Invest in Others Awards

Philanthropic advisers: Making a difference in the lives of others

Charitable efforts range from hunger prevention to medical research

By DEBORAH NASON — September 30, 2017

Niger in focus: Michael Thaler 
(in orange shirt toward center), 
founded Effective Ministries Inc. 
to help improve the African nation's health, education and micro-businesses, to name a 
few areas of outreach.

Financial advisers have once again received well-deserved accolades for their outstanding and inspirational volunteer work.

Fifteen advisers and six companies were recognized as finalists for this year's Invest in Others Awards, and the winners were announced at the 11th annual gala at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York last Thursday. About 550 people from the advice industry and associated professions attended.

In addition to public recognition, the winners and finalists of the awards, presented by The Invest in Others Charitable Foundation, receive monetary gifts for their charities.

$80M raised

The work of this year's finalists encompasses efforts in the areas of hunger prevention, youth development, financial literacy, and medical research and support, among others. The finalists spent an average of 37 hours per month volunteering and collectively have raised $80 million over the past three years for their favorite charities, which serve more than 1 million people in need each year.

“The recent catastrophic events in Houston, Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean have brought droves of people together to help those in need. But the financial advice industry is no stranger to this kind of community service,” said Megan McAuley, executive director and president of Invest in Others. “This year's finalists and winners demonstrate what it's like to use their skills and talents to serve those in need and address challenges in their communities. While they each help in their own ways, they are all united in their selfless desire to make a difference in the lives of others.”

Invest in others awards
Lifetime Achievement
Mark Anselmo
Anselmo Investment Management for Our Nicholas Foundation

The arrival of any new baby is a life-changing event. But when president of Anselmo Investment Management in Temecula, Calif., Mark Anselmo and his wife learned their son Nicholas was diagnosed with autism, it added a tremendous new dimension.

“The initial diagnosis was a shock,” he said. “But it was the biggest blessing, because it caused me to 'press pause' and look at what the most important things in life are.”

When Nicholas began therapy and then school, Mr. Anselmo saw a serious need for resources, and founded the Our Nicholas Foundation in 2005 to provide substantial support. Over the past 12 years, the nonprofit has provided public-school autism programs with thousands of classroom supplies, such as iPads and weighted vests.

As the foundation has evolved, it has added programs supporting several major areas:

• Schools: fulfilling school supply “wish lists” and establishing “peer buddy” programs between autistic students and other kids.

• Families: hosting parent support groups and family nights in public places.

• Recreation: establishing a special needs soccer league (including 200 peer buddies), special needs swim classes and a special needs park, developed in partnership with the City of Temecula.

• Personal fundraising: creating an annual fundraising event which enables families to raise money for the foundation and their own needs.

• Community center: leasing a facility for workshops, respite care and a teen club.

Award winnings will most likely be applied to the development of a technology center within the community center, Mr. Anselmo said.

“The most important thing to us is building a community where people feel they belong,” he said.

Gerald Denney Jr. Gerald Denney Jr.
Gerald Denney Jr.
Piedmont Wealth Management for Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry

Volunteering becomes part of people's social lives, said Gerald Denney Jr., financial adviser with Piedmont Wealth Management in Charlottesville, Va., speaking of the 600 volunteers supporting Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry every month.

Mr. Denney founded the nonprofit in 2004, and it has grown into the largest food pantry in the region, drawing about 5,000 clients per month from seven counties. More than half are employed.

“The pantry is an avenue for others to give back,” he said. “If you volunteer for one shift, you're pretty much hooked. It opens up your eyes because you're serving people you see in town every day.”

During several daily shifts, the pantry services between 50 and 55 families per hour, who receive a week's worth of food. Clients can only receive food once a month.

Running a large food pantry is similar to running a grocery store, said Mr. Denney, who oversees a budget of $350,000 per year. In 2015, he raised $1 million, with the support of major donors, to purchase a new, permanent facility.

He shares an important insight gleaned from his years of volunteer service: “There's a very strong need for volunteer leadership. No one wants to tackle the elephant — keeping the organization running and seeing the big picture.”

