TITLE: Program Director, Type 1 Diabetes Program
FUNDING AREAS: Diabetes
IP TAKE: This clinical psychologist/non-profit exec wants children to live free from unnecessary complications associated with Type 1 Diabetes. He presides over more than $90 million in grants to help make that happen.
PROFILE: On Twitter, Eliot Brenner quoted Bill Clinton as saying, "Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all." A clinical psychologist by training (with a Ph.D. to prove it), Brenner cares about mental health and other forms of wellness. As a longtime non-profit executive, he is experienced in creating positive change within communities. Brenner combines his interests in health and organizing at the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, where he directs the foundation's Type 1 Diabetes portfolio.
You'll recall The Helmsley Charitable Trust from such high-profile legal disputes as The Time a Wealthy Hotelier Tried to Donate Billions of Dollars to Dogs. Despite the tabloid headlines it has attracted, The Helmsley Trust's actual work is anything but trivial. The foundation has assets of more than $4 billion, which it spends on health and medical research, human services, education, conservation, and the security and development of Israel. As part of its health operations, The Helmsley Trust places high priority on its Type 1 Diabetes program, which currently consists of about $90 million in active grants.
What kinds of diabetes projects does Helmsley fund? Recent grants include: $1.2 million in outreach funding to JDRF, which reports that it is the "largest charitable supporter of T1D research"; $200,000 to the University of California, San Diego for type 1 diabetes research; and $20,000 to the Joslin Diabetes Center to help this research organization with a symposium on challenges and opportunities in T1D research.
One of Helmsley's larger, longer-term projects: sending diabetic kids to camp. Helmsley also announced it would spend $3.9 million on 29 summer camps, just for children (and counselors) with Type 1 Diabetes. In particular, Brenner and his team are interested in getting underprivileged kids to attend these camps. The idea behind the project is that children have access to onsite medical teams (including nurses and doctors) who can help them learn about their disease in a hands-on, age-appropriate way. (Kids often don't get adequate disease management skills from sterile, infrequent medical visits.) Additionally, at camp kids can bond with other children who are dealing with the same health issues, forging personal bonds and health-related alliances intended to last well beyond the beginning of the next school year. The Helmsley Trust's money will help some 7,800 campers get much-needed services (and ones that are actually fun!), but with 2 million Americans living with T1D, the $3.9 million project is small in comparison to the scope of work that needs to be done.
And what of Brenner, you ask? Is there anything additional you should know before convincing him to fund your latest project on continuous glucose monitoring? Well, first, he's active on Twitter (see below), which is a great way to see what he's thinking. His interests (per a rundown of recent tweets): mental health, health, foundations, child welfare, and... other things related to health. No football tweets or instagrammed meals for this guy, it seems. He's very serious. Also, Brenner is a practicing psychologist in Connecticut, so he's never really left his first love of clinical psychology behind, even as he directs tens of millions of dollars in grant money at Helmsley. And finally, Brenner is on Pinterest, where we learn that in addition to "social work" and "adoption and foster care," he likes Kurt Kobain, Frank Zappa, and Bob Dylan.