Goldman Sachs president and chief operating officer Gary Cohn will be honored tonight at Harlem RBI and DREAM Charter School's annual "Bid for Kids" gala at Cipriani on 42nd Street in Manhattan.
Harlem RBI is a non-profit that began with an abandoned lot that was turned into a baseball field for 75 teenage boys 22 years ago.
Since then, Harlem RBI has leveraged the enthusiasm around the sport and turned it into a comprehensive youth and education program serving 1,500 kids in East Harlem.
Just as the non-profit's name suggests, all of the kids play baseball and softball. In order to play, they have to be involved in year-round off-the-field academic, life skill, job skill and college readiness programs, Harlem RBI's executive director Rich Berlin explained. In addition, Harlem RBI also runs a charter school, which is an extended day, extended year charter school model.
Goldman's Cohn has been a supporter of Harlem RBI since 2011. We spoke with Cohn and Harlem RBI's Berlin over the phone earlier today ahead of this evening's festivities.
Cohn, who resides in Manhattan's Upper East Side, told us that Harlem RBI is something that is "very near and dear to his heart."
"You think of the environment that my kids have grown up versus where kids 30 blocks from me live, it's just an unfair world. And I see it every day living in New York City and understand the value of education, understand the value of teamwork, understand the value of camaraderie. And seeing this 30 blocks from my house, it felt like I had to get involved in it and these kids they deserve every break they can get. It's not their fault that they were born on 104th Street versus 75th Street. Anything we can do, we should do."
Cohn's involvement began a few years ago when Harlem RBI was given the opportunity to build their own charter school. That's when New York Yankees player Mark Teixeira and Berlin came to see him to raise capital.
The way the charter school system in New York works is through public-private partnerships. Harlem RBI had to come up with $20 million of equity capital and then the city would give them the remaining money, which was about $65 million.
"The cause is one that is near and dear to my heart, but what really got me was the passion that Mark and Rich had about their project," Cohn said.
He visited Harlem to see the non-profit's facilities and after spending more and more time there he said he "sort of got swept in."
"Gary is being a little modest because in addition to making his own gift—his condition of making his personal gift was that he would have the opportunity to help us raise more dollars for that capital campaign," Berlin added.
Harlem RBI is a popular non-profit to support in the financial community.
Other big names in the industry who will be present this evening include Blackstone's David Blitzer, Highbridge Capital's CEO Todd Builione, Goldman's Head of Americas FICC Sales Thomas Cornacchia, Goldman's Global Co-head of the Investment Management Division Eric Lane, Blackstone's Senior Managing Director of Private Equity Vik Sawhney, Goldman Managing Director Donald Truesdale and Goldman's David Solomon.
Goldman has over $400 million invested in Harlem in a variety of different projects, Cohn told us. "But the education one is near and dear to a lot of the partners here," he added.
This is also Harlem RBI's biggest fundraiser for the year.
The organizational budget for Harlem RBI is close to $20 million. Historically, the event has brought in anywhere between $1.5 to $2 million.
"Tonight, with Gary's leadership we expect to break the $4 million mark," Berlin said.
Cohn sees his involvement with the organization as a low-risk/high-yield investment.
Just look at the numbers...
One-hundred percent of the Harlem RBI 2013 senior class graduated and 97% of them were accepted to college. That's in a district where only 42% of students finish high school and 10% of adults have a high school diploma.
"Like everything at Goldman Sachs, we measure results," he said.
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