If L.A. is a city of many centers coming together, then Harold and Stephanie Bronson are quintessential Angelenos. They put their philanthropy to work in multiple centers, thoughtfully considering the impact of each of their donations, and they also craft their own initiatives to bring people and organizations together.
As Liberty Hill supporters and donor-advised account holders, their most recent innovation has been the creation of a paid internship for a UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs graduate student to work with Liberty Hill.
“Organizations and people can learn from one another and this presented a good opportunity,” says Harold. “We met Frank Gilliam, former dean of the Luskin School, at a Liberty Hill retreat. So therefore we ‘met’ the Luskin through Liberty Hill and then, kind of flipping it back, funded the internship.”
The Luskin School internship at Liberty Hill is competitive and requires an application, screening and interview. Daniel Lee, who was selected for 2014, worked all summer as Liberty Hill’s Environmental Justice Program intern, providing support for the roll-out of our new Fund for Environmental Health and Safety as well as working on the ongoing Clean Up, Green Up policy campaign. Daniel, who is working on his master’s degree in social welfare, had a number of projects. He updated our “Guide to Green” resource guide of public and private programs for businesses looking to “clean up and green up” and reduce pollution in their neighborhoods. He participated in the development of a Community Funding Board of advisors to the new fund and in connecting with grassroots organizations that are developing strategies in response to increased oil production activity in L.A. He also worked on campaign funding research.
“The vision of the internship is that it’s not someone filing papers,” explains Stephanie. “Liberty Hill can learn from these students. They have to be so qualified to get into that program.” The Bronsons followed the Luskin School under Frank Gilliam’s leadership as he elevated the school’s mission of public service. “It’s really turned into something like the Harvard Kennedy School,” Stephanie says. “They’re really attracting that caliber of student.”
Harold, who co-founded the Rhino Records label and co-ran the company with Richard Foos for 24 years, first became involved with Liberty Hill as a business owner. He and his partner created a team to implement policies that reflected their dedication to community service and they appointed one of Rhino’s reissue producers, Gary Stewart, to head up the team. As part of that mission, the company turned to Liberty Hill for strategic information on grassroots organizations to support. Harold, Richard and Gary all became individual supporters of Liberty Hill, too.
Together, Harold and Stephanie, who is a licensed psychotherapist, have been donor advised account holders at Liberty Hill for about 15 years. How do they manage their giving as a couple, when, for example, they’re making decisions about grants from their Liberty Hill account?
“I don’t think we’ve ever differed on any grant. Personality-wise we may seem different but I think in terms of giving we share the same vision,” says Stephanie.
“We allow each other to express ourselves and in this case, we express ourselves through the grants,” says Harold. And, he says, they explore different options, actively seeking recommendations from Liberty Hill staff. “One of the values you get from having a donor advised account at Liberty Hill is the recommendations. Through the years, there will be times when I am interested in a particular area and Liberty Hill will come up with information about groups to consider. A recent example is battered women’s shelters.”
There’s no official count, but anecdotally it’s said that a significant cohort of Liberty Hill donor-activists have been arrested for civil disobedience, and Stephanie is part of that group from her participation as a clinic defender in the days of “Operation Rescue” blocking access to abortion clinics. Her hands-on involvement with philanthropy more recently includes serving on the board of Teen Line, a teen-to-teen hotline at Cedars Sinai, and she has been involved in many capacities through the years with PAWS/LA, an organization that helps pet owners keep their pets when going through difficult medical crises or even homelessness.
The Bronsons are also longtime and stalwart Planned Parenthood supporters. They back not only that group’s health service work but also its political work. “It’s important not just to give,” says Harold, “But to know about the organization, how effective it is.”
It’s no surprise to hear that Harold and Stephanie have also participated in fact-finding van tours to get firsthand knowledge of the work of Liberty Hill grantees. When Stephanie talks about one environmental justice tour, she homes in on what it means to be a part of the Liberty Hill donor-activist base.
“In Wilmington, we got out and walked down this one street and there were these beautifully kept homes with porches and wind chimes. There were these beautiful families and their beautiful pets— and it was all against this huge backdrop, this tower of shame, a refinery or whatever it was, burning gas when it shouldn’t be. It was like a science fiction movie. This is one of the things going on in L.A. that we wouldn’t have known about without Liberty Hill.
“Liberty Hill is out there finding people that represent the underrepresented in our city.”
And the Bronsons are out there, interested in the many moving parts in L.A. and beyond, and making connections between people and organizations to help make social change happen.