Hirschell Levine is one of two trustees of the Beatrice & Samuel A. Seaver Foundation. He and his wife, Deanna, have also been long-time supporters of the Seaver Autism Center at Mount Sinai. Through their professional network and personal relationships, as well as their own generosity, they have raised millions of dollars, and increased awareness of autism, as well as the services that the Center can offer to families who need them.
How did you become involved in the Seaver Autism Center?
A long-time client of Eisner & Lubin, the accounting firm of which I was managing partner, left her entire estate to the Beatrice & Samuel A. Seaver Foundation. She named her lawyer, John Cohen, Esq., and me as the trustees, and stipulated that we both have to agree on the funding of grants from the foundation.
My client wanted to commit her estate to medical research in New York. We picked Mount Sinai because it was willing to undertake the project from the start. We had been turned down by several major New York research hosiptals at the time. I think it was because there was virtually no publicity about autism and no research dedicated to it back then.
How do you allocate the funding?
We've given over $21,000,000 to Mount Sinai; that includes grants allocated to individuals who are working on projects that we think are worthwhile. The Center itself gets about $1,400,000 each year, and then we give $400,000 to $600,000 to individual researchers at Mount Sinai.
We're interested in getting the problem solved. The research at Mount Sinai has identified more than four genes, and Joseph Buxbaum Ph.D, the current Center Director, is part of an international consortium of these scientists who are working on autism-related studies. Many of these findings have been replicated at other institutions.
The foundation paid for the costs of a patent on a gene and now a French biomedical research company is working on a prenatal test to see if the mother is a carrier of this gene and several other genes. This will help families who undergo genetic counseling and are trying to decide whether to have more children.
How do you measure success?
We're continued with Mount Sinai because they've made significant findings; our independent, national advisory board has assured us that it is a Center of Excellence; and the annual conference draws hundreds of people, including health professionals, medical student, researchers, family members, and donors.
How have you encouraged others to contribute to the Seaver Autism Center?
We have found numerous ways to support what we've created:
- Introducing business associates to the cause
When I think it is appropriate and clients want to do something to show their appreciation, I suggest that they consider a donation. I had a client who was very grateful for some work that my firm did, and they wanted to do something really special so they made a gift to the Seaver Autism Center (not the foundation).
- Referring families who need treatment to the Center
We have also been able to get people there for treatment, and the families are very grateful for the evaluations they received.
- Sharing our passion with friends and families
One friend left an endowment of over $2,000,000 in her will because she knew that is what we wanted. We also invited friends and clients to the dedication of the Center and shared what we were doing. I directly approach them and we tell them that this is an important cause and it's a problem that needs to be solved.
- Requesting donations instead of gifts for celebrations
For our 50th wedding anniversary and my 70th birthday, we asked them to contribute to the Seaver Autism Center instead of giving us a gift. Some donations were small and some were large. People gave what they could, and it not only raised a good amount of money, but was also a meaningful tribute to our values and philosophy.