Robert Berkovitz began working with Reena back in 1978 at their basement office on Finch Avenue as an accountant, later leaving the accounting business and returning to Reena to join the Board of Directors, eventually becoming Board Chair. Back then, Robert remembers Reena as a small organization with a devoted, but inexperienced Board.
Robert suggested to Sandy Keshen that the Board create a Finance Committee to provide financial analysis, advice and oversight of Reena’s budget. Their sole responsibility to ensure the organization operated with the financial resources to provide the programs and services to the community in need. Sandy proceeded to recruit Robert, Harold Wodinksy, Harley Mintz and Hy Eiley, each of whom would later Chair the Reena Board.
“Let us be the ones who take on the challenges,” Robert told Sandy and he recommended the board hire a finance person who turned out to be Sol Fleising, “which turned out to be one of the great blessings of Reena. When the board stopped acting as management and Sandy (Keshen) started having a management team, that was the beginning of the change of Reena from this little start up, charitable organization to the organization that it is today, and it allowed Sandy to really flourish as the president of that organization.”
As board chair, Robert was involved in the emotional decision to close Camp Reena. In 1994 a generous donation had come to Reena from the Battle Family bequest. The dream of a day centre was on the cusp of becoming a reality, but the bequest wouldn’t be enough. Financing of the centre would come at the cost of selling Camp Reena. “So, I felt we had to do a few things,” says Robert, “Sandy always loved Camp Reena, but it was bleeding money, so we ended up selling camp.” In fact, financing of the centre split the Board 50/50 on selling camp and on building the battle centre. Robert, it turned out, was the deciding vote. “I am very proud of what they built…. on budget. I can’t imagine to this day what Reena would be like without the Battle Centre,” says Robert recalling the ground-breaking and ribbon cutting as a very special memory for him.
“Another high point for me was at a gala dinner…. I wanted to tell this story about a young lady who had been partially institutionalized and had a terrible upbringing. We finally got her into an apartment on her own. I didn’t realize she was at the dinner and after the speech she approached me and said, ‘that was my story you were telling, weren’t you’ and she gave me a big, big hug and thanked me. People around started crying.”
“Reena was formative for me,” says Robert, “I went on to support the Easter Seals society.” Robert describes Reena as being visionary and ahead of the curve in terms of who it recognizes as needing assistance. “There are people in this society that need to be fought for, he says, “Reena has always done that, so I hope they continue to keep up the good work.”