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Ben Sax Ben Sax
Ben Sax
Merrill Lynch Private Banking and Investment Group for Anti-Defamation League

“I couldn't be more proud to be associated with an organization that spends all its time fighting to protect people and groups that have a hard time standing up for themselves,” said Ben Sax, managing director of Merrill Lynch Private Banking and Investment Group in New York, speaking of the Anti-Defamation League.

Mr. Sax has served in leadership roles in the 104-year-old organization for 27 years. He is currently the national chair of development and serves on the National Advisory Committee.

The mission of the ADL is “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people, and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” More than half of its activity goes toward non-Jewish issues.

The nonprofit is best known for school-based programs that work with millions of students per year to combat bias, bullying and hatred, as well as trainings that each year help thousands of national (e.g., the FBI), state and local law enforcement personnel combat hate crimes, extremism and terrorism.

Hate speech is everywhere, Mr. Sax said, especially online, where there is a tremendous amount of anti-Semitism.

“The ADL is not a religious organization,” he said. “Rather, I would call it a premier civil rights organization informed by Jewish values — values that are so important to me, my family and society as a whole.”

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Volunteer of the Year
William Sparks
Merrill Lynch for Los Angelitos de Encinitas Inc.

“It wasn't OK to just watch these other kids not participating,” said William Sparks, international financial adviser with Merrill Lynch in Encinitas, Calif., speaking of his son's low-income classmates who couldn't afford to participate in after-school activities.

After unsuccessfully lobbying the local schools for years to subsidize the programs, he and his wife decided to found Los Angelitos de Encinitas in 2008. Eighty percent of the participating kids are citizens, he noted, born in the same hospital as his own children.

The first program Mr. Sparks launched was an after-school soccer team of 15 children. Now there are more than 300 youngsters participating in citywide leagues.

Other subsidized activities include 500 kids in YMCA programs (such as swimming, dance and soccer) and 75 kids in academic assistance programs.

In 2010, Los Angelitos was an Invest in Others winner, which helped provide the funding and national recognition necessary to enable the launch of an academic after-school program. This year's award will go toward sustaining and expanding existing programs, Mr. Sparks said.

improved performance

After nine years, and now serving 750 kids a year, the nonprofit has had a palpable impact on Encinitas:

• The YMCA now has bilingual staff and greater low-income membership.

• The early participants are now going to college and volunteering in the community.

• Schools are seeing improved academic performance by students.

Early on, it was pretty lonely going, Mr. Sparks said. But as he spread the word, people came out of the woodwork.

“Fortunately, there are plenty of people out there who are dying to help others,” he said.

Jonathan Baker Jonathan Baker
Jonathan Baker
Jon Baker Financial Group for Cystic Fibrosis Foundation — Georgia Chapter

When Jonathan Baker, president of Jon Baker Financial Group in Atlanta, learned in 2002 that both his sons had cystic fibrosis, he quickly understood how to mobilize. Since joining the board of the Georgia chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in 2003, he has raised $4 million toward developing more effective treatments that will change his children's lives.

Cystic fibrosis, a progressive disease caused by a faulty gene, results in persistent lung infections that can eventually lead to respiratory and/or pancreatic failure.

It is considered an “orphan disease” because it afflicts relatively few people (30,000 in the U.S.), and there is no incentive for the pharmaceutical industry to invest in such a small market. It is up to the patients' families to fund all drug research. Because the foundation can provide access to specialized clinics to recruit study participants, the drug discovery process can be significantly shortened.

Mr. Baker's sons, now 18 and 15, are on the cusp of some life-altering drug therapy. When they were originally diagnosed, their life expectancy was about 30 years; today it is 42. And drugs currently undergoing clinical trials — funded entirely by the efforts of CF Foundation chapters nationwide — could eventually enable them to attain a normal life span.

“You have to buy the science because the science buys life,” Mr. Baker said.

