Founders Award

Celia Bernstein

Honoring Liberty Hill legend and donor activist Celia Bernstein, whose lifetime of philanthropy embodies the spirit of Change, Not Charity and whose exceptional generosity and social justice activism is helping realize equality and justice for all.

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Celia Bernstein is a philanthropist with a three-decade career in nonprofit development. Her introduction to philanthropy came from being raised in a real estate family steeped in the support of civil rights, politics, early childhood and Jewish causes. Her parents, both children of Russian Jewish immigrants, modeled a strong work ethic and a life of service.

Growing up in Washington, DC in the 1960’s against the backdrop of the civil rights and antiwar movements, Celia was sensitized at a young age to racial and economic injustice and inequality. She began to develop her own personal perspective on social change philanthropy first through the NorthStar Fund in New York and then later in Los Angeles, when she began to see wealth as a necessary fuel for activism. In 1988, when she met Michele Prichard, then the executive director at Liberty Hill Foundation, the organization became her primary philanthropic focus. During that time professionally, Celia was a clinical social worker in community mental health.

Deeply impacted by the Los Angeles civil unrest in 1992, Celia left her career in social work, believing strongly that a critical component of real change was to concentrate on the fundraising challenges and stresses that face social justice nonprofit organizations. While she pursued a masters in nonprofit management, she worked as the Associate Director of Development at Liberty Hill, developing and coordinating the first Donor-Advised Funds program. She then went to work as the Los Angeles Director of The Shefa Fund, organizing loans and equity grants for affordable housing and small business development. Following that, she spent more than a decade as the Director of Development for Westside Family Health Center, a community-based nonprofit that provides health care to low income and uninsured individuals and families. While at Westside, she led the capital campaign to triple the Center's capacity by moving into a much larger and better located facility. The new center opened its doors just as the Covid pandemic descended on Los Angeles.

In her role as philanthropist, Celia is currently taking a much more active role as a Director of the Diane and Norman Bernstein Foundation. After the death of their parents, she and her five siblings are engaged in strategic giving reflecting their shared values of economic and social justice. She is a proud philanthropic participant in Liberty Hill’s Donor Advised Funds community, and is an active member of the Environment + Justice Donor Circle, The X Fund Giving Circle, and Circle of Change. She is also a dedicated participant of Jobs to Move America, Solidaire Network, Portfolia Investments, Family Foundation Exchange, Friends of Westside Family Health Center and the Amalgamated Foundation. She is also a founder of IKAR, a community organization dedicated to reanimating Jewish life and developing a spiritual and moral foundation for a just and equitable society. Through all of these philanthropic endeavors, Celia has combined her passions for hard work, collaborative fundraising partnerships for social change, connecting others to social justice causes and developing life-long friendships along the way.

Celia has a Masters of Social Work from Columbia University, a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Judaism, and an undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband of 35 years, Bradley Kesden. They have a daughter Lena, a goddaughter Nicole and two crazy poodles, Peter and Gordon.