Gary Schwartz started his carpet business with $15K and an idea. That idea combined with keen business skills and dedication made it possible for Gary and his wife Karen to make an extraordinary one-million-dollar gift to Jewish Family Service this past January. “It was Gary who pushed it,” Karen shared. “Gary’s heart is with JFS. It has been very exciting for us.” Karen continued, “You don’t always need to get something in return.” Sometimes it is the giving which is the gift. Gary and Karen came from humble beginnings, but they were both taught early the importance of giving back, even when there wasn’t much to give. “It’s a mindset,” they explained.
That mindset of giving led Karen and Gary to make an additional gift of $100,000 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when it became clear that JFS would have to pivot its programs and services significantly. Looking back over the past couple months, Gary shared: “At a time where there are so many people struggling, Karen and I can’t sit on the sidelines. We need to do more.”
JFS will use the incredible investments provided by Gary and Karen to expand services to teens and young adults struggling with anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges. It will also help support clients in our Supportive Living Services program who have cognitive disabilities and persistent mental health issues. In addition, their tremendous donation will provide financial assistance to help clients with emergency financial needs, intensified by this public health crisis.
“Gary and Karen have made an extraordinary difference not only for the people we serve, but the people who serve them,” said JFS CEO, Rabbi Will Berkovitz. “They made it possible for our care managers to do what is necessary to remove stumbling blocks preventing people from finding stability in their lives.”
In explaining the decision, Gary and Karen shared, “When we are gone, we won’t get to see the impact of our philanthropy. We wanted to be able to see the change we were able to help make in the community.” With a smile Karen continued, “We reached a moment when we realized how fortunate we have been, and we wanted to give back to the community. It’s a nice feeling to share our good fortune with others.” Gary added, “Being older I noticed there were more needs today, or it may be I became more aware of them.”
Karen and Gary agreed it was time to start giving more and to set up a foundation. “I was born and raised in Seattle,” Gary said. “I learned by following the example of those around me and those who came before me.” He continued, “I decided my main concern is Jewish causes.” Jewish people are very philanthropic in the broader Seattle community, but only Jewish people support the Jewish community. “If we don’t take care of each other, who will?”
In reflecting on his life, Gary mused, “What did I really do? I just sold rugs.” But because of those rugs, combined with Gary and Karen’s remarkable generosity and a vision of what it means to live their Jewish values, many people will not only have a chance at a better life, but also an awareness they are not alone. Perhaps this is summed up best by a client who recently wrote, “So often in life we experience tears of fear, pain or frustration…but your support was a real blessing. It gave me tears of joy.”