselves, and helped fight legal battles that defended them against oppression. It played a significant role in getting families the right to take paid time off from work at moments of need: new births, the ravages of age, health emergencies. It helped train parents to advocate more effectively for their children and to lead powerfully in their communities. It raised a clear voice against hate crimes. Though its reach in many ways was national, the foundation’s most lasting impacts focused on its own island.

“I’d like to have people go away from the foundation thinking that Long Island is a vastly better place because the foundation existed during that time period,” Lisa said, “and that there is visible evidence of that, not just in the nonprofit world, but in society, in the fabric of our towns and our organizations and communities.”

< 19: Closing the Doors