By Matt Robinson/JNS.org
As chair of The Judy Fund, film producer Elizabeth Gelfand Stearns channels Jewish values and personal experience in her work to motivate action in support of people dealing with Alzheimer’s disease.
Founded in 2003, The Judy Fund is the fastest-growing private fund in the history of the Alzheimer’s Association, and has raised and granted more than $6 million to support Alzheimer’s research and public policy initiatives. The fund is named after Stearns’s mother Judy, a recipient of American Friends of Hebrew University’s Scopus Award, who had Alzheimer’s and died at age 70.
“I was raised in a family that valued and modeled philanthropy,” Stearns told JNS.org. “Both my mother and father made giving a priority, thus my siblings and I had great role models exemplifying the core concepts of tikkun olam (repairing the world). The Judy Fund is a fine example of the impact that one family can have on millions to help repair the world.”
A former senior vice president of strategic marketing at Universal Pictures, Stearns was the co-producer of “Still Alice,” which earned Julianne Moore the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of a linguistics professor diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. “Still Alice” has been an important conversation starter for Stearns’s organization and for the Alzheimer’s community in general. Stearns has also collaborated with Emmy Award-winning producer and fellow Alzheimer’s advocate Maria Shriver on the “A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s” project.
In addition to her film industry accolades, Stearns was named by Newsweek and Advertising Age as a member of “The Marketing 100,” placing her among those publications’ assessment of the top 100 individuals in that field. She discusses The Judy Fund in the following interview:
JNS: How do you define your venture?
Elizabeth Gelfand Stearns: “The Judy Fund is the largest and fastest-growing family fund at the national Alzheimer’s Association. We raise and grant funds that support Alzheimer’s disease research, care and public policy efforts, all in support of our shared vision—a world without Alzheimer’s disease.”
JNS: What gave you the idea?
Stearns: “I lost my mother and my grandmother to Alzheimer’s disease, both in their 70s. My mother, Judy, was diagnosed at 62, and died just before her 71st birthday. We established The Judy Fund at the Alzheimer’s Association in 2003 and have raised and granted over $6 million from over 2,000 donors nationwide.”
JNS: Who is your customer base or demographic?
Stearns: “We speak to thousands of donors nationwide. We engage baby boomer women with programs like Mind&Heart, a Judy Fund series we developed to educate and engage women on the vascular connection between heart and brain health. We speak to millennials on college campuses nationwide, as The Judy Fund is the charity of choice for the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. My father Marshall Gelfand was a Sammy [fraternity member] at Syracuse [University]; my nephew, Brian Gelfand, was a Sammy at the University of Pennsylvania; and my son, Greg Stearns, was a Sammy at the University of Michigan. Sammy chapters and alumni nationwide raised over $132,000 this past year for The Judy Fund.”
JNS: How do you hope to fit into the market?
Stearns: “We will continue to engage consumers by educating them about the realities of Alzheimer’s disease. The median age of the disease is 72 years old; women are disproportionally impacted by the disease, as two-thirds of people over the age of 65 who get the disease are women; and finally, Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th-leading cause of death in the U.S., but the only disease in the top 10 causes of death with no disease-modifying drugs or a cure. Education and engagement is key and that’s what we do at The Judy Fund.”
JNS: What do you need most to succeed?
Stearns: “Engaging people to donate to The Judy Fund so we can reach the United States government's goal of a disease modifying drugs or a cure by 2025.”
Matt Robinson has been writing for and about entrepreneurs for more than 20 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.