Thursday, September 29, 2011

Silda Wall Spitzer Does the Right Thing

Michelle Nunn, Silda Wall Spitzer, Kathy Lacey Hoge, Laurie Tisch, and Sherrie Rollins Westin at the Tenth Annual Art of Giving Benefit.
Silda Wall Spitzer Does the Right Thing
by Susan Sawyers

For Silda Wall Spitzer, who grew up in Concord, North Carolina, community service is the family way. Her grandparents baked and delivered wedding cakes to the less fortunate; her mother led “Safety Town” to teach children street smarts and the safest way to cross them; her father ran the local United Way campaign. As a child, Ms. Wall Spitzer, a Girl Scout and church member, visited senior citizens in their homes and made gifts for people for the holidays.

“Nobody asked if we wanted to do service,” explained the slender, five foot seven Upper East Sider, who speaks with a soft southern accent. “We just did it. The world I grew up in was very much about service and giving.”

Silda Wall Spitzer with Riley Hebbard, who was awarded the 2011 Hasbro Community Action Hero award at the 10th annual Art of Giving Gala.
Over the years, she grew away from her small town life, went to Meredith College then Harvard Law School. After graduating, she moved to New York, landed a job with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and then became counsel to Chase Manhattan Bank until 1994.

But her roots doing hometown service never left her. In 1996, the mother of three decided to formally cultivate this family value in her children. On behalf of and together with other children.

What began as a kitchen-table conversation among friends turned into “Children for Children,” a not-for-profit dedicated to getting youngsters involved in community service through volunteer work. It grew to have a presence in 23 states.

Then, in 2009, to ensure growth and sustainability, Children for Children combined with Atlanta, Georgia-based Points of Light/HandsOn Network as its youth service entity.

“We were trying to be innovative and entrepreneurial in the [non-profit] space,” said Ms. Wall Spitzer, who wears heels and an eclectic mix of designers from Carolina Herrera, Michael Kors, Akris, Neil Bieff and Tory Burch. As managing director of New York-based Metropolitan Capital Advisors, a woman-controlled investment company, she is responsible for business strategy and development.  

The children’s service organization, which changed its name to generationOn when it merged with Points of Light Institute, has a beneficial effect both for the volunteers and the communities they support. All told, volunteers have given hundreds of thousands of hours of service in venues ranging from children's hospitals to homeless shelters, says Ms. Wall Spitzer.

It takes a village.

Ms. Wall Spitzer’s warmth, charm and genuine commitment make it easy for people to do their part on behalf of generationOn. “It comes down to resources to allow for the opportunities to happen,” she said. “It’s important to have government and the private sector involved.”
The Tenth Annual Art of Giving Benefit at 583 Park Avenue, where generationOn honored Brian Goldner, Tonya Lewis Lee and Spike Lee, and Laurie M. Tisch.
And they are. At the Tenth Annual Art of Giving Benefit last May, civic and social leaders lent their support in full force. generationOn honored four adults for their leadership and commitment to service: Brian Goldner, president and CEO of Hasbro, Inc; writer and producer Tonya Lewis Lee and her husband, filmmaker Spike Lee; and philanthropist Laurie M. Tisch, president of the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

Also spotted at the event were Lauren Bush, John Hays, James Hoge, Kathy Lacey and benefit co-chairs, Kevin Arquit and Jet Blue’s Dave Barger. Michelle Nunn, CEO of Points of Light Institute and daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn, Democrat of Georgia; Newark Mayor Cory Booker; and actress Sigourney Weaver presented the awards.

In acknowledging the hope and optimism of our youth, Tonya Lewis Lee and her husband, Spike, said, “Young people often get a bad rap. They are looking to us for guidance and generationOn provides for that. The future is in their hands.”

Six young leaders received the Hasbro Community Action Hero Award for their exceptional allegiance to service.
Tonya Lewis Lee and Brian Goldner. Maurice DuBois, Andrea DuBois, and Mayor Cory A. Booker.
Brian Goldner, Nicholas Lowinger, Chris Caruso, Sigourney Weaver, Shannon McNamara, Mayor Cory A. Booker, and Max Wallach
Melissa deCordova, Jessy Benedict , and Poppy Murphy. Megan and Shannon McNamara.
Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel and Ambassador Carl Spielvogel.
Cameron Payne and Spike Lee.
Carol Santoleri, Anna Santoleri, and Molly Jong-Fast.
“These kids are so extraordinary. They are creative about what needs to be done and how to do it. I did what? Toys at Christmas, Food at Thanksgiving?” added Sigourney Weaver. “I feel very humbled by their vision and I do think the concept of generationOn gets kids to look, to see, to really value and maybe create something.”

