Making a Difference for the World’s Forgotten Children
Jul 11, 2016
Originally appeared on CT Post Blog
In Service: A Dream Realized
For all of us, there comes a time to fulfill lifelong dreams. And for Connecticut medical malpractice attorney Russ Berkowitz, that dream was starting a global children’s fund.
“It was always in the back of mind that if I ever was successful enough, that’s what I wanted to do,” recalls Berkowitz.
Berkowitz’s philanthropic journey began several years ago, when he partnered with Fairfield County’s Community Foundation to establish The Berkowitz Law Firm LLC Charitable Fund. Through this donor-advised fund, his firm deepened its support for the community’s most vulnerable individuals – fueling the operations of Fairfield County nonprofits like Kids in Crisis, Child Guidance Center, Neighbors Link of Stamford, Friends of Autistic People and more to support people with developmental disabilities or mental illness, as well as women and children at risk.
But Berkowitz didn’t want to stop there. After representing many clients over the years from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa and working with co-workers whose relatives lived in underdeveloped countries, Russ Berkowitz heard horrific stories of millions of “forgotten children” worldwide are living in poverty and harsh conditions, lacking the opportunity available to even the poorest children in Fairfield County.
“Around the world, there are so many young children who are dying of disease caused by lack of sanitary conditions,” says Berkowitz.
“They are living in homes without heat or running water, and living in communities with no schools or libraries. And such simple things bring them joy: clean water, a pencil, a book.”
So in 2014, Berkowitz established the Across the Globe Children’s Foundation (AGCF), dedicated to improving the lives of children living in impoverished villages worldwide. In partnership with contractors and organizations working in these countries, AGCF funds infrastructure projects like homes, schools, libraries, clean water and sanitation for families living in poverty in countries like Honduras, Guatemala, Bolivia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, along with a number of impoverished villages in Asia and Africa.
By structuring Across the Globe Children’s Foundation as another donor-advised fund, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation can fill the role of steward and administrator of the fund’s assets – leaving Berkowitz free to focus on making a difference.
It’s a role he takes seriously. As a hands-on donor, Berkowitz has taken philanthropy graduate courses through NYU to network with other humanitarians, and to learn about principles for scoping and funding sustainable projects.
And in just two years, AGCF has made a remarkable impact by focusing on sustainability and partnerships with volunteers and local experts. For example, Water1st International, IMPACT WATER, AND WATERisLIFE, ATGCF has brought clean water systems to a number of underserved villages and towns throughout Honduras. By working with Pencils of Promise, Ethiopia Reads and Biblioworks, ATGCF partnerships have helped build new elementary schools in Guatemala, with more to follow in Ghana and Laos and libraries in rural Ethiopia and Bolivia.
In collaboration with New Story Charity, ATGCF has funded homes for families that had been living in tents or makeshift shelters since 2010 in Haiti and have recently partnered with New Story to build homes in El Salvador and Bolivia where families have been living in oppressive conditions. Finally, a source of pride for ATGCF has been its partnership with International Children’s Heart Foundation which performs free children’s heart surgeries around the world.
Here in Fairfield County, Berkowitz is also helping to empower young people through education. After launching Across the Globe Children’s Foundation, Berkowitz again partnered with Fairfield County’s Community Foundation to establish a college scholarship fund at Stamford High School for Hispanic students at Stamford High School. ATGCF also funds special educational projects at the Waterside School and Inspirica of Stamford.
For Berkowitz and his fellow donors, knowing they’ve made a lasting impact on the lives of others is the greatest reward.
“We are grateful that we can make a difference in other people’s lives,” says Berkowitz.
“That’s the one thing that drives us. We meet amazing people who face monumental adversity just trying to survive; and with a little help from us, they have hope. It’s an amazing feeling to see their lives radically improve.”
Learn how you can establish your own fund with Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, and work with us to ensure that your giving makes an impact. Together we thrive.