Why Steve Cohen, Richer Than Ever, Is Worried About Poor Kids in Harlem

Remember Steven and Alexandra Cohen?

I've written about the billionaire couple before, and about their interest in the arts, education, and health, particularly children's hospitals. We've also talked about how Steve Cohen's hedge fund, SAC Capital pleaded guilty to insider trading and was downsized to manage only Cohen's family fortune. Now that Cohen has additional bandwith, and a reputation to rebuild, more of his attention could be dedicated to philanthropy—a passion, it should be emphasized, that the Cohens embraced long before SAC's legal problems emerged.

Certainly, there is no shortage of wealth waiting in the wings. Steve Cohen is currently worth $11.4 billion, a fortune that's bigger than it was before government investigators targeted his firm—despite the fact that the firm, now called Point72, was hit with a $1.8 billion penalty for insider trading. 

Related - A Path to Redemption? The Future of Steve Cohen's Philanthropy

Like a lot of other finance guys, Cohen has been interested in education for a while now. The Cohens have been strong supporters of Achievement First, a network of charter schools in the Northeast, giving it more than $5 million between 2011 and 2012. In 2013, $3 million went to Achievement First. Cohen Foundation Executive Director Jeanne Melino also sits on the board of Achievement First. As well, smaller sums have gone to the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now (ConnCAN), Harlem Children's Zone, and Harlem RBI, a youth development organization. 

Let's talk for a moment about that last outfit, Harlem RBI, which has been supported by the Cohens for the past three years, according to a Harlem RBI release. In 2012, the outfit received $200,000, and in 2013, $100,000. The Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation recently gave $2 million to Harlem RBI and its DREAM Charter School. The gift will fund the completion of a combined gymnasium and auditorium in a building that will also serve as a new permanent home for Harlem RBI and DREAM Charter School, as well as 89 units of affordable housing in the East Harlem community. 

A key component, here, is Alexandra Cohen, whom we've talked about before. To get you up to speed, Alex Cohen was born into a working class Puerto Rican family and grew up in Washington Heights, attending Mother Cabrini High School, an all-girls Catholic school, graduating in 1982. She credits her family for instilling her with the value of education. Mother Cabrini has been supported by the foundation in the past, and at the end of 2014, Equity Project Charter School (TEP), a school also based in Washington Heights, received $3 million from the couple to support music programming.

With this latest gift, the Cohens are supporting another neighborhood with at-risk kids, East Harlem.

Related - Why Steve Cohen, Connecticut Hedge Fund Billionaire, Gives So Much In New York

It's also worth noting that an element of the gift addresses affordable housing. The Cohens have been strong supporters of Paul Tudor Jones' antipoverty giant, the Robin Hood Foundation, giving Robin Hood nearly $5 million in 2013 alone, and much more than that over the years. (A component of Robin Hood's work involves education as well.) I also mentioned that they've supported Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ), bankrolled by hedge funder Stanley Druckenmiller. HCZ is deep into community development with multitiered programs that involve education, health, and housing.

In short, the Cohens' latest gift might spell an even greater commitment not just to education reform and charter schools, but toward broader efforts to help at-risk communities.

Started in 1991, Harlem RBI has grown to serve more than 1,700 boys and girls, ages 5-22, with year-round academic, sports and enrichment programs in East Harlem and the South Bronx.

Related: Steven A. and Alexandra M. Cohen Foundation: Grants for Charter Schools