LIVINGSTON, NJ — Donors Leon and Toby Cooperman recently visited the future home of Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled (JSDD) in Livingston and talked about their philanthropic commitment to adults with developmental disabilities and the local community.
Residents of Short Hills, the Coopermans believe in giving back to the community. One August Sunday morning, they stopped by a construction site just off the Route 10 traffic circle in Livingston to see the site that is the future home of The Cooperman Family Campus, the new home of the not-for-profit JSDD and its WAE Center. The JSDD currently is headquartered in West Orange.
The 17,300-square-foot, state-of-the-art building project at 310 Eisenhower Parkway is possible, in large part, because of a $2.5 million gift from The Cooperman Family Foundation.
The Coopermans, who recently celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary, chatted with JSDD board member Larry Rein during their visit about why they chose to contribute to JSDD’s capital campaign for the facility.
“I got involved in special needs as my career,” Toby Cooperman said. “I started out as a special ed teacher. Then I became a learning specialist and over 25 years I really began to understand the challenges of the special needs community.
"I got involved with the JCC when they started their special needs department. Linda Press was the head, and I became president of her fan club. So whatever Linda Press got involved in, I knew would be high quality. I truly understood the challenges—especially for the families.
"[Individuals with developmental disabilities] have to have a life, continuing education, continuing socialization, the ability to be independent. There was a tremendous need to help them when they turned 21.”
JSDD, with Press as executive director, was created to provide educational and residential services for adults with developmental disabilities.
Leon, who is the retired chairman and chief executive officer of New York-based investment firm Omega Advisors, explained why giving back to the local community is so important to Toby and him. “
"We were not always in this position," he said. "I grew up very poor in the Bronx. Toby grew up in the Bronx, too. I went to public grade schools in the Bronx, public high school in the Bronx, public college in the Bronx. I had a short stint at Columbia University business school that opened a deal on Wall Street for me, and I've done very well through hard work and lots of intuition, and we want to give it back.”
Leon noted he and Toby signed The Giving Pledge in 2010 to give away at least half of their wealth to philanthropic causes. In addition to JSDD, he and Toby have made many major contributions, including a $25 million pledge to Saint Barnabas Medical Center for a new 200,000-square-foot Cooperman Family Pavilion.
They concluded their recent visit by touring the site with Rein; JSDD executive director Linda Press; Michael Katz, director of development for JSDD’s capital campaign; and Livingston Township Councilman Alfred Anthony, who was mayor at the time of the unveiling at Saint Barnabas.
“We pass this site a lot, so we look forward each time to watching [construction] progress,” said Leon.
The new Cooperman Family Campus facility will enable SUDD to expand the residential, advocacy and community services it provides for individuals with developmental disabilities. Construction is expected to be completed by September 2021.
“The need continues to grow for our residential and educational services, and we have outgrown our leased space in West Orange,” said Press. “The new facility will enable us to employ additional administrators to expand both our residential program and WAE (Wellness, Arts, and Enrichment) Center to serve 50 additional clients. We’ll also have the capacity to offer evening classes and expand physical, occupational, and speech therapy services.
“Their support of JSDD’s project will make a difference in the lives of so many for years to come."