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2020 Giving Tuesday Letter

December 1, 2020 Dear Family, Friends and Supporters, It is with a renewed sense of optimism, that I write to provide you with the 5th year-end/Giving Tuesday update about the progress we have made in 2020, thanks to you, in furthering the mission of the Matthew Harris Ornstein Memorial Foundation (MHOMF). I know that I write something similar to this every year, but it has been especially true over the past nine months: we could never have been able to achieve what we have, despite the year’s unique challenges, without your unflagging support. We know that requests for your help have only increased as the months have worn on. We are so incredibly grateful that you continue to value, and stick with us on, our journey and, should you be able to include us in your year-end/Giving Tuesday charitable contributions, we would, as ever, be most appreciative. You can contribute either on our website at or by mailing a check to: Matthew Harris Ornstein Memorial Foundation c/o Morgan Stanley #530-358; 7500 Old Georgetown Road, 10th floor; Bethesda, MD 20814. Despite the existential challenges posed by 2020, fortuitously, each of MHOMF’s three major programs has been laser-focused on two issues of great urgency that have been in the news on an almost daily basis this year: criminal justice reform and the treatment of those struggling with serious mental illnesses. Admittedly more as the result of serendipity than any prophetic planning, our documentary, our partnership with LEAP and our Summer Debate Institute, as explained more fully below, all came together in 2020 and propelled our work onto a national stage in a way that we never could have foreseen. MHOMF’s year got off to an exciting start with preparations for the highly anticipated premiere of our documentary, “Definition of Insanity” (DOI), at the Miami Film Festival on March 10-11, where it was received to great acclaim and, when the first screening quickly sold out, a second showing was added. Unfortunately, though, the festival was shut down due to COVID-19 concerns right in the middle of the panel that followed our second showing. We went home thrilled at the reception the documentary had received but concerned about what the pandemic might mean for the many screenings we had already booked for the film’s nationwide roll-out. Undaunted, we simply redoubled our efforts to promote the next month’s broadcast of the film on PBS. As you might recall, the documentary had been produced, in part, with the support of WETA (the local PBS affiliate) and especially Sharon Rockefeller, Dalton Delan and John Wilson, along with Paula Kerger and Jim Dunford at PBS, and a broadcast on PBS had already been planned for April 14th, with the film to be available for streaming on the PBS’ website for six months thereafter. After much hard work publicizing the movie’s broadcast debut, the film aired nationally as scheduled, with an extremely robust audience and enthusiastic feedback from PBS stations around the country. DOI, is the work product of two amazingly skilled documentarians, Gabe London (a high school friend of Matthew’s) and Charlie Sadoff, both of Found Object Films ( The movie depicts in real time the remarkable program developed by Miami-Dade County, Florida Judge Steven Leifman and his dedicated team who have, for over twenty years, worked tirelessly to decriminalize the treatment of individuals with mental illnesses. The scale of the problem of mentally ill individuals receiving their only “treatment” through the criminal justice system is staggering. A 2014 report from the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, VA noted that, nationwide, there were approximately ten times more inmates with mental illnesses than there were patients in state psychiatric hospitals and the situation has only gotten worse in the ensuring years (Report at: Treatment Advocacy Center Data). Moreover, since the outbreak of COVID-19, this tragic fact has become the focus of heightened public attention and a cause for even greater alarm, as jails and prisons have quickly become among the nation’s largest incubators for spread of the disease. After learning of Judge Leifman and hearing him speak, Norm and I went to Miami about four years ago and spent a good deal of time with the Judge and his team, observing in courtrooms, touring ancillary facilities and becoming first-hand witnesses to the almost jaw dropping success of the many interrelated, and exceedingly well integrated, parts of the Miami/Dade County Criminal Mental Health Project, combining Crisis Intervention Training of police officers and a Jail Diversion program for those with mental illnesses who have been charged with misdemeanors or non-violent felonies, with comprehensive wrap around services, such as medication management and group therapy. The Project’s true secret sauce, though, according to Judge Leifman, is its strong reliance on peer counselors who themselves have successfully completed the program. We became convinced that a documentary needed to be made that would showcase the Project’s achievements and that could be distributed nationally and used as a template for other jurisdictions confronting similar challenges and wanting similar results. We think that is exactly what Gabe and Charlie’s magnificent film does, but don’t just take our word for it: watch the movie yourself, if you haven’t already, to appreciate the majesty of what Judge Leifman and his team have accomplished. It is now available at, where you can also explore the DOI website and learn more about Gabe and Charlie, the Miami/Dade Criminal Mental Health Program, the making of the film and its actors, all playing themselves. After the movie’s March premiere in Miami, the April PBS broadcast and creation of the documentary’s website, in order to replace the live screenings