Acting on “a Responsibility to Care and Give Back”

When Springfield’s Eva Schocken and Kerry Dietz decided to gift their life insurance policy to the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, it marked another step in their plan to give more strategically — and with greater community impact.

It wasn’t always that way, though.

The unassuming couple credit their financial advisor, Amy Jamrog, with their planful, tax-friendly philanthropic approach to the myriad nonprofits they support.  And, they say that Jamrog has almost curbed Schocken’s penchant for impulsively donating to various causes on social media.

[L to R] Eva Schocken and Kerry Dietz of Springfield
Photo courtesy of Kerry Dietz

Schocken and Dietz are making a planned gift of life insurance to the Foundation. With the Foundation as the named beneficiary of an insurance policy paid for by the couple, the Foundation will receive a lump sum in the amount of the policy’s benefit upon their deaths.

This type of gift allows donors to plan for a much larger donation than they might have otherwise been able to give in their lifetimes. (Charitable gifts of life insurance are typically 5-10 times more than lifetime cash gifts.)

The Foundation will ultimately turn the couple’s gift into grants to local nonprofits tackling the community’s greatest needs. Because the Foundation will also invest the money over time, Dietz and Schocken’s generosity will forever benefit their neighbors across Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties.

The bequest will not be the first time the couple has given through the Foundation to benefit the region’s residents. Many local nonprofits have been on the receiving end of their generosity through Valley Gives, and the couple has donated real estate and established a donor-advised fund.

Additionally, Dietz established a donor advised fund (DAF) and a scholarship fund to benefit architecture students through her company, Dietz & Company Architects. “I saw a real need there because usually there isn’t much scholarship money for architectural students,” she said.

While Dietz and Schocken have many philanthropic interests — animal welfare, food insecurity, housing anti-discrimination, the environment, feminist publishing, inner city farms, LGBTQ rights, public radio — they give back through volunteering, too. Their service to the Community Foundation includes its Board, Education, and Philanthropic Services Committees.

The women were drawn to this area years ago. Schocken hails from New York and Dietz from Ohio. Putting down roots in Western Massachusetts became an easy decision for them.

Dietz said, “There’s a women’s community, an arts community, and it’s such an intelligent area, with all of the colleges. All in one place there’s this interesting mix of history, culture, and education — and it’s affordable.”

Both women describe growing up in “frugal” families. Schocken didn’t learn of her family’s means — or their breathtaking philanthropy — until early adulthood.

Her grandfather, a German Jewish refugee, founded a chain of department stores in Germany. In the late 1930s, recognizing that hundreds of his employees were increasingly imperiled by the antisemitic Nazi regime, he offered to pay their way out of the country.  Schocken’s father sponsored many of the employees who fled to safety in the United States.

In a nod to her family’s legacy, Schocken includes refugees and immigrants, particularly those affected by humanitarian crises, in her giving.

But she admits that local giving is especially rewarding. “I like giving to the small nonprofits; I know that even a small amount can really make a difference,” she said.

Giving philanthropically has evolved into “a huge positive in our lives,” Schocken observed, particularly because the couple can plan where to give — and how to give — together.

Dietz added, “The Jewish concept of Tzedakah is something I’ve been drawn to… It’s a responsibility to care and to give back because we are part of this whole system, this world, and this community.”