The next time you are thinking of excuses for skipping the gym, you might want to think about the million reasons why Northeast Arc’s Jo Ann Simons was glad she went.
Fifteen years ago Simons met Steven P. Rosenthal, a lifelong resident of Marblehead, while they were on the elliptical machines at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead. They quickly began chatting, as many do to help pass the time.
Simons learned that Rosenthal serves as a trustee of the Ruderman Family Foundation, which, guided by Jewish values, advocates for and advances the inclusion of people with disabilities.
In turn, Rosenthal learned that Simons had a very personal interest in the work of the Ruderman Family, as she has a son with Down syndrome and has had a career entirely focused on advancing opportunities for persons with disabilities. Rosenthal has been drawn to helping people with intellectual disabilities and autism, as he knows there is so much work that needs to be done.
Impressed with her knowledge of the disability world, Rosenthal introduced Simons as a consultant to the Ruderman Family Foundation.
Rosenthal has built a successful career, beginning as a business attorney focusing on corporate real estate and finance. He had long stints at Mintz Levin and as president and CEO of Northland Investment Corporation, before striking out on his own last year by forming West Shore LLC, a fully integrated real estate investment and development firm with a specific focus on multifamily properties across the United States.
Beyond his many business interests and other significant philanthropic work, Rosenthal had been trying to find a way to do impactful and possibly even activist philanthropy—the kind of investment that goes beyond just writing a check, and is something that could promote meaningful and sustainable change and innovation.
It was around this same time that Simons took over as the CEO of the Northeast Arc. As Rosenthal learned more about the organization—the second-largest Arc in the country—he began to think seriously about how he could do something to really make an impact at the Arc to enhance the work it does to help children and adults with disabilities become full participants in the community.
For years, Rosenthal has been doing great things in a quiet way for many worthy organizations. It is his latest charitable endeavor, however, that is very unconventional and special. “I’ve been looking for several years to do something substantive,” says Rosenthal, who has never publically talked about his philanthropy. “It may sound corny, but I wanted to do something different, innovative, even disruptive—in a positive sense—that would literally change lives.”
“After many conversations with Jo Ann, I was convinced that the Northeast Arc is the organization that can make this type of change a reality by leveraging a donation into something much greater.”
Earlier this year Rosenthal committed $1 million to the Northeast Arc for the establishment of the Changing Lives Fund, which will provide the vehicle for the Northeast Arc to lead the industry in creative disruption.
“I want this gift to enable Northeast Arc to facilitate and break new ground in the work that is being done to provide lifelong opportunities for people with disabilities.”
“This is a real game changer for us,” says Simons. “Not only is Steve’s gift significant in the level of his generosity, but it will allow us to expand our reach in supporting individuals and test other new ideas. While I know it makes him uncomfortable to talk about his donation, his doing so is bringing attention to the Changing Lives Fund and will help us realize his desire to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities.”
Rosenthal and the Northeast Arc are wasting no time in seeking innovative concepts that will help disrupt the system in order to improve the lives of persons with intellectual disabilities and/or autism and their families.
Based on a concept that Rosenthal had to encourage more people to get involved with the Changing Lives Fund, the Northeast Arc is moving forward with the Arc Tank, an innovative approach that will generate ideas.
Partnering with the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Northeast Arc invited those with out-of-the-box ideas to enter “The Arc Tank: Changing Lives through Innovation, a competition” (patterned after the hugely successful TV show Shark Tank) in which Northeast Arc will distribute money from the Changing Lives Fund in a first round of funding.
The competition will culminate in up to 10 proposals being presented to an expert panel of industry leaders from various sectors on November 15 at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston. The experts may select multiple ideas, choose to fund ideas over multiple years, or provide larger awards to fewer ideas.
When pressed for why he is making this donation and encouraging others to give to the Changing Lives Fund over the years, Rosenthal mentions this quote from the Talmud: “When you save one life it is as if you saved the entire world.”