that, by this time, had all been cancelled, we turned our attention to arranging a number of virtual showings to carefully targeted audiences with whom we thought the film could, in the short run, do the most good. On June 24th, not long after the murder of George Floyd horrified the nation and resulted in urgent demands for police reform, we hosted a virtual screening with the National Law Enforcement Museum, followed by an interactive panel featuring Judge Leifman, Alejandro Aristizábal (Felony Diversion Program Manager for Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit), Sgt. John Blackerby (City of Miami PD), Habsi Kaba (Crisis Intervention Team Coordinator, Miami-Dade County), and Katherine Fernandez Rundle (State Attorney, Miami-Dade County) that attracted a highly engaged audience of hundreds people, the majority of whom were themselves police officers or directly involved in law enforcement in other capacities. We also arranged a screening and panel discussion for the Texas Judicial Mental Health Summit in November, which drew almost 800 people, and we have other screenings scheduled for Illinois in conjunction with the National Judicial Task Force to Examine State Courts’ Response to Mental Illness (December 1st) and with Rochester, NY (December 8th), where the case of Daniel Prude has again been in the news. In addition, we are currently working directly with Dan Gillison, the new President of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), to find a date to show DOI to NAMI’s thousands of members around the country. We already did a program for NAMI Florida in October, with a pre-screening of the film and a panel discussion. But we have certainly not abandoned our plans for in-person screenings of the film once a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available and I am excited to share that several months ago, we received a generous $150,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to be used to help defray the cost of taking the documentary around the country. To plan for that while we continue to schedule virtual showings, we have devised a rigorous outreach strategy targeting high need areas. Sadly, there continue to be many media reports highlighting jurisdictions that could clearly benefit from studying and attempting to emulate Miami/Dade Country. MHOMF intends to keep scheduling showings through 2021 and beyond because we believe that DOI can help fan the flames of a movement whose time has finally come! Our second mental health related initiative, MHOMF’s partnership with Dr. Xavier Amador and his non-profit arm, The LEAP Foundation for Research to Practice ( ), has also been of great importance to our work in 2020, though again not in the way we had originally planned. Dr. Amador is a world-renowned psychologist and author of numerous books, including the international best seller, I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help, which analyzes relevant developing science and proposes a practical solution to the very difficult and misunderstood challenge of anosognosia, or lack of insight. Anosognosia is a persistent symptom in a high percentage of individuals suffering from serious mental illnesses (estimated by the Treatment Advocacy Center to be about 50% of those with Schizophrenia and 40% of those with Bipolar Disorder), and likely accounts for many, if not most, of the country’s homeless population. Building on his own decades-long experiences with a beloved older brother who suffered from anosognosia as a core symptom of his schizophrenia, Dr. Amador created a highly effective tool for loved ones, caregivers and those who encounter mental illness as a regular part of their professional lives to help them in communicating with people suffering from anosognosia and in developing shared goals, despite their lack of insight into the existence of their debilitating illnesses. We think that Dr. Amador’s practical, solution-based approach, LEAP (which stands for Listen, Empathize, Agree and Partner) is a highly effective, self-actuating response to the tenacious barrier to treatment posed by anosognosia. To learn more, watch Dr. Amador’s TED talk: We believe that Matthew suffered from anosognosia. His lack of insight, like that of countless others, led him to conclude that his torment was the result of his soul being taken and his faith being tested because he had done something to disappoint or to anger God. It followed, then, that the proper response was to study and practice his religion fervently and engage in acts of charity and contrition, rather than seek or agree to medical treatment, which in his world view would have destroyed any possible chance of winning back God’s love. Given the nature of Matthew’s suffering, our partnership with the LEAP Foundation remains a cornerstone of our priorities. For the past three years, we have partnered with Dr. Amador and his Foundation to offer highly subsidized, in-person trainings in the LEAP technique. These day-long workshops, featuring extensive role play, have always sold out almost immediately when announced, with many participants opting to stay a second day and learn how to train others in the LEAP methodology. Course evaluations have routinely indicated that the trainings have been the single best tool that attendees have ever been offered to help them understand and improve their way of interacting with loved ones and patients suffering from lack of insight. We are hoping, with your support, to be able to offer many more of these trainings in coming years to meet the ever-increasing demand for help. Unfortunately, though, due to the pandemic, our scheduled in-person trainings, like our in- person documentary screenings, had to be cancelled. However, Dr. Amador felt strongly that individuals needing help in supporting a person with anosognosia could not wait for COVID-19 to be conquered. Indeed, desperation