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Mary S. Brooks Mary S. Brooks
Mary S. Brooks
Integre Wealth Management of Raymond James for White Pony Express

“Human-to-human” — that's how Mary S. Brooks, wealth manager and founder of Integre Wealth Management of Raymond James in Walnut Creek, Calif., described the approach of White Pony Express. The three-year-old nonprofit distributes food, clothing and other goods to 55,000 residents in need every year.

Ms. Brooks joined the organization as a volunteer at its inception and soon joined the board. In short order, she took lead roles in the clothing distribution, donation, communications and emergency outreach teams.

White Pony serves as a link between homeless shelters and food pantries, and the markets and restaurants that want a place to donate unsold perishable items. Three staffers dispatch six large trucks every day to rescue and distribute unsold food from more than 60 donor stores to 84 recipient organizations. About 400 volunteers from the community help out.

“For the employees in the produce departments, it was killing them to throw out such good food,” Ms. Brooks said.

The nonprofit also brings “mobile boutiques” to churches and community centers in impoverished neighborhoods to allow clients to choose clothing, toys and books, free of charge.

The nonprofit also brings “mobile boutiques” to churches and community centers in impoverished neighborhoods to allow clients to choose clothing, toys and books, free of charge.

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Corporate Philanthropy - ADVISORY FIRMS
Sentinel Benefits & Financial Group: Collected over 2,000 pounds of food in one month for a local food pantry
Sentinel Benefits & 
Financial Group

• Collected and delivered over 2,000 pounds of food in one month for a local food pantry — 16 pounds per employee.

• Hosts a lunch series in which nonprofits participate to encourage employees to get involved.

• Offers up to 20 service projects per year.

• Almost 70% of employees participate in volunteer activities.

Greenspring Wealth Management Greenspring Wealth Management: Holds an annual day of service for its employees with Habitat for Humanity
Greenspring Wealth Management

• Offers unlimited volunteer time off to employees.

• Gives 10% of its profits to charity each year.

• Created a $2,000-per-year scholarship for New Song Academy graduates to attend college.

• Holds an annual day of service for its employees with Habitat for Humanity.

Arnerich Massena Inc. Arnerich Massena Inc.: Employees volunteer weekly at Irvington Elementary School
Arnerich Massena Inc.

• Helps more than 220 students annually.

• Sponsored a four-week speech preparation class called “Loud and Clear” in 2016 for all third graders at Irvington Elementary School.

• Employees volunteer weekly at the school through the IAM Learning Partnership.

• Each employee volunteers an average of 273 hours per year.

Corporate Philanthropy - FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS
Commonwealth Financial Network: Employees throw birthday parties for underprivileged children
Commonwealth Financial Network

• Donated $20,000 to support kitchen renovations at a local women's shelter.

• Employees founded Chemo Caps for Kids to knit hats for pediatric cancer patients — 4,212 hats have been donated to 16 hospitals nationwide since 2009.

• Two hundred employees throw birthday parties each year for underprivileged children through Birthday Wishes.

• Employees completed a total of 4,000 volunteer hours in 2016.

Eaton Vance Investment Managers Eaton Vance Investment Managers: Ninety-three employees raised $220K in the 2016 Best Buddies Challenge: Hyannis Port
Eaton Vance Investment Managers

• Added six new volunteer opportunities last year, including a Boston Harbor cleanup.

• Ninety-three employees participated in the 2016 Best Buddies Challenge: Hyannis Port, and raised $220,000.

• Employees volunteer weekly to read to and mentor students at a local elementary school through Read to a Child.

• More than 60% of employees participate in volunteer activities.

Massachusetts Mutual Life 
Insurance Co. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co: In 2016, employees donated to 21 organizations
Massachusetts Mutual Life 
Insurance Co.

• Offers a matching gift program of up to $15,000 per year.

• FutureSmart program focuses on middle-school financial education and has reached more than 500,000 students.

• Employees donated to 21 organizations in 2016.

• Employees vote on organizations to receive grant funding.

Community Service
Thomas E. Reilly Jr.
Birch Hill Investment Advisors for Crossroads for Kids

What has kept Thomas E. Reilly Jr. on the board of Crossroads for Kids Inc. for 26 years?

