By Nancy Rauch Douzinas
We start a new year—for the first time in 80—without the presence of Amy Hagedorn, one of Long Island’s leading philanthropists, who died last September at the age of 79. While her death came too soon, she has left us with a legacy of compassion, persistence and philanthropy that should continue to inspire and guide us long into the future.
From the lessons of her life, we can learn how we might tackle some of the intransigent issues on LI that we face in terms of inequality and fragmentation.
Early in her philanthropic career, Amy decided to focus on creating social change and addressing sustainability, a term that is primarily associated with environmental issues but can also include rebalancing economic inequity. For Amy, sustainability provided a theoretical framework. The goal of her grant-making was to benefit immigrants and the disadvantaged as well as to protect the natural environment.
It was David Hunter, a wise and progressive executive for the Ford Foundation and then the Stern Fund, who influenced both Amy and me, as we sought to refine our approaches to philanthropy on the Island—with Amy at The Hagedorn Foundation and me at the Rauch Foundation. He lived in Port Washington, where both of us lived in the 1990s. He guided our development as philanthropists, introduced us to experts across the nation, and arranged for us, together with other Long Island leaders, to see what “regional change” looked like in places like Milwaukee, Cleveland and Boston. These shared experiences created lasting bonds among all of us who participated.
Over the years, the Hagedorn and Rauch foundations collaborated on more than 50 grants and funded many exemplary programs such as the Parent-Child Home Program, the Middle Country Public Library’s Family Place Libraries, and BOCES regional pre-K. There were moments of serious disagreement between us, but we always found a way to move ahead. In fact, for the past 10 years, Amy and I had monthly breakfast meetings at the Landmark Diner in Manhasset to catch up and share ideas. These face-to-face encounters were key to our partnership, as was our having fun together at tennis matches and concerts at Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts in Wheatley Heights.
Amy’s grant-making often reflected her lifelong concern for children and families—a concern that stemmed from her own parents’ struggles when they immigrated from Italy and her earlier career as a preschool teacher. Evident in her grant-making was also her compassion and her persistence.
She was not a funder looking for an exit strategy. If she was committed to an organization’s mission, she was willing to fund it over many years, even decades. The Hagedorn and Rauch foundations have both funded the Parent Child Home Program, for instance, for more than two decades.
Her compassion could be seen in her funding of many scholarships, for instance, to the Usdan Summer Camp, an arts organization whose work she admired and greatly enjoyed. Attending its concerts was all the more enjoyable to her because of the support that she had provided to the institution. She had made it accessible to students who would not otherwise have had the resources.
Until the end, Amy was steadfast and selfless in pursuit of the best for LI. She did not give up, despite the many difficulties inherent in creating change here. Progress remained her goal—just as it had been when she was a preschool teacher, and her attention was devoted on her students’ improvement.
Amy focused on the Island, where she lived. She worked tirelessly for children, immigrants, the arts and the environment. She was a great partner, who never gave up.
As we Long Islanders take on the challenges of the 21st century, we need more champions, more selfless fearless partners, and more friends ready to work together and not give up. In short, Long Island needs more people like Amy Hagedorn.
Nancy Rauch Douzinas is president of the Rauch Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Garden City.