was only increasing as many loved ones were returning to live with family members and caregivers to seek refuge from the pandemic and were bringing their untreated mental illnesses home with them. Therefore, Dr. Amador and his remarkable Deputy Executive Director Gabriela Canedo worked for months to develop three-hour, interactive modules that could be used to continue training online. MHOMF split with LEAP the cost of acquiring the highly specialized software that was necessary to implement the virtual trainings and jointly sponsored a series of large, fully subscribed online sessions from May through July. The need for this training and for further education about anosognosia is enormous and we remain dedicated to this cause. Just as an interesting sidenote for those of you who may have read Robert Kolker’s fascinating New York Times Number 1 bestseller, Hidden Valley Road, Lindsay Mary Galvin Rauch, the youngest of the Galvin family’s twelve children, has recently been added to the LEAP board and will be a font of knowledge and support in disseminating LEAP’s message. Finally, since the inception of MHOMF, our work has been devoted not only to trying to save others from Matthew’s (and his family’s) excruciating pain, struggle, and ultimate defeat, but also to celebrating the very full, successful life that Matthew led before the onset of his illness. Perhaps no activity epitomized Matthew’s early triumphs more than his prowess at policy debate. He was a national champion debater in high school and traveled all over the country competing. And, as much as he adored the actual tournaments, he also cherished the summers he spent preparing for those competitions at the University of Michigan’s renowned summer debate camp. At camp, he found an outlet for his drive and for his passion, honed his craft, prepared for the coming year and, undoubtedly most important to the very social Matthew, made close and lasting friendships. Not long after Matthew’s death and the creation of MHOMF, we established the Matthew Harris Ornstein Summer Debate Institute as the Foundation’s first project, in partnership with the then fledgling Washington Urban Debate League (WUDL). The Institute, now in its sixth year, was designed to give Washington, DC area students at Title 1 schools the same life changing opportunities that Matthew had in high school, and at the U of M. As with our other programs, COVID-19 challenged and completely altered plans for debate camp for the summer of 2020, but WUDL and MHOMF’s dedication to urban debate and to their students’ futures continued undiminished. This past summer, the Sixth Annual Matthew Harris Ornstein Summer Debate Institute was held 100% virtually and was a resounding success! Despite all the challenges presented by having to publicize camp and register students solely online and having to switch to an electronic platform, including in some areas where students’ access to WI-FI and/or high-speed Internet, and the availability of late model devices, was severely limited, 152 students participated in the program. Rising 6-12th graders from all over Washington, DC and Prince George’s County were able to benefit, perhaps even more than in previous summers, from having an absorbing activity about which they were excited! At a time when they would otherwise have been couped up at home with little to do, they were able instead to learn, hone skills, make friends and, most important, have fun! For two weeks (three weeks for our most senior debaters), our campers learned the craft of debate, plus researched and argued this year’s topic: criminal justice reform! Ironically, that topic had been nominated by WUDL in 2019 and then selected as this year’s national topic, long before an outcry across the country to reform the police following a series of high-profile deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers (at least several of which involved individuals with mental illnesses). In addition, COVID-19’s devastating impact on the country’s jail and prison population also focused enhanced attention on the need to reform the country’s criminal justice system. In other words, the very same forces that propelled DOI to national attention, motivated our students to give camp all they had! And, in that regard, in this strange year when all our projects seemed magically to come together, our debaters watched MHOMF’s documentary and spent a virtual hour afterwards with Judge Leifman, bombarding him with better questions than he was used to getting from most audiences, as he told us later. I wish you could have heard the creative ideas articulately expressed and tenaciously defended by our campers (or, as we like to think of them: the country’s future leaders!) to help resolve what has become a matter of such grave national urgency. Our students demonstrated that they could not only interact with each other with confidence and civility, but they also more than held their own not only with Judge Leifman, but interacting with luminaries and subject matter experts such as Martin Luther King III, his wife Arndrea and their daughter Yolanda, who spoke with our students for an hour during the Institute’s opening ceremony; Congresswoman Deb Haaland of New Mexico; Sean Arthurs from the Innocence Project; John Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation; Southern District of New York Circuit Judge Ken Karas and DC Councilwoman elect Janeese Lewis George. Our debaters did not just listen politely, but consistently, as Judge Leifman had observed, asked probing, intelligent questions that would have made most college students blush. Additionally, speaking of college, this year’s Institute included its first ever college fair, in which 23 schools from around the country participated. Students and their parents were given the opportunity to listen to presentations from, and ask questions of, the schools’ representatives, including from many of the country’s most prestigious colleges and universities, by circulating through an intricate combination of virtual rooms ingeniously designed by WUDL’s amazing staff. We were thrilled to see the interest in our students demonstrated by these seasoned recruiters. Sadly, this year’s closing exercises following the big debate tournament at the end of camp could not include the moving ceremony generally attended by literally hundreds of family and friends and the in-person presentation of trophies, the reception afterwards with all kinds of treats and the dinner for coaches, staff and volunteer judges that has traditionally followed. On the other hand, the virtual format allowed us to invite all of Matthew’s high school debate team, now spread out around the country and in Europe, to come together, with their high school debate coach, to speak to our students and tell heart-warming Matthew stories. It was unbelievably special for all of us. Finally, no summer at the Matthew Harris Ornstein Summer Debate Institute would be complete without the awarding of the Matthew Harris Ornstein Outstanding Debater Award. This year, that award went to an exceptional young man named Dennis Martinez. Dennis is an incredibly hard working and talented competitor who rose quickly through the debate ranks, winning the opportunity to travel last year to tournaments in New York and Pennsylvania during only his second year of debating. At Institute this summer, Dennis was a star in his lab and a leader among his peers, providing them both moral and technical support. He truly embodies the values and character traits that Matthew epitomized and for which Matthew is remembered. The MHO Summer Debate Institute set records this year for the quality of its programming, of its coaching and its size, primarily thanks to WUDL’s amazingly talented Program Director, David Trigaux and Dara Davis, its Program Coordinator (who came to WUDL only about a year ago). David and Dara’s extraordinary effort, under extremely challenging conditions, exceeded all expectations. Our camp, this year, was the largest free summer institute for urban debaters held by a single league anywhere in the country and (we feel) it was the very best! Last, but certainly not least, 2020 marked the Foundation’s first full year with our extraordinary Executive Director! Dr. Jessica Berenson brings to MHOMF dedication, drive and a unique combination of knowledge and experience in both the debate world and with our country’s broken system of treatment for those suffering from serious mental illnesses. And, as if that’s not enough, Jess was also a good friend of both Matthew and Daniel in high school. A mentee of Matthew’s on their school’s nationally ranked debate team and Danny’s classmate, it feels like we have added another member to our family. With Jess’ help, Norm has had more time to write and speak out across the country, bringing MHOMF’s twofold mission to public attention, and I have been able to find some time to serve on several national task forces examining the country’s laws related to mental illness, assessing the extent to which those laws are responsible for our broken system of care and debating how the law might be updated to achieve better outcomes. Jess herself has been networking up a storm, building relationships of her own, expanding our Foundation’s reach, and Danny and Jess have been working closely together to streamline our systems, improve our website (check it out!) and support each other in so many ways. In Jess’s oft used phrase: “it’s all good” and she would love to hear from you if you’d like to get involved with any of our programs, have suggestions for entities that might want to host a showing of DOI or if you have any vision to share as we chart the Foundation’s future course. Please never hesitate to reach out to Jess at We have been amazed at how all three of our primary programs have come together in 2020 to provide a concentrated focus on so many critical and interrelated issues that our nation must and will face in the new year. We are committed, with you and with our incredibly special group of now hundreds of young leaders who have completed our Summer Debate Institute, to be an important part of the unfolding national discussion. For more information on any of our activities, please follow us at @MattOrnsteinFnd and, check out and, if you feel so moved, please make a year-end contribution, either on our website at or by mailing a check to: Matthew Harris Ornstein Memorial Foundation c/o Morgan Stanley #530-358; 7500 Old Georgetown Road, 10th Floor ; Bethesda, MD 20814. Matthew would have turned 40 this summer, but we will never know him as a fully formed adult, likely with a family of his own, perhaps with a successful writing career in Hollywood. That realization eats at our souls. The presence of Matthew’s absence is always front of mind for Norm, Danny, my sister Pam, and me and that will never change. Nor will all the wonderfully heart-warming and hilarious memories we have of Matthew ever be able fully to fill the hole his death has left in our hearts. There are still times for each of us when it is hard to get out of bed to face a new day, but what urges us on is YOU and the knowledge that there is so much more work to be done in Matthew’s name. By sticking with us, you are our partners in doing all the good for others that Matthew himself would have done, had he only had the time. In the process, you bring hope and help to so many. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Stay safe this holiday season. With endless gratitude, Judy Harris, President

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You can find the two articles that Newsweek's Lauren Giella wrote about Debate Camp here: Debate Camp attracts some of the 'smartest people in DC.'


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