“It's the kids — you meet them and you love them,” said Mr. Reilly, a founding principal of Birch Hill Investment Advisors in Boston.

Crossroads serves 1,000 “under-resourced” kids per year from eastern Massachusetts, providing summer and school-year programs to third graders through high schoolers. Programming includes residential summer camps and youth retreats; extracurricular programs such as educational support, leadership and personal development; and community service.

Some 95% of Crossroads graduates are accepted to college.

Since 1993, Mr. Reilly has served as development chairman, vice chairman, treasurer, investment chairman and a member of the capital campaign cabinet. He has also been a major donor.

The children build a strong support system, he said. The core camping experience tightens the bonds between them, and having another set of friends outside of their at-risk neighborhoods can be very helpful.

“I wish we could somehow 'can' what we see — the camaraderie and communication between the kids,” Mr. Reilly said. “I find so endearing how they watch out for the shy, timid ones.”

A possible use for the award funds would be more support for graduating seniors, to help them with the often overwhelming college application process and with the challenges of being in college.

Mr. Reilly strongly believes in paying it forward.

“There were random people in my life who came along and helped me out,” he said. “There's a certain amount of luck in life, but it makes you think, why can't I help someone I don't know?”

Jim Geraghty Jim Geraghty
Jim Geraghty
Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management for Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps

As someone who grew up in public housing, Jim Geraghty, a managing director with Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management in Boston, has a lot of compassion to impart to kids.

He serves as vice chairman of the board for Robert F. Kennedy Children's Action Corps and chairman of its Detention Diversion Advocacy Program, which works with more than 150 youths, ages 11 to 19, annually, who have been charged in juvenile court.

“Most people would think they are troublemakers, but it's unbelievable what great kids they are,” Mr. Geraghty said. “They're just like our kids; they just need guidance and attention.”

Youth advocate

When a judge diverts a child into the DDAP program, a youth advocate is assigned to work with the child and his or her immediate family for three to four months, helping them navigate the juvenile justice process and access mental health, substance abuse and recreational programs. Advocates also bring in additional mentors.

Mr. Geraghty serves in this role as well as volunteering as a group and individual mentor, encouraging kids to go to college, helping with career planning, arranging internships and jobs, and helping them join sports teams.

“It really does take a village,” he said. “I had good parents, teachers, coaches and mentors. DDAP works in the same way, with school, the courts and contacts.”

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Jonna Keller Jonna Keller
Jonna Keller
First Security Investments for Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County

Jonna Keller, owner of First Security Investments in Sarasota, Fla., and incoming board chair of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County, feels a personal connection with the families and children it serves.

“I was a single mom for a long time, and I wish I'd had these after-school programs back then,” she said.

Ms. Keller also leads the clubs' Women Ambassadors, helping to raise more than $750,000 over the past few years. In addition to bringing about bigger events and corporate sponsorships, she introduced the idea of having events at the clubs instead of fancy venues.

Ms. Keller also leads the clubs' Women Ambassadors, helping to raise more than $750,000 over the past few years. In addition to bringing about bigger events and corporate sponsorships, she introduced the idea of having events at the clubs instead of fancy venues.

“People don't understand our mission unless they see where our kids live and thrive,” she said.

In fact, Ms. Keller brings her own clients to the clubs for tours.

They have no idea about the clubs' programs, she said, which include after-school offerings focusing on nutrition and cooking skills, financial literacy and academic review. Ms. Keller is especially enthused about the club's innovative career resource center, which provides training in technical skills to youngsters and, soon, their parents, as well as college application skills and entrepreneurship.

What lessons has she learned from her volunteer work?

“First, the world is so much bigger than us,” Ms. Keller said, “and second, the deep commitment of the staff in light of their nonprofit salaries.”

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Global Community Impact
Michael Thaler
Equity Concepts for Effective Ministries Inc.

Michael Thaler, co-founder of Equity Concepts in Henrico, Va., is a man taking on an entire country.

