Money given to support positive behavioral change, growth throughout communities

Access to education and wellness services are a must, donor says.

Credit: pROVIDED

Credit: pROVIDED

The Cohen family is aiming higher in their continual support of the community.

For years, Neil and Honi Cohen, along with their children Jill and Brian, have volunteered in the areas of health care, education and social service. They are now creating a new HIGHER Fund, a mission-driven effort to promote individual behavior growth in Honesty, Integrity, Generosity, Humility, Empathy, and Respect.

“Our desire is to create an endowment that has a visionary basis of providing resources for programs that build character to achieve positive behavioral change and personal growth that will transform the quality of life in our communities,” said Neil Cohen.

Cohen’s philanthropy and volunteer work was highlighted earlier this year when he was honored by the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce as the 2022 Hamilton Citizen of the Year, which included leading the charge to raise $1.8 million for the YWCA of Hamilton’s domestic violence shelter.

In his January 2022 Citizen of the Year speech, Cohen told the several hundred people in attendance, as reported by the Journal-News, that “wellness should be measured by how members gain access to healthcare, access to education, access to social services. That access must not be denied, and its delivery can make all the difference. The incremental steps toward improvement can often go unrecognized.”

While the Cohens have elevated the HIGHER concept in their giving and championing community issues, Neil Cohen said this fund is not about them. It’s about who the money can help.

“We want the mission and focus of the fund to inspire others to give to the initiative as well,” Neil Cohen said.

The HIGHER Fund will issue grants once a year for programs, services and initiatives that align with its mission. An advisory committee will evaluate the grants and make the ultimate decision about funding. Though existing local organizations may fit the granting criteria, the Cohen family hopes the fund inspires new ideas and ways to approach issues people in the community and world face today.

The grant application for the HIGHER Fund will be accessible through the Hamilton Community Foundation’s online grant portal, and the first grant cycle will take place next year.

Collaborative efforts will be especially valued and appreciated by the committee, according to the foundation.

Jill Cohen said they embrace the Jewish tradition of Tzedakah, which commonly refers to charity, and the HIGHER Fund is akin to that custom.

“My grandparents and then my parents had a box on their counter where they would regularly put change or pocket money. They used the money from the box to help people in need,” she said.

The charity box is too big for the Cohens’ counter, so the fund, or rather endowment, will maintained by the Hamilton Community Foundation for everyone to contribute.

“There’s trust and relationship with the Hamilton Community Foundation,” said Neil Cohen. “We know that by creating an endowed fund at the Foundation, the fund will continue long after we are gone.”

Hamilton Community Foundation Vice President Katie Braswell said they are “honored” to be the managers of the fund and grant application process.

“The Cohens have been a friend to the foundation for many years and certainly have shown their dedication and commitment to enhancing this community,” she said.

Jill Cohen said she and her family hope the HIGHER Fund will change the path of people’s lives.

“We want to encourage the idea that asking for help and seeking a better way is honorable,” she said. “We weren’t talking about classes or grades at the dinner table. We talked about what we did that day to make someone’s life better. We were taught to leave people better than where you found them.”

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