James Metzger

With giving season underway, there’s no better time for those with a lot to be thankful for to reach out and lend a hand to local charitable organizations that help Long Islanders in need.

Among the many good reasons to be benevolent is that aside from helping people, such acts of kindness in turn make the donor feel better. Just ask James C. Metzger, CEO and chairman of Garden City-based Whitmore Group, a privately held company that has become one of the most successful independent insurance brokerage and financial services firms in the region since it was started in 1989.

Metzger has been involved in philanthropy for many years and, during that time, he has donated money and time to several charities, schools, and youth organizations on Long Island and beyond, including the American Heart Association; the Arthritis Foundation; Big Brothers Big Sisters; the Hempstead Police Athletic League (PAL) lacrosse team; his alma mater, Hofstra University; the Jamaica YMCA; and St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington.

Metzger spoke with the Press about his philanthropic initiatives and what makes giving so important to him. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Why is philanthropy so important to you? A lot of our giving is around the community — in the New York metropolitan area — as well as our clients’ communities. We’ve become involved with our clients’ causes and our clients’ charities and foundations, which creates a win-win-win situation good for our clients, good for the recipients, and good for The Whitmore Group as well. So, a lot of our giving is client-driven and often the clients are catalysts. For example, today I’m meeting [with] a very large building maintenance company. The owner and CEO of that company is the president on the board of trustees of the Boys & Girls Club of Newark. They’re coming in to visit my office today…to talk about their programs. We support that organization and we have supported that organization over the years. But they want to sit down with me and see if we can expand our relationship with them. [That and the Jamaica YMCA, another organization The Whitmore Group has helped,] just to name two, do an awful lot for the underprivileged and kids in tough areas — challenging environments — and they really help these kids and improve their potential and give them confidence…. I support a number of youth lacrosse organizations and specifically ones that are in the city and are minority centric. I find that gratifying because a lot of these kids are terrific athletes and, historically, they’ve played basketball and baseball and football. But lacrosse is a sport that’s not as competitive as those major sports, so it gives the kids a greater opportunity to excel.

What was it that first inspired you to get involved with philanthropic initiatives? The funeral industry was the original platform upon which I built The Whitmore Group 30 years ago. And the funeral industry, I think, taught me a lot about giving back to the community. Funeral directors are often pillars of the community and many funeral homes are doing business exclusively in their own backyard, so to speak. They’re going to do business in their neighborhood and I think that they are really focused on being solid citizens in the community and giving back and involving themselves in a variety of ways. And I think I learned a lot from that. By giving back, they bolstered relationships with their clients’ families and they made their businesses stronger through philanthropy. And then I became a board trustee of the Funeral Service Foundation, which is a national organization that promotes everything that’s good about funeral service. And I donated money to that organization — to their endowment — and I served on the board and I traveled throughout the country to meet with funeral service professionals…. I think I was initially inspired by that community-centric existence. And from there I became involved with sports and philanthropy when I reconnected with my alma mater, Hofstra University, and Half Hollow Hills High School…. I’ve also become involved with St. Anthony’s. They approached me based on what they perceived as my giveback to the sports community on Long Island…. Initially I thought because I wasn’t an alum of St. Anthony’s, I was going to pass. But they convinced me that it would be a good investment on many levels and I agree…. Whether it was a terrific branding opportunity for me or I get to go watch the young men and women play sports, [that] makes it kind of a proud, gratifying experience to watch them play, given the involvement that I have and the success that they have. And I do think that it strengthens my brand. So, it’s another example of a win-win-win situation.

About how much in donations do you and The Whitmore Group make each year? We give a percentage of our profits to charity every year. I don’t disclose the exact amount. But it’s a significant percentage of our profits…. It always feels good to give back to schools — whether it’s high schools or colleges or Big Brothers Big Sisters or the Boys & Girls Club or Jamaica YMCA. I believe the money goes to the right place and to the right people.

How did you became involved with the American Heart Association? Marc Hamroff is a very successful attorney based in Garden City and Manhattan, and they have a golf outing named after his father, the [Long Island Golf Classic: A Joel Hamroff Memorial Tribute]. And Marc asked me to be the honoree one year…. He thought that I could help them raise money…. We raised over $300,000 the year I was honoree and I was very impressed with the way Marc … ran this golf outing and the amount of money that they raised and, of course, the cause. The Heart Association is, I think, another great charity foundation that does a lot [and] I think the money goes in the right place, to the right people. I’ve been involved and I’ve been a major sponsor for this chapter and for Marc since I was the honoree probably five years ago.

You have also made charitable contributions to the Half Hollow Hills East High School boys lacrosse team. How long have you been involved with that team and what made you get involved with it? I’ve been involved with that probably almost 10 years. I was a lacrosse player at Half Hollow Hills…. I had some success there…. I have very fond memories. We had very competitive teams when I was there…. My experience as a football and lacrosse player there did a lot for me and really helped form that foundation for my future.

What would you say is the philanthropic effort of yours that you are most proud of and why? It’s hard to answer that question. They are all special in their own way. And that’s the truth.

What advice would you give to people or organizations reading this who may not be involved with philanthropic initiatives and may be open to it? When you give, you get back a lot … on a lot of levels. Emotionally and, I think, mentally, it helps in more ways than one would imagine. Start locally. Look around you. There’s no better place to start than your neighborhood. And then take it from there. Like the people that inspired me first [in] the funeral industry…. I think it’s great to start locally and then go from there. Make your backyard a better place for everyone.

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