It was while Judith Stern Peck was thinking of a birthday gift for her first grandchild that she came upon an idea that promises to give her and her granddaughter enjoyment for years to come. “This child didn’t need another dress or another toy,” said Peck. “And I think it is very important to teach the value of giving back. That’s when I came up with the idea of creating a Children’s Gift Fund.”
The idea was to establish a charitable fund in the child’s name and, as she grew older, help her decide to which charities she would like to send the money.
Peck, who chairs the board of UJA-Federation and is a professional consultant to family foundations, mentioned her idea to Larry and Carol Zickler. Soon after, Zickler became chairman of the board of the Jewish Communal Fund and asked Peck for permission to implement her idea there.
Not only did Peck agree, but last year she also became the first to open a Children’s Gift Fund account to mark the first birthday of her granddaughter, Josephine Mariel Stern.
Since then, Peck and her husband, Stephen, each of whom have three children from previous marriages, have had three more grandchildren. To mark each birth, the Pecks have added more money to the fund.
“You don’t need a lot of money to teach the value of philanthropy,” said Peck, noting that the Children’s Gift Fund requires an initial contribution of $5,000 instead of the normal $10,000 for the Jewish Communal Fund.
“I think philanthropy has to be taught,” she added. “It is not something you just wake up one morning and understand. We have a blended family and this will be a nice way to bring our grandchildren together [to decide where to distribute the money] when they get older. It represents something that is important to their grandparents. It creates a legacy for me and Stephen to pass on to our grandchildren.”
Seven families have established Children’s Gift Funds, among them Susan and Jeffrey Stern of Scarsdale for their children, Peter, 15, and Michael, 18.
“I think it’s great for all kids to be able to choose a charity to support,” said Peter. “We hear about so many charities on television and elsewhere, and then we can’t do anything about it. This fund will let us make a contribution. … It’s a good way to share money rather than just spending it on material things.”
Peter said he plans to research charities before making any contribution. He also plans to add some of his bar mitzvah money to the fund. Among the organizations on his giving list: UJA-Federation; the Arthur Ashe Foundation, which supports AIDS research; the Jimmy V Foundation, which supports cancer research; and the 92nd Street Y.
Another account was opened by Marilyn and Zev Grossman of Plainview, L.I. Marilyn Grossman said the idea of opening a charitable fund occurred after they inherited some money from her parents, both of whom died within the last two years.
“We felt that if we set aside a certain amount of money for tzedaka, it would grow and be our commitment to ongoing tzedaka,” she explained. “And then we learned of the opportunity to do it in our children’s names.”
Grossman, 44, said that after setting up their own account with the Jewish Communal Fund, they opened one for their son, Max, 8, and plan to open another for their daughter, Rebecca, 4, when she gets older.
She noted that until she joined UJA-Federation’s Leadership Development Division in 1981, she did not know what organized charitable giving was all about.
“As a child, my father was a very generous man and gave to people who needed money, but not in an organized way,” Grossman recalled. “I did not know what tzedaka was.”
She said that when she became involved with UJA-Federation, she volunteered to make calls on Super Sunday. It was then that Grossman made her first pledge to the campaign — $50.
“I thought that was hot stuff,” she said, “but as I got more involved in the organization and understood what more was expected of me, my level of giving increased dramatically and I continued to give after I was married.
“I want my children to be exposed at a young age so that this is part of them. I want them to learn that this is just something you do. The more they learn that, the more it will become second nature to them.”
Even before they set up the fund, Grossman, who was campaign chair of UJA-Federation’s Business and Professional Women’s Division, noted that they had given their son an opportunity to decide where to contribute $250 collected over the years in the family’s tzedaka boxes.
“We talked to him about different places to donate the money, but we wanted him to be the primary decision maker,” she said. “It was clear from the start that he wanted the money to go to Brighter Tomorrows, an abused women’s shelter in Suffolk … that my father donated a lot of money to.”
The Children’s Gift Fund account was opened for Max late last year. Grossman said she and her husband plan to add to it each Chanukah in place of a present one of the eight nights.
Abby Tucker, director of marketing at the Jewish Communal Fund, noted that the money contributed to the fund is tax deductible and grows tax-free in one of eight equity funds. She said the Children’s Gift Fund would be particularly attractive to those who wish to make a donation at the time of a child’s bar or bat mitzvah. That gift, if the check was made out of the fund, would be tax deductible.
Grossman said she and her husband “want to let the money grow and then donate it to two or three different charities. I would expect much of the money to go to Jewish organizations, including UJA-Federation.”
Susan Stern, chair of UJA-Federation’s Women’s Campaign, said she plans to assemble all of the mail solicitations she receives each year and review them with Peter to help him decide which ones to support. Since Michael is 18, he will make his own choice, but Stern said she is going to encourage her sons to do their own checking into each charity’s background.
“These kids research what kind of stereo or television set to buy, I hope they will use some of those same skills to learn about philanthropy,” she said. “We want this to become a natural part of their lives. Part of their responsibility is to give back to the community and hopefully we have laid the seeds for that.”
Jeffrey Stern added that the fund gives their children an “opportunity to continue what has been a tradition in our family on an informal basis.”
“I think it can make a material, positive, long-term impact on the children who participate and on the community,” he said. n
For information about the Jewish Communal Fund, call Abby Tucker at (212) 752-8277.