Skillman Resident Donates $500k of Invested Holocaust Reparations to HomeFront
By Anna Reinalda | February 24, 2022
Marian Stuart, PhD, of Skillman recently donated $500,000 to HomeFront, a local nonprofit that is dedicated to helping homeless families. “This incredible gift helps us meet the $5 million milestone we needed in order to secure our future,” HomeFront CEO and Founder Connie Mercer said in a press release.
Stuart was born in Germany in 1930. She and her family were forced to flee when she was four years old, as Nazi forces began to take hold of the country. “My mother swooped in and moved us to Switzerland for a year, then back to Germany,” Stuart remembered. She was then living with her grandmother and great-grandfather, along with a non-Jewish nanny.
On Kristallnacht, the horrific night when Nazis destroyed hundreds of Jewish synagogues, businesses, and residences, Stuart’s grandmother put her on a train and sent her to Denmark. Her grandmother went to Sweden, and the two never saw each other again. From Denmark, where Stuart was staying with her aunt, she was sent to England in the care of a man she did not know. The man spoke mostly Danish, while Stuart spoke mostly German. The pair shared limited English. At eight years old, Stuart reconnected with her mother in England, and they eventually moved to Manhattan. Now 91 years old, she lives in Skillman with her husband.
Influenced by her tumultuous childhood, Stuart has committed her career as a psychologist to helping others find stability within shifting or precarious circumstances. “I’ve managed to save most of my income and invest it,” Stuart said. “It’s important to find useful things to do with money that makes a difference, so I was delighted to find HomeFront.” Stuart said the money for this donation grew from reparations paid by Germany to Holocaust survivors. “I invested some of that money in a small, struggling tech company called Apple,” Stuart said in a press release. “The stock promptly went down, and my sister said that it would never amount to anything. Nevertheless, I held on.”
Homefront Suki Wasserman, a Community Engagement Coordinator for HomeFront, spoke to The Montgomery News about Stuart’s gift. “It is one of our biggest donations,” Wasserman said. “Marian Stuart has dedicated her whole life to changing the lives of people.” Although Wasserman officially joined the HomeFront team three years ago, her involvement with the organization spans two decades, starting with her family’s volunteering debut at a HomeFront Halloween party. “Once I saw it with my own eyes, I knew it was a place I wanted to be,” she said. “I adore the work that HomeFront does.”
Operating 36 programs in central New Jersey, Homefront primarily serves families, women, and the medically vulnerable. “There are occasions that we help people not in those categories, usually because help is not available elsewhere,” Wasserman said. “We do touch families even if we’re only working with individuals.”
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At HomeFront’s Family Campus, the organization provides housing, child care, a dining facility, and even employment training. About 38 families are currently served at the family campus, which is located at an undisclosed location for family members safety. “We’re providing all of the tools a family will need to get back on their feet,” she said. HomeFront also facilitates two food pantries and a free store in Trenton, in order to serve community members in need.
Emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, Stuart’s donation will be of great help to the organization. “[The pandemic] has been difficult, but we think the real pain still is ahead of us,” Wasserman said. In addition to the increased number of people applying for HomeFront programs during COVID, many programs have had to be restructured for safety protocols. Although the past two years have been challenging, Wasserman remains optimistic, which she attributes to the many success stories the organization sees every day. Wasserman said some of the people who seek aid from HomeFront’s programs are so touched by the nonprofit’s work that they return to seek employment there. “There’s a woman who works in our cafeteria who came through our Higher Expectations program,” Wasserman said. “She always says, ‘I’m not just serving meals – I’m providing a smile, support, and comfort.’ Her heart is really in it.”
Those success stories that Wasserman has found so uplifting during her time at HomeFront are the same stories that helped Stuart decide to make her generous gift. “Connie Mercer invited us to a gathering they had for people who were donors, and that’s when I heard the stories of some of the people they’ve helped, and the results they’ve had,” she said. “I was just blown away. It’s not just giving people money and food, but teaching people life skills so they can get on their feet and become self-supporting citizens.” That gathering was where Stuart learned that HomeFront was working toward an endowment of $5 million to keep the organization running. They were exactly $500,000 away from their goal. “They’ve been working so hard to get this endowment,” Stuart said.
In the future, Stuart says she hopes that her financial support to HomeFront will help the organization to extend its reach. “Take this model and export it,” she said. “In the long run, it would take much less money to constructively help people … than to jail people.” Both drawing on her own experiences, and the experiences of her clients, Stuart described a deep empathy with the people who turn to HomeFront for help. “As a therapist, I’m aware of the terrible impact that poor conditions in childhood can have in terms of lifetime effects of preventing people from reaching their potential,” she said in a press release. “We’re all connected. It’s doing something for all of us when we bring some of these people to a place where they are aware of their self-worth and are able to achieve their potential.”
Learn more about HomeFront at homefrontnj.org.