My career as a psychotherapist helped me see that change only happens in a meaningful way when people create it themselves and are personally involved in opposing structures that oppress them. That experience informed the genesis of my own Elias Foundation, which funds community-led efforts to bring about social change. Over the 11 years of our existence, Elias Foundation has been seeding and supporting community organizing by low-income people in Westchester County.
I started giving to North Star Fund after the initial flurry of activity establishing Elias when I became aware of our isolation in a local donor landscape that largely supported traditional service and arts organizations. It was a huge benefit to be able to use North Star as a model for the work that we were doing in Westchester.
Then, at a challenging time in our work at Elias, wondering if our goals might be too ambitious for me, I met with Hugh Hogan, North Star’s executive director, to discuss expanding North Star’s work into Westchester County. The meetings were both informative and affirming; from them I realized that we had the resources in house to accomplish the movement building goals on our own. Hugh encouraged me to take a leadership role in Westchester and continue to develop a granting program resembling that of North Star in spite of our challenging suburban location.
Two years later, I was invited to join North Star’s Community Funding Committee (CFC), filling one of the donor positions. Joining the CFC offered me a great opportunity to do site visits as a partner with activists who were usually on the other side of the table from me in my work as a funder. Together, we evaluated potential North Star grantees, an experience that was invaluable to my learning to be an effective and responsible funder.
Because the activist environment is so rich, New York City offers an ideal example of the power of base building and collective action - with a history of robust recruitment and winning campaigns. New progressive groups are being spawned every day. Having an extensive network of so many members of the activist community, including those on the CFC, allows North Star to keep in touch with developments in the field as well as exciting new opportunities.
In my view, North Star’s success: its ability to nurture NYC’s thriving social justice community, is critical to my vision for how Elias can help to foster an equal society in Westchester County. Like the folks at North Star, I believe that philanthropy has an ethical responsibility to use tax-deductible dollars to create more equality, support those community efforts that build power for disadvantaged people and be accountable to those who do not yet share that privilege.