Combining Two Passions to Create One Impactful Gift

Tags: Federation, legacy

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Peggy and John Garson have always been active participants in the Cleveland Jewish community – and they come by it honestly. The tradition of community involvement goes back many generations in both of their families. Peggy still remembers her grandparents 50th Anniversary party, where in lieu of gifts they requested donations from friends and family and then used the funds to open a dental clinic in an underserved area in Louisville, Kentucky where they lived. John also recalls that his grandmother was the president of sisterhood and was on the committee that hired the Rabbi Abba Silver at The Temple.

John’s mother came to Cleveland to work as a social worker, and he remembers his father was always involved in leadership roles in various Jewish agencies. Peggy’s mom was head of the Federation’s Women’s Division.

As a young couple Peggy and John continued the tradition of supporting the Campaign for Jewish Needs, and their involvement grew over time. John began in the Young Business and Professionals Division, and he served on many committees over the years. He credits Federation staff member Howard Berger for his mentoring young leaders – he says that Howard got to know you and directed you to the right place in the organization. John joked that if you worked hard, asked questions, and answered the phone when Federation called then you moved on to more and more significant lay leadership roles. He acknowledges that Federation knows how to take that leadership capability and use it to the benefit of both the community and the individual.

Peggy was involved through the Women’s Division – beginning in what was then known as the Young Women’s Division. She rose through the ranks and ultimately became the chair of the Women’s Division – and one of her proudest accomplishments was combining two separate groups within Women’s Philanthropy, education and fundraising. Under her leadership she determined that the groups should be merged, which required a change of the by-laws of the Federation.

Both Peggy and John are proud of Cleveland’s national reputation as having one of the strongest lay-professional partnership among all Federations. They believe that this partnership is what makes Cleveland such a thriving Jewish community, and why they feel so good about sharing their time, talent and treasure with the organization.

Their Supporting Foundation is one meaningful way that they share their values and tzedakah with their family. Their Annual Meetings include a very active and involved three generations. Each family member’s philanthropic passions are honored by the other members of the family. Although they give to other causes, Peggy and John direct the majority of their charitable giving to Jewish causes – as they believe that only Jewish people will take care of each other.

After Peggy created her Lion of Judah Endowment (LOJE: perpetuates a Lion of Judah gift to the annual Campaign for Jewish Needs), which will ensure that a gift to the Campaign for Jewish Needs will continue on, it spurred John to consider making his own meaningful gift. After conversing with Federation staff, they decided to create an endowment to support the Cleveland Hillel Summer Interns who work at Federation.

The Cleveland Hillel Summer Internship is a very successful program for rising college juniors and seniors which places students at paid internships all over the city and in many industries, including the non-profit sector and at Federation.

In addition to meaningful work experience, the program creates a cohort of students that spends one day a week learning about Cleveland and exploring the city. After completing the program in a recent year 92% of the interns agreed that Cleveland is a great city, 86% believe that Cleveland is a good place for people in their 20’s to live, work and play after graduating college, and the majority of the interns indicated they are interested in living and working in Cleveland after college. The Federation has had many interns over the years who have completed the program and then started careers in Cleveland as Jewish Communal professionals.

By endowing this program John and Peggy have ensured that each summer the Federation will be able to support four interns. In their words: “this gift combines two things we love: Cleveland and Jewish values.” Their hope is that over time these interns will be part of the next generation of Jewish communal leaders.

Creating the endowment was not a complicated process working together with federation’s staff. Just two phone calls and it was done! They have decided to support the program starting now while the endowment continues to grow so they can see the fruits of their labor. As John exclaimed: “if not now, when?”

For more information, contact Carol Wolf at cwolf@jcfcleve.org or 216-593-2805.

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