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High Returns of Robin Hood Heroes Offer Fund Managers Solace

By Amanda L. Gordon

Hedge-fund returns may be down but managers heard some good news Tuesday morning on three high-performing investments in the Robin Hood Foundation portfolio.

These returns aren’t monetary, though they’re awesome. Coalition for the Homeless helped a mother leave an abusive husband with her children and find a job and an apartment. Two women became the first in their families to attend college, with support of iMentor’s one-on-one mentoring model. And Lawyers for Children put forth a young man it helped navigate through multiple foster homes.

Heroes Awards

“Whenever things weren’t working out, I knew I could say to my foster mom, ‘I’m calling my lawyer,’” said Demetrius Johnson, now 21 and in college with aspirations to become a lawyer.

This is the type of achievement that earned these nonprofits the Robin Hood Heroes Award and $50,000 in additional funding — as well as the chance to share their stories over breakfast at Cipriani 42nd Street.

Steve Schwarzman, Larry Robbins, Bill Ackman, David Solomon, Barry Sternlicht, Jon Bon Jovi and Zach Schreiber were at tables stocked with Hot Bread Kitchen chocolate-cherry rolls as well as cups of yogurt and berries. Dan Och sat next to Roger Goodell after speaking with Robin Hood’s new president, Reynold Levy.

John Griffin, who founded iMentor, sat next to his mentor, Julian Robertson, who, Griffin said, taught him the value of “small but consistent and insightful advice over a long period of time.”

Old Faithful

There were tears on stage — from the mother whose children ask her every month if they will be able to make the rent — and in the audience.

“I’m the worst, I’m like Old Faithful,” Paul Tudor Jones said of his crying record.

David Einhorn said the Heroes breakfast is different from Robin Hood’s gala. “That’s about raising money, headline entertainment and getting some of the message out,” Einhorn said. “Here, we don’t try to raise any money, and we bring people together over what Robin Hood actually does. The more people know, the more excited they become about our work.”

The thing about 7 a.m. presentations is that there’s only so much information you can convey, especially when the promise is to get you back to your desk before the market opens.

So Eric Weingartner, a managing director at Robin Hood, got on the phone before the event to talk about the foundation’s efforts to assist veterans.

Veterans Projects

In 2011, Robin Hood raised $13 million at its May benefit to spend on figuring out how to most effectively help veterans in New York City living in poverty. That funding is now exhausted, and Robin Hood has incorporated the grants it deemed the most successful into its annual commitments, with an allotment of $2.5 million to $3 million a year for veteran-focused work.

At NYU Langone Medical Center, Robin Hood gave the seed money to start a clinic that treats the mental health of both veterans and their family members.

One question Robin Hood set out to answer is whether to nurture fledgling veteran-service organizations. It found its best results by building capacity for veterans at already-established programs that don’t necessarily cater exclusively to veterans, with the goal of creating a permanent infrastructure to serve them.

One example is a grant Robin Hood made at Workforce1 centers run by New York City. Robin Hood’s funding deployed staff to the centers to route veterans into special programming. The placement rate for veterans has tripled to 1,500 annually.

“That is systemic,” Weingartner said. “And the city has ponied up money to match Robin Hood.”

Robin Hood also worked with the city’s Department of Homeless Services, giving money to put outreach workers on the streets to recruit veterans into shelters, with similarly impressive results.

‘More Catalytic’

The last grant Robin Hood made from its special veterans fund was to start a program in partnership with Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families called New York City Serves.

“It is maybe poised to be the most catalytic,” Weingartner said. “The premise is to link the Veterans Administration, which obviously is the elephant in the room, with the city and city organizations, to make sure that vets don’t fall through the cracks.”

The driving principal is to get veterans the diversity of services they need: shelter, food, job training, lawyers, health care, he said. “The issue is never just that they’re hungry.”

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