Within hours of the September 11 World Trade Center terrorist attack, my voicemail and email were overloaded with requests for services from corporations, mental health agencies, and schools. All were looking for assistance in how to help adult survivors cope with the sudden traumatic death of their loved ones and support the grieving children and teens whose parents had died in the towers.
I accepted several challenging opportunities that included working with the American Red Cross and the Aon Corporation, but the most intriguing call came in early 2002 from a board member of a recently formed charitable foundation called A Little Hope.
The founder, Cantor Fitzgerald bond trader Whitney Siderman Michaels, was on her honeymoon in Hawaii with her husband Evan, while Cantor Fitzgerald’s corporate headquarters, located on floors 101 to 105 of the North Tower, were destroyed. A staggering 658 employees died. As Whitney and Evan attended numerous memorial services, they witnessed many bereaved children now having to face life without their mother or father and wanted to find a way to offer them hope for the future.
The board of directors were seeking a mental health professional with expertise in childhood bereavement to join the board and wanted to meet with me. In addition to my clinical thanatology (death, dying, and bereavement) practice, I had been president of the board of a nonprofit children’s after school organization and had an extensive business background. After meeting the founders, I agreed to become the foundation’s clinical advisor and a (volunteer) founding board member. The first fundraising gala in lower Manhattan took place just three months later in June 2002, and more than $200,000 was raised.
The strategic plan was to establish a granting organization that would provide emotional support for the surviving children of September 11 who experienced the death of a parent. Many of the board members were highly skilled individuals working in the corporate sector (hedge funds, banking, accounting, law, and insurance), but no one had any previous board experience. I realized that with prior board experience and a current network of colleagues in the bereavement field, the executive committee of A Little Hope was looking to me to spearhead the granting initiative.
I did extensive research to learn who the leading nonprofit associations were in both New York and nationwide. I was looking to find an organization where I could meet professionals to discuss best practices, network among foundation colleagues, and learn about program models, fundraising, and industry trends. I learned about several, but no one offered what Exponent Philanthropy (then Association of Small Foundations) did. I became a member in September 2002.
With the wealth of information that Exponent Philanthropy made available to its members I found that by utilizing their sample documents and publications—such as the Essentials newsletter, The Foundation Guidebook, The Trustee Handbook, and the publications Keeping Good Records and Getting to Impact—I expanded the foundation’s administration and, with board approval, put key policies into place.
By having all Exponent Philanthropy’s resources available to me I was able to:
- Create and execute the foundation’s grantmaking policies and procedures (application document, grant application checklist, site visit report form, grant committee review process form, grant award letter, grant declination letter, grant award contract form, and grantee (mid-year and end-of-year) report forms)
- Continue to educate the board regarding tax and legal issues by discussing essential organization documents (articles of incorporation, bylaws, determination letter, Form 1023, Form 990-PF, budgets, financial statements, and annual reports)
- Insure up-to-date foundation governance by creating both conflict of interest and self-dealing policies
While I was the managing director of A Little Hope (2006–2016), we became the first national organization dedicated to raising money to advance the growth of children’s grief support and the expansion of bereavement centers, school outreach programs, and camps for grieving children, teens, and young adults in the United States. We grew from a regional organization funding 5 bereavement programs in the tri-state area into a national foundation that funded a total of 94 organizations in 39 states. We expanded our initial scope of providing support services to 350 children after the September 11 World Trade Center tragedy to serving more than 250,000 children, adolescents, and young adults.
In early 2016, I launched and received a 501(c)(3) determination approval for Alex Cares, Inc. (d/b/a Alex Cares for Grieving Youth). In September 2016, I had the pleasure of renewing my Exponent Philanthropy membership as the CEO of Alex Cares, Inc. and the president The Sanctuary National Grief Support Network.
Amy Liebman Rapp, M.S.Ed., CT is a visionary change agent who has led and helped transform nonprofit organizations utilizing innovation, collaboration, strategic thinking and mentorship. With more than 25 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, she has collaborated with diverse organizations across the United States. She is a nationally recognized authority in childhood and adolescent grief whether due to death, incarceration, or foster care.