Over the years I have grown extremely cynical of charities and organizations claiming to help ordinary people who have been thrust into extraordinary circumstances and are in dire need of the help of others.
Maybe it was because of the vice chairman of a major research charity who had a house account at a bar and restaurant located directly below an old apartment of mine. Approximately four nights a week he would drunkenly parade a gaggle of friends into the place, and always paid his monthly tab of about $4,000 with the charity’s credit card.
Perhaps it was the donations I made to a children’s charity for many years, only to have them start to double and triple bill my direct withdrawals each month. What was worse than their possible incompetence was the arrogant stance they took when I had the audacity to question their ethics and operational acumen.
I also had heard enough about various organizations whose administrative costs far outweighed the money they dispensed for research or the assistance of those in need.
Making things worse are the constant reports of elected officials who utilize the donations of well-meaning constituents for private trips or hotel trysts.
It is that overall cynicism that makes it so easy for me to wholeheartedly support the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, which will be holding its 13th annual Teddy Dinner on Thursday, November 19, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Staten Island, New York.
Founded in 1997 by the inimitable broadcaster and trainer Teddy Atlas, the Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that provides financial and emotional support to individuals and organizations in need.
It was created in honor of Atlas’s father, a revered physician who provided medical services to his community for over 50 years. Often making house calls, even when he was well into his eighties, his spirit is embodied in the Foundation that bears his name.
“The Foundation comes to the aid of people in a variety of difficult situations, people who have nowhere else to turn for help, people who would otherwise fall between the cracks,” said Atlas. “And it does so in a very direct and real way.”
Those words might sound trite to some, but I can personally attest to their truthfulness, especially regarding the direct and real way that Atlas’s foundation affects the lives of anonymous people.
Several months ago I was chatting with an old friend who resides in Staten Island. He told me that he had to go, because he was attending a fundraiser for a local family whose lives had been upended when the woman of the house, who was in her late fifties, was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), which is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The disease had progressed to the point where the woman was rendered nearly quadriplegic and her family, which consisted of her longtime husband and several children, had nearly depleted their funds to care for her. So desperate was their situation, they had even been forced to sell one of their two family cars to make ends meet.
The story resonated with me because a childhood friend of mine, who just a few years earlier had been trim, fit, healthy and active, was a few months away from dying at the age of 54 from the same insidious disease that had wreaked havoc on this poor family.
I asked the friend of the stricken family to find out what they needed, and then contacted attorney Keith Sullivan who is on the board of the Atlas Foundation, as well as the Veteran Boxers Association, Ring 8, in New York.
What the family needed more than anything was a portable ramp that would enable the afflicted woman to be transported to the homes of friends and relatives for whatever remaining days she had.
Besides the love of her family, the woman derived the most pleasure from visiting those closest to her. She never knew if the next time she saw them would be the last time, so the visits were paramount to her mental health.
Sullivan told me to contact Kathy Zito, the Foundation director, who couldn’t have been more gracious. She instructed me to find out the manufacturer, model number and price of the ramp the family had in mind. Within days of being presented with that information, Ms. Zito informed me that Teddy had personally approved the purchase.
About 10 days after first learning of this family’s plight, the ramp was delivered to their house with no fanfare whatsoever.
This type of assistance, which is repeated hundreds of times a year, was made possible in large part by the annual dinner which is the single largest source of the Foundation’s donations. Over 1,000 supporters normally attend, including scores of celebrities.
Past attendees have included boxers Sugar Ray Leonard, George Foreman, Michael Moorer, Gerry Cooney and Chuck Wepner, broadcasters Joe Tessitore, Bob Papa, Mike Francesca and Max Kellerman, actors Chris Noth, Chuck Zito, Danny Aiello and Tony Sirico, and sports legends Pete Rose, Harry Carson, John McEnroe, Bill Parcells, Eric Mangini, Chad Pennington, John Franco and Gary Sheffield.
This year’s event will be hosted by comic Jeff Pirrami and featured guests will be Brandon Jacobs, the star running back for the New York Giants, and Jason Marquis, the standout pitcher for the Colorado Rockies.
Expected to attend from the boxing community are Cooney, Wepner, Lou Duva, Iran Barkley, Emile Griffith, Renaldo Snipes and Bert Sugar.
You can be sure that the donation of the ramp was not an isolated incident. Teddy Atlas is as no-nonsense of a guy in his altruistic endeavors as he is in his work as a commentator and boxing trainer.
Once the Foundation identifies a person or family in need, it immediately moves to help, sidestepping the bureaucratic obstacles that are so cumbersome with many charitable organizations.
To date, the Foundation has helped thousands of individuals and families, and has even created incentive programs in schools to encourage and motivate students.
Besides creating a Staten Island food pantry, the Foundation distributes turkeys on Thanksgiving and toys at Christmas, all the while respecting the privacy and self-respect of the grateful recipients.
“I’ve been coming to this event for many years, and it’s a pleasure to be part of it,” said Wepner, who after challenging Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title in 1975 became the muse for Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” character. Wepner’s own sense of altruism makes it difficult for him to ever turn his back on someone in need.
“Teddy is a great boxing guy, but he’s also a real humanitarian. It is a privilege to be involved in this because I don’t think anyone could keep count about how many people Teddy has helped over the years.”
Thursday’s affair will run from 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM. The Hilton Garden is located at 1100 South Avenue, Staten Island, New York 10314, phone 718-477-2400. Tickets are priced at $200.
Donations can also be mailed to the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, Inc., PO Box 475, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030. Make checks payable to the Dr. Theodore A. Atlas Foundation, Inc.
For more information, call 201-293-2606 or contact Jill Rothstein at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also log onto: www.dratlasfoundation.com.