Sheila (Miller) Lampert started her career on Bay Street as an Asset Manager before moving to the not-for-profit sector and was the Director of Development at Robbins Hebrew Academy for 9 years. In 2015, Sheila was looking for her next role. She began interviewing with Reena but was unsure it was the right fit for her. “I had my second interview at the Sandy Keshen Reena Residence, and when I arrived one of the residents, named Daniel recognized me from the community. He got down on one knee and said, “I know you!” He took my hand, kissed it, and my heart melted.” Sheila started her new role as Executive Director of the Reena Foundation in September 2015.
Reena Foundation had been without an Executive Director for about a year before Sheila arrived which created some challenges. “Although the organization was doing incredible work, that didn’t seem to be communicated out in the community,” says Sheila. “I found that when I would speak to people about Reena, they would remember having attended a Family Fun Day 25 years ago but didn’t know much about Reena’s current initiatives or achievements. Her goals? To raise funds for Reena’s greatest needs, including housing, programming and transportation.
Sheila began by reviewing Reena’s list of annual events and worked with lay leaders and staff to improve upon and expand them. One example is the Striking for Reena bowling event, which was started by past Reena Foundation Chair, Steven Justein along with his sister Elaine, many years ago. On May 28th,2023, the eleventh annual event took place and smashed all previous fundraising records, raising more than $392,000! Other events include Exceptional Ability Galas honouring former Chief of Police, Mark Sanders and Premier Doug Ford.
One of Sheila’s most memorable moments came in 2018 when the Miriam and Larry Robbins Foundation donated $1.8 million. Reena had the opportunity to buy a group home from another charity. The charity was under pressure to sell quickly, and Reena needed to raise the funds without delay. Sheila met with Monty Robbins who agreed to make the donation, however, he wanted to make the occasion memorable. Knowing that Sheila will go to great lengths to secure a donation, he asked her to arrange for Toronto Maple Leaf’s, Mitch Marner, to be there when he signed the pledge agreement. Sheila was able to deliver, Mitch generously posed for pictures and autographed jerseys and the Robbins Family group home for vulnerable women opened in 2019. In addition to creating a beautifully designed living space for 7 women with developmental disabilities, the donation covered the cost of a van to transport them to programs, shopping and medical appointments. “We received a beautiful letter from a mother whose daughter was moving into the home. She said that she felt like her family had won the lottery. That was a defining moment for me that helped me truly understood Reena’s impact and the importance of our work in the community.”
According to Sheila, the support of the Robbins Foundation raised Reena Foundation’s profile and paved the way for other leadership donations. The 2019 donation of $5.4 million by Betsy Fruitman z’l was another new record set for Foundations fundraising efforts. The Lou Fruitman Reena Residence, named in memory of Reena’s first Treasurer and President, opened in 2021 and has become home to 138 individuals with diverse needs. More recently the Frankfort Family made another record setting pledge for Reena Foundation – $6 million dollars! The Frankfort Family Reena Residence is Reena’s largest and most ambitious residential project to date. Projected to open in 2025, it will become home to over 160 people with developmental disabilities, mental health challenges, physical and other disabilities. Sheila continues to work with donors securing funding for Reena’s many needs including an expansion of respite programs, new group homes and ongoing outreach and employment programs. “Fundraising is about relationships,” says Sheila, “It’s easy to form relationships at Reena because we are a giant family. I am so grateful to our many generous donors who are part of our big extended family.”