After participating in a mission trip to Niger in 2001, he was very moved by both the spirit and poverty of the West African country. Two years later he started his own nongovernmental organization, Effective Ministries Inc., which focuses exclusively on the impoverished desert nation.

Niger is in a desperate situation. With widespread hunger, a 60% child mortality rate and the lowest national literacy rate in the world, it is also surrounded by hostile activities in neighboring countries.

In 14 years, EMI has raised nearly $12 million and carried out about 100 specialized missions with more than 1,000 volunteers. The main focus areas are health, water, orphans, education, microbusiness and spiritual sustenance. Every year, thousands of people are fed at dozens of sites.

Mr. Thaler pays all the charity's operating costs, donating more than $1 million over the past three years.

The group has developed a highly effective service delivery model through its partnership with 40 other nonprofits working in Niger. EMI itself has 17 employees on the ground there, overseeing the accountability, progress, funding and ongoing maintenance of all the partners' projects. Sustaining EMI financially is its base of 1,800 members, who pledge a constant stream of funding every year.

The Invest in Others award winnings will go toward a backlog of projects, including vaccines, food, wells and health care for children.

The needs of the country run very deep, but Mr. Thaler remains hopeful.

“The impossible is possible, even in Niger,” he said.

Paul Martel Paul Martel
Paul Martel
YHB Investment Advisors for Fundacion Internacional Buen Samaritano Paul Martel Inc.

Who knows where the road can lead when we open up our hearts.

In 1997, Paul Martel, president of YHB Investment Advisors in West Hartford, Conn., and his wife fostered a Central American girl receiving surgery in the U.S. Accompanying her back home, Mr. Martel was moved by the level of poverty in her country and — determined to do more — started organizing surgical missions throughout Latin America.

Ten years later, he founded an ambulatory surgical clinic in Chimborazo, an impoverished indigenous region of the Ecuadorean Andes. The clinic, Fundacion Internacional Buen Samaritano Paul Martel Inc. (FIBUSPAM), serves 20,000 people a year, who often travel hundreds of miles for life-saving care.

He talks about the ripple effects of the clinic:

• Empowerment: “The locals have the will, the energy, the compassion, but no resources to provide this care,” he said.

• Sharing best practices: The FIBUSPAM physician team trains clinicians from many countries.

• Improving livelihoods: Because the area is so close to the sun, cataracts are common. The clinic restores sight and provides glasses to thousands, enabling them to make a living.

• Attracting physicians: Medical specialists come from other countries for better lives for themselves.

A watershed moment, Mr. Martel said, was receiving an Invest in Others award in 2010. “It was a shot in the arm — it gave us the confidence to expand our possibilities.”

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Michael Altman Michael Altman
Michael Altman
Ameriprise Financial for Flying Doctors of America

Working in the Amazon rain forest with medicine men is a day in the life of Michael Altman, managing director of Ameriprise Financial in Sandy Springs, Ga. He is a 26-year volunteer with Flying Doctors of America, which brings medical care to destitute populations in places like Ecuador, Fiji and Jordan. He is currently chairman of the board and CEO of the charity.

The nonprofit carries out eight to 10 missions per year, serving 15,000 people annually. The missions have become popular among medical personnel because of the model of delivery. They are only about a week long, are relatively low cost (about $2,000 per participant), and build in some days for interesting adventure activities.

“It's half Mother Theresa and half Indiana Jones,” Mr. Altman said. “People will keep coming back and helping if it's both fun and rewarding. And a lot of baby boomers now want to give back, to do hands-on medicine.”

Mr. Altman has been leading missions for decades, and recently led four missions to the Jordan-Syria border, bringing medical care to Syrian refugees living in tents.

What keeps him involved year after year?

“It's the relationships you build in multicultural settings, the people you help and the miracles you can bring — like restoring someone's sight with a pair of glasses,” he said.

