Meet the Boston Businessman Backing Innovation for People with Disabilities

photo:  belushi/shutterstock

photo:  belushi/shutterstock

Major support for people with disabilities in Boston has come from the Ruderman Family Foundation lately, especially with outspoken advocate Jay Ruderman leading the way, as we've reported. But there’s a private donor in town who’s really been stepping things up in this niche funding area, too.

Steven P. Rosenthal is best known around Boston as the founder and chairman of a real estate private equity company called West Shore LLC. But he is also an emerging philanthropist who has stormed the local giving scene in a big way. This spring the businessman and Marblehead resident gave an unprecedented $1 million gift to Northeast Arc to establish the Changing Lives Fund. The Northeast Arc describes itself as helping people with disabilities "become full participants in the community; choosing for themselves how to live, learn, work, socialize and play." The Changing Lives Fund seeks creative ways to give people with disabilities equal opportunities and access to resources. Part of the Rosenthal gift will also go back new ideas that haven’t been tried in the region yet.

“I wanted to do something different, innovative, even disruptive, in a positive sense,” Rosenthal said. “The idea was to find a way to literally change lives one at a time.”

Rosenthal also teamed up with Northeast Arc and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation to create a competition to spark innovative ideas about improving the lives of people with disabilities. The competition is called the Arc Tank, and Northeast Arc is awarding up to $200,000 for one or more ideas that stand out.

The competition is open to both individuals and groups who have outside-the-box ideas on how to make life better for individuals with intellectual disabilities and/or autism, as well as their families. Family support continues to be a significant part of Northeast Arc’s ongoing strategy. Ultimately, Rosenthal and Northeast Arc are looking for ways to help these individuals become more active and involved in their communities. But in line with Rosenthal’s mission to disrupt the system in an innovative way, references to Uber, Airbnb and Amazon are being linked to what could be possible in changing the lives of disabled adults and children.

We started this article with a reference to the Ruderman Family Foundation, and perhaps surprisingly, Rosenthal is a trustee of this Boston-based foundation, which continues to go in new directions to include people with disabilities in society. Rosenthal has been a member of the RFF board since 2005. Like Jay Ruderman, it seems that Rosenthal isn’t satisfied with awarding traditional grants to disability-focused groups. We haven’t seen a ton of competitions and crowdsourcing efforts in the disability inclusion space yet, but Arc Tank is definitely a model to watch for disability funders around the country.

Rosenthal hasn’t established a family foundation of his own that we know of. Thus far, providing lifelong support for people with disabilities seems to be the biggest priority for Rosenthal as a private donor. He also appears to have interests in supporting Jewish causes, education and community development. He has served on the boards of the Loomis Chaffee School in Connecticut, the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in the past, as well. You can learn more about Rosenthal and his background in the links below.