News and analysis
July 21, 2015

Michael Eisner’s Fund Puts Focus on Programs That Serve Young and Old

Patrick T. Fallon, Bloomberg, Getty Images

After supporting several nonprofits that used a mutigenerational approach to solving problems, Michael Eisner's foundation shifted to make that its sole focus.

The foundation created by the entertainment mogul Michael Eisner has begun focusing all of its grants on one theme: promoting programs that bring together young and old people to solve problems.

It is thought to be the only philanthropy that is devoted entirely to promoting intergenerational programs.

When they started the foundation in 1996, Michael and Jane Eisner focused exclusively on programs designed to benefit children. The mission seemed to be a good match for Mr. Eisner, who at that time was the chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, the kid-focused entertainment giant.

The new strategy for the foundation’s $8 million per year in grants, says chief executive Trent Stamp, has been several years in the making. It came as a result of the Eisner Foundation’s support of several grantees that took an intergenerational approach.

Mr. Stamp sees a pressing need for community organizations to work with members of several generations, particularly in Los Angeles, where the older population is growing rapidly and becoming more isolated and student achievement is slipping.

The grant maker, whose focus is on Los Angeles-area nonprofits, is betting that getting school-age children and their elders under the same roof helps members of both generations — as well as the rest of the public.

"Young folks are craving mentors," he says. "They don’t see old folks as being out of touch. They see them as experienced."

By helping children learn to read, make art, or participate in other activities, older people get a better appreciation for the hardships young people face and often improve their own health, Mr. Stamp says.

"We’re not looking for programs where children and seniors are being served side by side," he says. "We’re looking for programs where one resource is serving the other resource, and they both benefit in the long term."

Breaking Ground

Bringing the old and young together can benefit all the age groups in between too, according to Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, an organization that promotes intergenerational programs. Separate facilities for youths and retirement groups can be combined for a cost savings, she says.

With its new focus, the Eisner Foundation has "broken new ground" for a private grant maker, she adds: "They have great potential to put L.A. on the map as being a leader in this area." .

Seeking Expert Advice

The Eisner fund’s new focus will benefit programs like Jumpstart for Young Children of Southern California, which this month received a $100,000 grant from the foundation. The money will be used to provide transportation for senior Community Corps members who work with preschool students in low-income areas. The grant will also help provide food and a small stipend for older people, many of whom are struggling financially.

Jumpstart first began putting young and old people together five years ago when it enlisted the help of 20 older participants. This summer, after six weeks of training, about 68 seniors will take part in the program, which gets a total of $700,000 in support.

Working with children keeps people who are up in years "on their toes," says Alberto Mendoza, a regional vice president at Jumpstart. For many, he says, working with schoolkids can be a tonic: "They’re not as depressed because they have an opportunity to contribute to the life of a young person."

The benefits go both ways. Mr. Mendoza says both the teachers and young students respond well to the older teachers, who are referred to as "grandparents."

Mr. Stamp says the Eisner Foundation will invite grantees to a workshop this fall to learn from national experts on intergenerational work.

It’s a learning process he is familiar with.

To prepare for this new dedication to intergenerational programs, the foundation in 2011 began awarding the Eisner Prize, a cash gift of $100,000 to organizations that take a multigenerational approach to their work.

The development of the prize was "selfish," says Mr. Stamp, because it gave the foundation’s board and staff a thorough education on programs that involve young and old.

"We did it so we could learn what was working in other communities and bring it to L.A.," he says. "It gave us an excuse to go nationwide and learn from the true experts."

Send an e-mail to Alex Daniels.