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2017 Donation Letter and Update

March 14, 2018

Dear [ ],

I write to you today with a heart full of gratitude…and of hope. First, please accept my thanks, on behalf of the board of the Matthew Harris Ornstein Memorial Foundation (my husband Norm, our son Danny and my sister Pam) for your donation of [Amount] received on [Date]. The MHO Memorial Foundation (federal tax ID #47-4562303) is a tax-exempt organization, as described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. In accordance with IRS requirements, this letter confirms that you have received no goods or services in exchange for your donation.

We know that a large part of the motivation for your contribution was your desire to support us, Matthew’s family, and your desire to honor our magnificent son, brother and nephew. It is the importance of our mission, though, the value of our programs and our successes that, we hope, will be what convince you to stick with us on our journey. To that end, allow me to update you about some of our 2017 activities and about what we are working on now.

First, the Matthew H. Ornstein Washington Summer Debate Institute, a free summer policy debate camp made possible through a partnership with the Washington Urban Debate League (WUDL), continues to grow and to thrive. From its modest beginnings in the summer of 2015, with about 39 high school students from 11 local public schools, the Institute this past summer, in its third season, served 91 students from 31 schools. In partnership with WUDL, we were also able to expand the Institute from one to two weeks and add a novice program for middle school students. I wish you could have seen the rising 6th graders, after just a few days of instruction, debating federal education policy…the nationally established topic for 2017-18.

The Institute, or “camp,” as we like to think of it, was held this past August at the Brookings Institution, and the closing tournament and awards ceremony were at Trinity Washington University, with remarks by the University’s President, among others, and the awarding of trophies, culminating with presentation of the Matthew H. Ornstein award. That highest honor is given each year by Matthew’s beloved high school debate coach to the student who best exemplifies Matthew’s qualities of kindness, teamwork, sportsmanship, competitive excellence, hard work, and passion for debate.

The auditorium at Trinity on the last day of camp was packed with multi-generation family members and friends, brimming with pride in the students and their accomplishments. The day ended with a banquet for our fabulous coaches and staff, who had come from across the country to participate in the Institute. It was a wonderful way to approach the start of a new school year and what a year it’s been so far!

Our “debate partner,” WUDL, was founded by several former debaters in 2014 and began programming in 2015, with the inaugural Summer Debate Institute. Following the Institute’s unbridled success, WUDL, with a paid staff of one and a devoted group of volunteers, worked with teachers and students to establish debate programs at schools across the region and hosted all day tournaments on multiple Saturdays to provide competitive outlets for interested students. During that first academic season, 126 young debaters from 7 schools participated in the program.

Those numbers steadily grew over the next three years until, so far this year, 398 students from 38 schools have participated in debate activities and WUDL estimates that number will reach 450 by June. Weekend tournaments routinely attract 250 students and it’s hard to explain the excitement they generate. If you’re in the area, come see for yourself! Go to to view pictures, to check dates of future events and to learn more about WUDL.

And if you have any doubt regarding the lifelong value of debate programs, take a look at this recent article from the Miami Herald ( about how all public schools in Broward County offer debate as a class. Many of the Parkland kids, who have been so articulate and self-assured in their advocacy following the tragedy in their school, took that class, as well as became active members the school’s debate team.

As you know, the MHO Memorial Foundation has a dual mission. In addition to debate, we also focus on issues related to serious mental illness (SMI). This is a much more daunting, much more frustrating aspect of our work, but its importance cannot be overstated. The recent shooting in Parkland has yet again shone a bright light on the generally taboo subject of SMI and, given our tendency as a nation to over-simplify and to vilify, rather than to look long, hard and inward to find nuanced solutions, the temptation is to scapegoat…in this case, those with mental illnesses. Put their names on a list. Ban them from purchasing guns. Make it easier to lock them up. But what about TREATMENT? See Norm’s recent NYT Op-Ed (

We lost Matthew to the ravages of untreated mental illness. We know the pain of having nowhere to turn, regardless of financial resources, good health insurance, powerful friends, a modicum of intelligence and a whole lot of love. Towards the end of our journey, I found myself actually praying that our wonderful, kind, never violent, never “bad” son would commit a crime in the hope that he would be arrested and find help in, sadly, the country’s most accessible “treatment” facilities: its prisons and jails.

But, as Norm would point out, my fantasy was contingent upon Matthew being arrested (not killed) by an officer who had special training in dealing with mental illness, in a jurisdiction where the laws favored treatment over punishment or simply negligence, where there was even a small bit of real help for inmate victims of SMI and where the judges, prosecutors and public defenders were all genuinely motivated to get the homeless and the helpless the care they needed.

