Couple's Vow to Assist the Poor

The Wall Street Journal | July 11, 2011

From the Lower East Side to Africa, Stephen and Pilar Crespi Robert are focusing their philanthropy on helping the poor. It is a full-time effort for the couple and the mission of their Source of Hope Foundation.

Mr. Robert believes that "it's OK to be rich, but it's not OK to die rich. If you're fortunate to be in a position to make money, it's not really yours. It belongs to society."

The couple have recently contributed nearly $100,000 to the Henry Street Settlement of the Lower East Side. The human service organization provides health care, arts and senior and youth services to nearly 50,000 residents annually. Notable work includes a program that provides housekeeping services to senior citizens and disabled people, mental health services, adult basic education classes and even a knitting group.

The couple have specifically supported the funding of a computer lab at one of Henry Street's shelters for the homeless.

Mrs. Robert, 59 years old, serves on the Henry Street board as a vice president and is well known in the fashion community where she previously ran a public relations firm. Mrs. Robert says that Henry Street is one of the organizations "closest to my heart" because it has "one of the most interesting holistic approaches" to helping people. She is especially involved with the organization's work with children and women who are victims of domestic violence.

Mr. Robert, 71, is the former chairman and chief executive of Oppenheimer Group Inc. and has served as a chancellor of Brown University.

The couple say that Henry Street has informed the projects of their foundation. In partnership with non-governmental organizations, the Source of Hope Foundation has helped to build technical schools for young women in southern Ethiopia, health-care outposts in Malawi and Tanzania and provided for emergency medical care in Haiti.

Recently, the couple have expanded the foundation's work to include a program to grow the technical outsourcing industry in East Jerusalem, a peace program of Palestinian and Israeli parents and a program for disabled Palestinian athletes.

Though they are retired, the Roberts like to joke that they are the founders, funders and staff of their foundation and they travel frequently to follow up on their projects. But they say that working on projects that support desperately poor people isn't always popular because it lacks glamour.

"It's not like a grand museum or even a very prestigious Ivy League school where there's a certain glamour in supporting it," says Mr. Robert. "It's just hard work and being generous and there's no real social activity involved in being part of it. And we think more people of means need to think about those causes because they tend to be underserved."