MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
Trent Stamp loves his job so much that he’s the first to tell you, he is exactly where he wants to be, doing exactly what he loves to do.
As the CEO of the Eisner Foundation since 2008, Stamp’s job includes giving away money to nonprofit organizations.
To be more specific, the Eisner Foundation identifies, advocates for, and invests in high-quality and innovative programs that unite multiple generations for the enrichment of communities.
Each year, the Eisner Foundation gives an estimated $7 million to nonprofit organizations based in Los Angeles County. About 80 organizations receive grants out of 1,000 requests.
“I don’t mind saying no for the opportunity to get to say yes every once in a while,” said Stamp, who lives in Hermosa Beach with his wife and two teenage children. “It’s kind of like being Santa Claus. It’s like if you came into a neighborhood and told one kid they could have a present and then you told nine kids they could not and then you left town. That’s kind of a bummer. I say no a lot. You have to have thick skin to say no.”
But when Stamp says “yes,” he said, “you empower somebody who is doing good work.”
“It’s the absolute best feeling in the world,” he said. “When we make a grant and I know that person is then going to be able to bridge that gap and provide quality programming for multiple seniors and kids at risk. What’s better than that?”
Prior to his work at the Eisner Foundation, Stamp, 51, worked in various sectors, before settling in the nonprofit arena.
“I jumped at the opportunity to work here,” he said. “I moved my family from New York to Los Angeles. I had been there for 10 years. We were living a good life, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up.”
Under Stamp’s leadership, in 2015, the Eisner Foundation became the only foundation in the U.S. investing solely in intergenerational solutions, garnering several honors and awards including Generation United’s Leadership Award.
The foundation was started in 1996 by Michael D. Eisner, then-chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, and his wife Jane in order to focus their family’s philanthropic activities.
The Eisner Foundation continues a long tradition of family philanthropy that dates back to Sigmund Eisner, Michael’s great-grandfather, and Milton Dammann, his maternal grandfather. The Sigmund Eisner Company in Red Bank, New Jersey provided all of the official uniforms for the Boy Scouts of America for decades.
That line of work helped inform and solidify Sigmund Eisner’s interests in the needs of children. Milton Dammann was the president of American Safety Razor and founded the Dammann Foundation. Almost a century later, Eisner has continued to utilize his professional success to fulfill his family’s desire to help those in society who are at risk.
The Eisner Foundation’s competitive grant making is generally confined to organizations with nonprofit status in Los Angeles County with intergenerational efforts.
Stamp explained how the foundation came up with its preferred space.
“The foundation had been around and supported youth programs and services when Eisner was running Walt Disney Company,” Stamp said. “During our work, we saw how strong it was when young and old came together and empowered each other. We shifted and did that solely. It was an opportunity to be sufficient. By investing in foster grandparents, every dollar is spent twice. We enjoy this space.”
Stamp said the criteria is that a nonprofit has to be “legitimately intergenerational.”
“It has to be embedded in the company,” he said. “They have to operate in L.A. and provide for low-income populations. We are not interested in making grants providing for those who have their own access to capital.
“We look for intergenerational programs that bring the young and old together for a mutual benefit, to bring them together in meaningful ways. This creates the multiplier effect. Not only are they benefitting from their interaction, but they are also gaining a new perception of a different generation.”
The Eisner Foundation believes intergenerational programs help combat age segregation, which they believe is detrimental to society. Without regular interaction with older or younger generations outside the family, they say ageism creates an “us-versus-them” mentality that prevents society from uniting around shared goals and an integrated community.
The foundation found that today, youth and older adults are statistically most likely to suffer social isolation and depression.
Intergenerational programs benefit not only the individuals involved, but everyone around them — families, schools and communities — and can reverse many of the social problems age segregation has created.
To Stamp, ageism is “a problem in society.”
“As intergenerational relationships are formed, we think we can break stereotypes down and get young people to share a vision with seniors,” he said.
Stamp said the media likes to “paint a picture that if you want to invest in preschools it has to come out of Social Security.”
“That is nonsense,” he said. “We can find a way to bring the two groups together to benefit each other and serve as resources for each other. We do that with our grant making. We are looking for organizations that try to create a positive impact by bringing old people and young people together for the betterment of all.”
To Stamp, bridging the gap is important.
“We need to figure how to bring socio-economics together, red states and blue states together, the races together, men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals,” he said.
Stamp said bridging the gap is important “across the board.”
“We have found that when a younger person has a positive older person in their life, whether they are related to them or not, they are four times more likely to graduate from high school,” he said.
The Eisner Foundation also found that there are seniors who would love to help young people and young people who are desperately in need of help.
“Yet we aren’t figuring how to bring those two groups together,” Stamp said.
“We do a lot of work in under-resourced communities in East L.A., South L.A., and out in the valley. I would argue that while they are under-resourced in the traditional sense, what they are not lacking is older people who want to give back. That’s a resource we are ignoring.
“If we can put those people to work for the benefit of the children in those communities we can create positive impacts for those kids. Those kids deserve every break in the world. The stakes are too high.”
Since its founding, the Eisner Foundation has undertaken several major initiatives in addition to its competitive grant making. These are innovative programs that exemplify special interests in the health, education, and well-being of children and families in Southern California.
The initiatives include the Aspen Institute’s Arts Committee, the Cal State Northridge Eisner Health, the Keewaydin camp in Vermont, Denison University, and Turnaround Arts California, a public-private partnership to bring high-quality arts education resources to the state’s lowest-performing elementary and middle schools.
Stamp is proud of the foundation’s efforts to help the under-resourced in the community.
“It’s the sole reason that I do this job,” he said. “When we are able to invest in an organization that does good work it makes everything worthwhile. It’s why I don’t work on Wall Street.
“I wanted to do good work in the community. Working at Eisner allows me to do that. It’s the greatest job in the world, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to email@example.com.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.