23March

The Legacy of Owen Halpern

Generosity that extends beyond life.

The Legacy of Owen Halpern

Throughout his adult life, Owen Halpern was known for his kindness and generosity. His support for JF&CS extended beyond his donations to the time he spent volunteering. From serving on the Board of Directors to co-chairing the annual Community of Caring event to heading up the Kay Family Tools for Leaders program, Halpern immersed himself in the agency. But the cause that meant the most to him was LGBTQ (lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) rights.   
“His legacy of service, of helping others and providing support and care for members of the LGBTQ community was a profound reflection of what he stood for,” said Rick Aranson, CEO of JF&CS.

Halpern, who passed away in January 2015, dedicated himself to the work of The Rainbow Center and became one of its strongest advocates. Founded in 2001 to support the needs of the LGBTQ community in Atlanta and housed at JF&CS, the center honored him with its 2012 Rainmaker Award. In late 2013, the center became part of SOJOURN (Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity), with JF&CS continuing to provide counseling to that community.

Now, thanks to the Owen Halpern Heritage Fund, created through a generous gift bequeathed by Halpern’s estate, JF&CS is able to expand its counseling services for the LGBTQ population. In addition, the fund provides the financial support for the Welcoming Communities Project. The project, an initiative of SOJOURN, helps Jewish organizations, schools and synagogues become more welcoming to a growing gender- and sexually-diverse community. SOJOURN will work with a task force of JF&CS employees, volunteers and board members, who will take what they learn and devise an action plan for the agency. The initiative will take 10 months and will kick off in the spring of 2017.

“It’s more than just making sure an agency has a gender-neutral bathroom,” said Faye Dresner, JF&CS’ chief program officer. “We want to create a welcoming community throughout the whole agency. We don’t want to just have one clinician to see the LGBTQ community. To offer truly inclusive and affirming services, you have to educate, raise everyone’s consciousness and awareness, and teach everyone skills.”

Similar to disability awareness, the fund will support clinical training on the kinds of issues members of the LGBTQ community face and specific strategies and interventions for addressing those challenges.

While Halpern’s three siblings did not know the details in his will, they were not surprised by the gift.

“Owen was always an incredibly caring and giving person,” said his sister, Carolyn Oppenheimer. “As in life, he continued his generosity in trying to help the communities that were most dear to him. We also believe he wanted to make a difference in the community at large by helping to promote education and legislation benefiting this population. We felt that by setting up the Owen Halpern Heritage Fund, under the administration of JF&CS, these goals could be best accomplished.”

"During his life, Owen had a wide variety of interests, and he could have given his money to numerous other worthy causes,” added his brother Rick Halpern. “Instead, reflecting his true character, he chose to give a helping hand to those who are often neglected."

The ultimate goal of the fund is to allow anyone who needs help in the LGBTQ community to benefit from the generosity and care of Owen Halpern. His heart and soul live on.

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