A Chicago Financier With An Interest In Learning Disabilities

The Eugene & Janet Lerner Family Foundation was established in the early 1990s by financier Eugene Lerner and his late wife, Janet. Lerner founded Disciplined Investment Advisors, worked for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and in 2012, at the young age of 83, joined Hightower as managing director and partner.

The family's philanthropy through their foundation has been varied, including support of the local Chicago area community, Jewish causes, the environment and more. In a recent year, the foundation gave a little under $925,000. The family has also steadily supported select organizations that deal with learning disabilities in children and adults.

Lerner's interest in this area is personal. Much like Eugene Lerner has been active in the finance world for decades, the late Janet W. Lerner was active as an educator and pioneer in the field of learning disabilities. In 1971, she published Children with learning disabilities: Theories, diagnosis, and teaching strategies, which emerged as a seminal textbook in the field. Armed with three degrees including a doctor of philosophy from NYU, Janet taught at multiple grade levels in both general and special education, with a particualar interest in helping children with reading problems.  

Janet spent most of her career at Northeastern Illinois University, where she served as professor and chaired the Department of Special Education beginning in the early 1970s. When she passed away last year at 88 years old, she was working with the Professional Assistance Center for Education (PACE) for Young Adults with Multiple Learning Disabilities at National Louis University.

Through the years, the foundation's grantmaking has reflected this personal cause. Grantees have included NADD, a "nonprofit membership association established for professionals, care providers and families to promote understanding of and services for individuals who have developmental disabilities and mental health needs"; Misericordia, home to over 600 children and adults with developmental and physical disabilities; and Blue Cap, an "organization that is "dedicated to serving infants, children and adults with developmental disabilities."

It's tough to tell what effect, if any, Janet's passing will have on this area of philanthropy. As one example, though, fellow financier Herb Sander has continued the personal work that he and his late wife, Marion, started in asthma research.