The Giving Journey
Making a Meaningful Difference
Photo by Douglas Foulke
Bedford is blessed with many philanthropists who generously give both locally and globally. Yet each donor’s story is different, and their paths to finding their passions are as varied as the causes they support. Some find their cause by happenstance, others by seeking out a need that resonates within, and still others by connecting to their larger communities.
Becki Fleischer lives in Pound Ridge with her husband, Ari, and their two children. Her local involvement includes leadership of both the Junior League of Northern Westchester and the Northern Westchester Hospital Foundation. Her philanthropy stems from a lifelong commitment to service organizations. Giving her time is how she learned to give money.
“People join service organizations because they want to feel connected to their community, know what is happening, and help,” Fleischer explains. “As a child I volunteered at shelters and food pantries, so this was a continuation of the way I had given growing up.”
Speaking for herself and her husband, she says, “Giving is deeply entrenched from both of our families and our religious traditions. We set aside a certain amount every year and try to be deliberate about our philanthropy.” For Fleischer, it is all about creating a better, more caring town for all its residents. “For example, we give to Hospital every year because we need a great quality hospital locally. We think that is part of what makes a great community,” she continues.
Giving time remains a cornerstone of Fleischer’s generosity. “My philanthropy becomes more meaningful when I’m doing more than just writing a check, it helps me feel connected to my community. But there are many organizations that we give money to where I don’t give time. It’s all important.”
Barbara Jackson, and her husband, Ken, of Mount Kisco give widely, but Barbara’s involvement with Neighbors Link, a local organization that assists in the healthy integration of immigrants, stands out.
Jackson grew up in a poor southern town where her grandmother owned a small grocery store. “From an early age I came to face to face with those very much in need. My grandmother did not have much money, but she helped customers who could not pay and offered a sandwich to anyone who went hungry. For me, that planted the seeds. And for 30 years, I taught high school English—and teaching is really such a ministry. My involvement with Neighbors Link is a continuation of that ministry to help others.”
As a teacher, Neighbor’s Link’s message of education, employment, and empowerment resonated. “Our cradle-to-college approach includes English as a Second Language, working with ‘under 5s’ in the Family Center, and summer and afterschool programs for elementary-age kids. This has allowed me to directly change and improve others’ lives,” Jackson explains.
Like so many philanthropists, Jackson’s own past suggested the way forward and gave her the opportunity to help those with very limited means. “Neighbors Link has strengthened our community by enfolding newcomers into its fabric. Mount Kisco has become a model for our nation. If you look at our town’s rich diversity, you see the infusion of new cultures that mirrors the experiences of our country.”
Longtime Bedford residents Mark and Lisa Schwartz give generously at the local and global level. The Schwartzes support many Bedford area causes, but some of their greatest satisfaction comes from their work in the fight against AIDS in South Africa. While this cause came to Mark by chance, it has since come to have deep meaning in both their lives.
They have been regular visitors to South Africa, working closely with doctors, researchers and community leaders. Even with their tremendous success with this complex, global problem, Mark explains that giving is always a journey, “We have made, as everyone does, mistakes philanthropically—given to the wrong organizations, give to the wrong people, given too much, too early, too quickly, or without doing enough due diligence. It’s like anything else, you make mistakes, you learn, you adapt, you change, you eventually get better, and you improve over time.”