Enter: Judge Steven Leifman, a Miami-Dade County Court judge who has spent the past 17 years working tirelessly to reform laws relating to, and treatment of, those who endlessly cycle through the criminal justice system simply because they suffer from a serious mental illness. In the past couple years, in addition to traveling the country training others and proselytizing about the success of his programs in South Florida, Judge Leifman has taken a decaying facility which formerly warehoused prisoners who were too unfit to stand trial and is converting it into a first- in- the-country, stand-alone treatment center for those with mental illnesses, especially those who have run afoul of the criminal justice system and would otherwise end up behind bars or on the streets. Instead of cycling in and out of jail, individuals who qualify will soon be housed, treated and taught to manage their illnesses and their lives.

Matthew never made it to Judge Leifman’s courtroom, but we believe that – if he had – his life might have been spared. Last year, Judge Leifman gave the first annual Matthew Harris Ornstein Memorial Lecture at the Everett House in Chautauqua, New York. No one left the room the same after hearing him. Also last year, the MHO Memorial Foundation began raising money for a film about Judge Leifman. The Judge’s success has been uniformly acclaimed and we wanted to find a way to publicize his methods, both to those who are professionally, and to those who are personally, involved with SMI and are desperate for a bit of hope.

The Foundation has now contracted with documentary film maker and friend of Matthew’s, Gabe London, and his company, Found Object, to create a documentary highlighting Steve’s work, to be used as a teaching tool in other jurisdictions. Gabe has done some phenomenal films in the past on social impact issues, including with respect to prisons, See, for example, The Mind of Mark DeFriest (, password: FloridaSunshine).

Filming is now well underway and this project is going to be an intense focus of the Foundation’s work this year and next. Our job will be to raise the funds required to make sure that we can take advantage of the timeliness of the issues the documentary will address. To learn more about Steve’s work and his success, see Norm and Steve’s recent article (

The second focus of our work this year with regard to serious mental illness will be through a partnership we have recently formed with the LEAP Foundation for Research to Practice (LEAP), and its leader, Xavier Amador, PhD. LEAP is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit entity dedicated to serving family caregivers, mental healthcare professionals, criminal justice professionals, and others involved in the care, recovery, and safety of persons suffering from serious mental illness.

Its primary mission is to educate both those who interact regularly with individuals suffering from mental illnesses, and the community at large, about a condition called anosognosia, the inability of a person to understand that he or she has an illness and could benefit from treatment and the receipt of services.

Through many years of study, experimentation and personal experience with a brother who suffered from Schizophrenia, Dr. Amador developed a science-based approach for dealing with those, like Matthew, who suffer from anosognosia. The LEAP program focuses on creating trusting relationships that lead to engagement and acceptance of treatment and services. Dr. Amador has written a number of bestselling books and has spoken extensively around the world. For more about Dr. Amador and the Leap Foundation, go to https//

The goal of the MHO Memorial Foundation’s partnership with the LEAP Foundation for 2018, is twofold: (1) to develop an anosognosia awareness campaign; and (2) to set up a series of three programs in different US cities (the first to be this June in San Francisco) for the purpose of training and supporting organizations and individuals who wish to learn about SMI, anosognosia and the LEAP method and, equally important, to educate and certify an army of LEAP trainers, who – in turn –will be able to use, and train others to use, LEAP techniques.

Finally, as I approach my 70th birthday and complete my 45th year of practicing law, I will be retiring from my law firm in the next few months to be able to devote much more of my time to the work of this Foundation. As of June 1, I can be reached at (or

It is our hope that, in the coming year, we will be able to grow our existing programs, add new ones, and expand our fundraising to include applying for grants and seeking corporate support. We also hope to establish a first-rate Advisory Board, fill our website with more substantive information and do a better job, perhaps through inauguration of an online newsletter or regular “President’s Column,” of updating you on the Foundation’s work. We’re not yet where we want to be, but I think that, even now, you will find an occasional glance at to be well worth the effort.

To free up some time to realize these aspirations, we will likely, eventually, need the help of a part-time administrative assistant and/or an intern or two and finding the right person(s) is on our “to do list.” We welcome any referrals!

I apologize for the length of this update, but I hope it (1) provides you with some sense of how we are spending your money and (2) encourages you to contribute even more for us to spend in 2018 -2019‼‼ If you haven’t yet seen Coco, the new Pixar movie, I hope you will soon. It will remind you, as it reminded us, that our loved ones don’t really die as long as they are remembered. We will go on remembering Matthew, and being inspired by him, until we draw our last breaths and we hope that you will too.

With gratitude and love,

Judy (Norm, Danny and Pam)

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