By Gabrielle Fimbres –
Virtually every day, Helaine Levy hears from Tucsonans about the impact of her family’s philanthropy.
A sick child could not be successfully treated until he was correctly diagnosed at the University of Arizona Medical Center Diamond Children’s. Her daughter’s friend is undergoing treatment for leukemia from the caring team at Diamond Children’s. The UA Steele Children’s Research Center makes another medical breakthrough. Programs at the Tucson Jewish Community Center support wellness.
As executive director of Diamond Family Philanthropies, Levy is devoted to empowering the city that she grew up in.
For her efforts, Levy is the Greater Tucson Leadership 2014 Woman of the Year. She will be honored Feb. 7 at the 62nd Annual Man and Woman of the Year and Founders Award Gala at Loews Ventana Canyon.
“It was easy growing up in Tucson,” Levy said. “You had the support system of people that you knew who knew you. My parents always modeled philanthropy, and they feel very strongly about giving back to the community that enabled them to be successful.”
She was just 6 when her parents, Donald and Joan Diamond, relocated the family from New York. The Diamonds met as UA students in 1947, and moved to Long Island, where Donald was a commodities dealer.
Joan yearned to raise daughters Jennifer, Deanne and Helaine in Tucson, where she and her husband had many friends and where the weather would help Deanne, who had asthma. She died from the disease at age 13.
Levy attended Robison Elementary, Mansfeld Junior High and Tucson High schools, and “grew up” at the Tucson J. “I am still friends with many childhood friends. I really love that.”
She graduated from Boston University’s School of Public Communications, but her heart was in Tucson. Here, Levy has helped lead Old Tucson, which is owned in part by her family, and became executive director of Diamond Family Philanthropies in 1998. She has served as director of community relations for Diamond Ventures since 2000.
Levy raised her three children here. Nathan is an MBA student at Boston University. Carly recently graduated from the UA Eller College of Management and is starting work with the Phoenix Suns. Gabby is a senior at The Gregory School and is making her college decision.
“On any given day on my desk I have work to do for Diamond Ventures, Diamond Family Philanthropies, Old Tucson, my own volunteer work, college applications – any mom is like that,” Levy said.
She is proud of the accomplishments of her family’s philanthropy, which took a significant leap forward with a $15 million gift to Diamond Children’s, helping to make the pediatric medical center a reality in 2010.
The family had long been supporters of the UA and Steele Children’s Research Center, and the impetus for the gift came in part following a conversation Levy had with longtime family friend Mel Zuckerman, founder of Canyon Ranch.
Zuckerman told her he was “having a difference of the meeting of the minds” with his longtime friend, Donald Diamond, a real estate developer. Zuckerman was leaving his legacy through charitable giving in his lifetime, while Diamond planned on making a legacy gift – like Diamond Children’s – after his death.
“Mel told me that he saw a lot of merit in making a difference now, during my parents’ lifetime, and that really resonated with me,” Levy said. She wanted her parents to experience the joy of seeing their legacy gifts come to fruition – which happens daily through Diamond Children’s.
Among her accomplishments, Levy helped create Social Venture Partners and the Nonprofit Loan Fund of Tucson and Southern Arizona, which is designed to strengthen the financial capacity of nonprofits.
Through her professional relationship with Steve Alley, who was then CEO of Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, Social Venture Partners was created.
The organization encourages philanthropists to pool resources – financial and time – to make an impact in the community.
“Steve and I like to say we put the social in Social Venture Partners,” said Levy. The two have been married more than four years.
Levy was nominated Woman of the Year by Jim Moore, president and CEO of the University of Arizona Foundation.
“As someone who embodies the highest level of integrity, Helaine elevates any organization or project with which she is associated,” Moore said.
Dr. Fayez K. Ghishan, director of Steele Children’s Research Center, physician-in-chief at Diamond Children’s, head of the UA Department of Pediatrics and the Horace W. Steele Endowed Chair in Pediatric Research, said Levy’s work “is unparalleled.”
She hopes to see Tucson move from a fragmented community to one where government, business and the social sector work collectively.
“In the healthiest communities, there is a seat for everybody at the table. That’s my goal.”