Nothing hurts more than losing a loved one. The blow is especially cruel when it strikes a young person.
Richard Schimel stepped in to lend a hand through his work at A Little Hope, a New York–based group that seeks to help children and teenagers cope with the death of a family member.
"A child tells his story, and then another child says, ‘I had the same thing happen,’ and they open up," explains Schimel, 40, a founding board member of A Little Hope. "The kids are playing, interacting with others, having a great time. But it’s those serious times that will help them down the road."
Before the organization got rolling in 2002 — in response to 9/11 — no grant-making entity in the U.S. was focused on funding bereavement programs for children. To date, A Little Hope has given more than $3 million to 57 nonprofit groups in 30 states.
Schimel’s father lost his mother when he was a young adult, and Schimel, co-founder and co–chief investment officer of Diamondback Capital Management, says memories of his dad’s experience gave him the extra push to get involved. "I saw how he was affected throughout his life and never really dealt with it," Schimel says.
A Little Hope was the brainchild of Whitney and Evan Michaels, two friends of Schimel’s who lost many acquaintances and co-workers in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. Whitney worked for brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald, 658 of whose employees perished on 9/11, when the Michaelses happened to be on their honeymoon. Upon their return they recruited Schimel and others to come up with a positive response to the tragedy.
"We were trying to think what we could do," Schimel recalls. "My thought was, How do you help the children? Because they’re really the ones left behind."
The bereavement programs funded by A Little Hope offer counseling and support in a setting where survivors can learn to deal with their grief and be with other kids in similar situations. Children who lose loved ones are often at risk for suicide, substance abuse and behavioral disorders.
"If no one’s dealing with the loss, these kids are bound to have issues as they get older," Schimel says. "That’s where these programs really help.
The Bereavement Center of Westchester is among the many notable beneficiaries of A Little Hope. The Tuckahoe, New York–based group operates a grief-support program, appropriately named Tree House, that gives its participants some of the space and time they require to heal. Patricia Donovan-Duff, director of Tree House, says grieving kids need to know they’re not alone and that what they’re enduring is normal. She says she admires Schimel’s leadership and appreciation of the intricacies of the program. "He’s been open to learning," she says. "He’s been a powerful force."
Before the 2005 launch of Diamondback, a $3.8 billion Stamford, Connecticut–based long-short equity firm, Schimel spent more than five years as a portfolio manager at nearby SAC Capital Advisors. He has drawn on his many Wall Street contacts for A Little Hope’s annual fundraising event, which generates most of the group’s working capital. He says he’s still in touch with some of the kids who lost parents on 9/11.
"It’s something they’re going to carry with them for the rest of their lives."
For more information, visit www.alittlehope.org.