The affable mayor of Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, Cory Booker was a bit philosophical. “This is what life’s about,” he told me, during the awards ceremony at 583 Park Avenue. “We are all intricately interconnected in the service of others.”

Making the World a Better Place. It’s About the Kids and their Future.

“The kids who get involved, they take ownership, they grow and their perspective of helping others never leaves,” said Chris Caruso, executive director of generationOn when I met him with Ms. Wall Spitzer this summer in his 25th floor office near Grand Central Terminal.
Silda Wall Spitzer, Eliot Spitzer, and Kathy Lacey Hoge. Sigourney Weaver and Lauren Bush.
Caroline Turpin, Michael Turpin, Silda Wall Spitzer, and Josie Sandler.
Dana Buchman, Erin Finerman, and Sherrie Rollins Westin.
Ayesha Khanna and Lisa Greenblatt. Al Patton, Maggie Jones Patton, Chris Caruso, and Andrea DuBois .
“The earlier you begin, the more active you are, said Ms. Wall Spitzer. “The first service opportunity is very important and formative; once you’ve had a good experience, you will seek it out and do it somewhere else. It is about giving kids a chance to see that they have value.”

One of the first boys to take part in Children For Children, Alex, signed up for ROTC when he went to college and is considering a career in law enforcement. “Ultimate forms of service,” said Ms. Wall Spitzer proudly.
Kevin Arquit, Josie Sandler, Mayor Cory A. Booker, Michael Caponiti, Margie Arquit, Meghan Caponiti, and Chris Waddell.
Karen Davis and Jack Haire.
Karen McNamara, Shannon McNamara, Sean McNamara, Megan McNamara, and Brendan McNamara.
Kathy Saulitis, Margaret Loesch, and Lori Copeland.
Everybody’s got something to offer and generationON makes it easy.

The generationOn website suggests 65 ways to make a difference, such as, “Your old backpack needs a friend. Donate it” and “It’s your birthday! Give a gift to someone in need.” There’s a resource tab where kids can pull up web-based service-learning and fundraising guides about getting active in the fight against malaria. Children can create or join one of generationOn’s 1,800 Kids Care Clubs. They have activities for young people in all 50 states and abroad.

Other non-profit organizations are invited to post volunteer opportunities, via the generationOn website. Ms. Wall Spitzer and Caruso both point to New York Cares and NYC Service for on-the-ground queries from people who may have just one morning to spare and want to volunteer. These entities list locations and opportunities, such as sprucing up a park or knitting with senior citizens.

The former First Lady of the State of New York who chaired the New York State Commission on Volunteering and Service is in favor of the notion that community service be a school requirement.

“It’s something that becomes embedded in the way you do your life, the same way you do your other requirements,” she said.

One of the challenges to volunteer organizations, these days, when money is tight and funders and/or schools increasingly focus on results, is to show their efficacy. “It’s a very hard thing to track,” says Ms. Wall Spitzer. “I think it far transcends anything you can put a number on. It comes out, over time, in ways that really go beyond measure but go to the fabric of who we are as a people, as a country.”

When she isn’t at work or serving the community in one capacity or another, Ms. Wall Spitzer spends as much time as possible in jeans at her farm in the Hudson Valley. She gardens, reads voraciously, takes care of cows and bees and dreams about alpacas and sheep. She walks the family dogs, paints, writes and moves rocks. Life is good.
Sherrie Rollins Westin and David Westin. Lucy Lang and Sara Garlick.
Mukesh Prasad and Chandni Prasad.
Lizzie Edelman. Jim Hoge and Kathy Lacey Hoge. Audrey Sevin.
Laurie Tisch, Steve Shepherd, Jo Laird, and Andy Ackerman.
Jimmy Balodimas and Katherine Keating. Jeff Hoffman and Susie Stern.
Dave Barger, Andrea DuBois, Maurice DuBois, and Chris Caruso.
Amy Goldstein, Brian Goldstein, Jayna Meyer, and Bruce Hack.

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