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Hagedorn Foundation to wind down operations by 2018

Sustainable Long Island board of directors president Amy

Sustainable Long Island board of directors president Amy Hagedorn started the Port Washington foundation in 2005 with $58 million left by her late husband Horace Hagedorn, founder of Miracle-Gro plant food. Beneficiaries have included more than 70 Nassau and Suffolk groups. Credit: Newsday / Ken Sawchuck

The Hagedorn Foundation, which has given more than $37 million to Long Island organizations focused on youth, immigration and civic engagement since launching nearly a decade ago, will wind down its operations and disband by 2018.

Amy Hagedorn started the Port Washington foundation in 2005 with $58 million left by her late husband Horace Hagedorn, founder of Miracle-Gro plant food. Beneficiaries have included more than 70 Nassau and Suffolk groups.

"Horace liked to say: 'You can't keep taking the good stuff out of the earth, you have to keep putting something back,' " Hagedorn, of Sands Point, said in an interview.

The foundation was created to operate for a limited time so that it could maximize the amount it could give each year, said its executive director, Darren Sandow.

The expiration originally was set for 2021, but the recession reduced the endowment's earnings, and officials moved the closing to the end of 2017, Sandow said. By then, the organization will have given out the remaining $27 million, he said.

"Ultimately, the decision came down to, 'Let's see what we can help make happen now, to make the biggest impact,' " Hagedorn said.

Aside from funding established nonprofits, the foundation started several of its own initiatives. They include the nonpartisan Long Island Civic Engagement Table, which seeks to involve voters in local issues through candidate forums, voter registration drives and educational workshops.

Following the fatal beating of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue in 2008 by a group of teens, the foundation hired Lucero's brother Joselo as outreach coordinator. He speaks at schools and community forums about the impact of bullying, hate crimes and intolerance.

"It's been a great experience getting to connect with more people on the ground," Lucero said of the outreach.

Ann Marie Thigpen, director of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership at Adelphi University, said the foundation helped focus attention on immigration and civic engagement, which had received little funding from other local philanthropists.

"There's going to be an enormous loss when Hagedorn closes its doors," Thigpen said. "The impact they've had on Long Island has been tremendous -- focusing keenly on issues no one else had addressed."

In 2012, the foundation helped broker a deal to restore nearly $8 million in Nassau County funding to youth social service agencies. County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, had cut the funding in a battle with legislative Democrats, who were refusing to approve $40 million in borrowing to help pay property tax refunds. Sandow held meetings with GOP and Democratic lawmakers aimed at reaching a compromise, and funding was restored 2013.

"They have used their enormous connections and clout to open doors that may not have been open to us," said Peter Levy, president of the Nassau County Youth Services Coalition, which represents youth social service agencies. "They used their influence to make sure things got done faster."

The foundation also helped establish the Child Care Council of Suffolk's Parent Leadership Initiative. The project provides leadership and advocacy training for 80 parents each year in Huntington, Southampton, Islip, Babylon and Brookhaven. Parents have traveled to Albany to lobby lawmakers for child care funding and set up mentoring programs in their local school districts. Several have won seats on local school boards.

Danielle Asher, program director, said Hagedorn's annual $300,000 donation is the bulk of the project's funding. The group has begun to discuss how it will replace the money.

"The Hagedorn Foundation is very special to commit to something as unique as this project," Asher said. "Hopefully, there will be other funders willing to develop that."

The foundation will host a two-day summit in May with its various organizations to begin discussing how they can sustain themselves after 2017, Sandow said.

"My philosophy is if you build something that is strong enough and that can prove results, others will start to step up to support it," Sandow said of the future of the nonprofits.


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