The Biggest Philanthropist You’ve Never Heard Of
Adrienne Arsht learned to give while growing up in Wilmington. She may call a triumvirate of large Eastern cities her home now—if the relentless traveler can be said to have a home at all—but she can never leave Delaware behind.
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“It’s my job to be out there and learn as much as I can about the organizations that are requesting funding,” Cannon says. “We’re looking for a good fit that’s a connection between the current needs of the state and her compassion for the needs of others.”
Though Arsht isn’t in Delaware on a constant basis, she is in constant touch.
“She has this hope and this dream, as I do, that what we do in Delaware can be a model for other places,” says Cannon.
Leslie Kosek, state director for Best Buddies Delaware, has known Arsht since the program started in June 2008. Arsht became involved with Best Buddies, based in Miami, through Eunice and Anthony Shriver. Arsht wanted to bring Best Buddies to Delaware, so she donated $750,000 over three years to get it started.
“One of the things that resonates with me is that she doesn’t just fund you and say, ‘Go run the program.’ She says, ‘I want you and your staff to garner support from the Delaware community and get other funders to step up,’” Kosek says.
“It’s, ‘Here’s how I want you to grow for the future,’ and she made phone calls and introduced us to other foundations and philanthropists who are interested in our cause.”
The program has certainly been growing. It started with 600 participants. It ended with more than 4,000, hitting its three-year goal in 18 months throughout 21 schools.
The schmoozing, the traveling, the homes, the orchid—it sounds great to be Adrienne Arsht. And mostly it is.
But there have been hard times as well. When her sister committed suicide in 1973, Arsht hadn’t realized how it devastated her parents. In Alison Arsht’s name, the family established an award for someone who shows “quiet leadership in the right direction,” a phrase that describes her sister perfectly, Arsht says.
Her sister had been a foreign service officer in 1969 when she was arrested in Russia by the KGB and held overnight.
“That devastating experience just kicked off a depression,” says Arsht. “It’s interesting how countries can be friends and allies and enemies."
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