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Jody C. D'Agostini
The Falcon Financial Group for Community in Crisis

When two of her daughter's young adult friends died of drug overdoses in 2013, Jody C. D'Agostini, senior partner at The Falcon Financial Group in Morristown, N.J., was shocked. Surveying the surprisingly extensive opiate problem in her well-to-do community, she had a realization: She was the right person to tackle the problem.

As chairwoman of the board of the local YMCA and a former physician's assistant, Ms. D'Agostini applied her expertise and experience to found Community in Crisis.

“It's been a leap of faith,” she said. “I felt like I was being pushed. I knew all the players — it was the perfect storm.”

The nonprofit serves as a community coalition and a central hub to fight the heroin/opioid crisis in a region of 46,000. Its main areas of focus are:

1. Education and outreach — through events (town-wide summits, presentations to community groups, etc.) and informational material (videos, brochures, a community toolkit).

2. Programming/training — for those in recovery, their families and law enforcement.

Community in Crisis has recently opened a wellness center. Its Invest in Others award funds are slated to go toward ramping up current programming and hiring professional staff, such as addiction counselors.

Challenging Perceptions

The nonprofit's broader approach to the crisis has been to convene community working groups, including mental health professionals, medical professionals, police, parents and clergy.

Changing community perceptions of the problem has been challenging, Ms. D'Agostini said.

“There were a lot of people who didn't want to talk about it in the beginning,” she said. “But more local kids were dying and it was beyond denying. We're trying to take the stigma out of addiction. It's a disease, not a choice.”

Derek Fiorenza Derek Fiorenza
Derek Fiorenza
Summit Group Retirement Planners Inc. for F4 (Fiorenza's Food for Friends)

As a college student, Derek Fiorenza, chief operating officer of Summit Group Retirement Planners Inc. in Exton, Pa., felt a strong personal calling to feed the hungry. Four years after he started serving meals in 2007 at a local homeless shelter, he founded the nonprofit F4 (Fiorenza's Food for Friends). It now facilitates the distribution of meals to 400,000 people per year in about 20 states — and is growing.

For three years, before starting F4, Mr. Fiorenza arranged relationships between sources with excess food (caterers, restaurants, hospitals, etc.) and local shelters. He also organized corporate food drives to provide non-perishable comestibles to food banks. Soon he was driving around the Eastern Seaboard, delivering meals to areas in crisis.

At first, F4 continued in this vein. But by 2013, Mr. Fiorenza was becoming burned out, and he had a realization: With his current efforts, he could serve a few individuals directly. But by facilitating “food rescue” relationships, he could serve millions indirectly.

He turned F4' s focus toward becoming a virtual clearinghouse for the U.S. and beyond. Supported by a strong team of volunteers, F4 creates hundreds of local, sustainable partnerships between food sources and recipients across the country and provides education on hunger awareness.

Mr. Fiorenza draws a parallel between his work and volunteer worlds: “In both jobs, it's about service.”

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Paul E. Housey Paul E. Housey
Paul E. Housey
ISTO Advisors for Building Bridges

“I didn't start with the end in mind and I didn't worry about planning the outcome. We just said, 'we're gonna help a bunch of kids,' ” said Paul E. Housey, describing his road toward Building Bridges, the education-oriented nonprofit he began in 1999.

Mr. Housey is co-founder of ISTO Advisors in Troy, Mich., and Lake Forest, Ill.

Over the years, he and his friends had raised money informally for good causes. But Mr. Housey eventually decided to engage more formally, by volunteering at a children's shelter and other nonprofits. Inspired by his community's charitable spirit, he decided to start his own 100% volunteer-run charity — a scholarship fund — that would use 100% of its funds to serve recipients.

After working with different schools, Building Bridges entered into a lasting partnership in 2004 with the private Notre Dame Preparatory School. Together they provide full, annually renewable scholarships to 40 high school students from crime-filled local neighborhoods. The young people also receive supportive services such as programs to teach them academic, social and career development skills. Most important of all: The students are paired for four years with volunteer “advocates” who serve as their mentors and resource coordinators.

“It's been a great journey,” Mr. Housey said. “Wherever we wind up, it will be a good cause.”

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