Behind A Big Gift In Children's Health By A Family That Has Supported Kids For Years

Brown University recently matched a $12.5 million gift from the family of Alan Hassenfeld to create the Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute. The institute aims to make a "transformative impact on the health of children, including targeting autism, asthma, obesity, and other urgent problems affecting the health of children."

One initial focus of the new institute will be on asthma research. Just beyond Brown's gates in Greater Providence, more than a quarter of children in some schools have asthma. Another initial focus will be on autism, and "researchers will build on the work of the Rhode Island Consortium for Autism Research and Treatment, which has developed a registry of more than 700 families affected by autism spectrum disorders."

The Hassenfeld family is no stranger to child advocacy, which makes sense considering that they're behind toy-making giant Hasbro, Inc. Alan Hassenfeld served as chairman and CEO of Hasbro, Inc. for years. The Rhode Island-based family created Hasbro Children's Hospital in 1994, which has a partnership with Brown University's Alpert Medical School. In 2011, meanwhile, a large $50 million gift went toward a pediatric hospital at NYU Langone Medical Center. Recent philanthropy out of the Hassenfeld Foundation has involved a number of health and education outfits such as Brandeis University, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Johns Hopkins University.

While Hassenfeld attended University of Pennsylvania, several Hassenfeld family members attended Brown.  In addition, Alan Hassenfeld has served in numerous leadership roles at Brown, including as member of the Advisory Council on Biology and Medicine, and the Medical School Board of Overseers.

One element of this story that stands out is Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute's leadership. One member of the executive committee is Phyllis Dennery, chair of Brown’s pediatrics department and pediatrician-in-chief at Hasbro hospital. Through the years, the Hassenfeld family and Dennery have discussed an interest in supporting children's health in Rhode Island, and tackling certain epidemics, including autism, obesity and asthma — some of the very issues that the new institute will tackle. 

We often talk about a prominent researcher or innovative research that ends up motivating a donor to give big toward a health cause. The relationship that the Hassenfeld family fostered with Dennery and her high-level role at Hasbro Children's Hospital plays an important role here.

The Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute aims to foster collaboration, bringing together Brown University, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, and Women & Infants Hospital. As Hassenfeld puts it: "My greatest hope is that when we look back 10, 20, 30 years, we will have created global solutions to alleviate some of these child health conditions... I know we can't remove them, but at least we can put the dolloars behind research that will develop innovative approaches that help us truly move the needle in significant ways."