"Evolution, Collaboration & Humanitarianism (Civil Rights)"
Thirteen years ago Seymour, Caren and I established the Phil Zwickler Charitable & Memorial Foundation Trust. During the first five years we just "sorted out" both our emotions and Phil's papers. Seymour and I contributed a few dollars into the foundation, which we then donated to a small number of charities. Some were directly involved in AIDS related causes such as AIDS Walks, etc., while others were the usual suspects that solicited us in fancy envelopes. Fortunately, in the late 1990's the stock market had a speculative bubble, thus allowing Seymour and I to cash in some of our gains by donating appreciated stock to the Foundation.
The best decision we made in the early years was to relocate a large portion of Phil's papers and tapes to Cornell University. We linked up with Brenda Marston, the curator of Cornell's Human Sexuality Collection. She received the collection with open arms and has guarded it with dignity and grace. In late 1999, we made another wise decision to expand our trustees to include Jeff Silver. Jeff and I met 27 years ago when we were both taking the exam to become stockbrokers. I never left Wall Street, and although Jeff took a sabbatical for a while, he is now back on "the street". During his time off, one of his accomplishments was being President for a time and an integral board member at University Settlement. To his credit, he was instrumental in coordinating the merger between University Settlement and the Door, an organization that was struggling. In another "small world" story, Bob Howitt, a major donor to the Door and a former co-worker of mine, was called out of a freshly minted change of life (i.e. leaving Wall Street to run his own private foundation) to rescue the organization. The merger was a major success and we have been an active supporter of University Settlement ever since. In general, Jeff helps us focus on the "big picture", while Caren and Seymour keep me from giving away money to anyone who asks...
Two other major turning points of the Foundation occurred around 2001. First, we made a decision to establish a Fellowship Grant program at Cornell. The program is run by Brenda who selects about three scholars per year to work on issues relating to Human Sexuality. In the first year, Martha Fineman (then a professor at Cornell and the Director of the Feminism and Legal Theory Project) and our foundation funded the program. The grants were awarded during a two day seminar in September 2002 at Cornell. My wife Ellen and I attended and were presented with an imaginative poster (see the Grant section of our site under Cornell). The other "touching" experience is credited to Caren, who at that time was selling educational toys. She determined that, along with her husband Michael and their two children Emily and Parker, we should distribute holiday presents to AIDS patients in local hospitals. We have continued to do so annually. 9/11 presented the foundation with another "opportunity". Two of my children, Adam and Randi, live in Middletown, NJ, where roughly 50 of its' citizens died in the World Trade Center. The children decided to load up several bags of toys and brought them to a group called FAVOR, which was organizing help for the grieving families. For the last few years, all of Caren and my children Scott, Adam, Randi, Parker and Emily, have distributed toys to University Settlement for the Christmas party which they have held for underprivileged families.
During the early 2000's Phil's film's were receiving continual recognition. Jim Hubbard, who was chosen to curate a late 2000 film festival (Fever in the Archives) at the Guggenheim Museum, joined me in traveling to Cornell to review Phil's collection. Jim decided to borrow and show two of Phil's films, Fear of Disclosure and Needle Nightmare. At that point, it became apparent to us that Phil's work needed to be more widely exposed so that his messages could realize his intended impact. Fortunately the Internet was then developing, and we took the opportunity to create a Website to highlight some of Phil's work.
In the last five years we have been actively supporting "grass roots" mostly New York City based organizations, including the Momentum Aids Project and the Aids Service Center. We also supported Blue Mountain, an artist retreat in the Adirondacks, where we donated sorely needed audio and video equipment to assist visiting scholars. Conrad Johnson had introduced Phil to this paradise and Phil landed two coveted one week "sabbaticals" to enjoy this scenic location. Phil spent some of his happiest times creating music and writing poetry there.
While we have felt a great deal of satisfaction about our donations, we have decided to get even more hands on. We have the raw talentSeymour has been a merger and acquisition specialist for 50 years, Caren is adamant that we focus on working "hands-on" with people that Phil would have approved of, I can run the books with the best of them, and Jeff has the ability to be laser focused. Thus, we have decided that our primary goal should be funding organizations that understand the power of collaboration. Why? Because funding for AIDS related and other humanitarian causes have virtually dried up. The government's priorities are no longer focused on these great needs. In the case of AIDS, the good news is that people are living longer with the disease; the bad news is that many more people need these and other services.
To find scarce resources, I began to appeal to corporate sponsors (many of whom were friends), who for the most part graciously made one-time commitments. While I am thankful to all of them, it is not enough. We as a foundation realize that to make a significant difference today our donors need to work with each other to generate grant ideas, merge, or work on creative ways to raise funds and/or provide services. For example, in 2005 we significantly increased our funding to University Settlement. The additional money went into a building fund which enabled construction of a new center which is jointly run by University Settlement and the Chinese YMCA to serve many more of the needy. Also, for several years we have been donating to Team NY Aquatic, which holds an annual one hour Swim fundraiser. Recipients of their programs in recent years were Aids Service Center and Momentum. Additionally, we made grants to Martha Fineman, currently a Woodruff Professor ("superstar") at Emory University. Besides being impressed with her work on Family and Human rights, she coincidentally had hired Bill Turner, one of our Cornell fellows, for this summer. In addition to working on her projects, he will be contacting the more than 12 other Zwickler Fellowship winners to potentially form collaborations. Last but not least, please go to our Grant information section of the website and click on the Aids Service Center link. We are extremely proud of what we accomplished with that organization and continue to fund the program which is benefiting many and have already developed several "success stories".
We have only just begun. We recently modified our Mission Statement to emphasize "collaboration" and will give preference to funding those who "understand our message". While Phil was a major force in his own right, he had the foresight to collaborate with friends, many of whom assisted us in updating our site. They include: Conrad Johnson, Andy Humm, Geoff O'Connor, Jane Lippman, Paul Strausman, and many others. Additionally, Phil's love for the outdoors and the environment has given us the resolve to focus on funding environmental causes which require all our attentions.
In February 2006, the Berlin Film Festival, as part of a large tribute to past documentary films that were exhibited there, showed Rights and Reactions, for which Phil and Jane were honored in the late 1980's. The film also was nominated for an Emmy in the early 1990's. The year 2006 marks the 20 year anniversary of the passage of the Gay Right bill in New York. We were recently informed that the New York City Council office will be sponsoring a Twenty Year celebration. They have requested that segments of Rights & Reactions be shown. In late June, Public Broadcasting System "PBS" (Channel 13 in New York/New Jersey) will twice be airing Rights and Reactions on June 23rd at 10:30 pm and June 29th at 1:30 am. PBS had previously shown the film in June 1989. Maybe I am biased, but it is a great film. We have now included the film in its entirety on our site. Go to the "About Phil Zwickler" link on our site, click on films, and then follow instructions.
Phil's fire burns inside of me every day. He will not let me rest, so I won't.
It's not only about AIDS and hunger, but also civil rights for all.
We urge you to surf our Website. We thank Tawan (Roman) for his early work on creating the Website, Deborah Chow for her amazing work to update the site, and Camille and David for helping coordinating my thoughts. It's tough working with me. If you have any ideas for funding, drop me a line by clicking here. On behalf of the trustees, we are grateful that you have taken time to visit.
Very truly yours,