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The programs and initiatives of the Matthew Harris Ornstein Memorial Foundation were selected to honor his whole life, his whole person. We maintain multiple mental health related initiatives, but also direct energy and resources toward urban debate. Matthew was a national champion debater in high school, and we feel that our dual focus best honors Matthew.


Now in its tenth year, the 2024 Debate Institute will be held for 3 weeks in late July- early August. The debate institute was started after discussions with Matthew’s high school debate partner, Alex Berger, to determine what would be a positive way to remember Matthew. Not only was Matthew a champion debater, he also loved the activity and the connections he made through it. Some of Matthew’s happiest memories were his summers at the Michigan National Debate Institute. After Matthew’s death, the foundation saw a need to give middle school and high school debaters that same life changing opportunity to debate during the summer. The Washington Urban Debate League (WUDL) was just starting and the Matthew Harris Ornstein Memorial Foundation entered into a partnership with WUDL where the foundation would sponsor the debate tournament each year.

The debate institute which started from a 30 person pilot program will serve more than 200 kids in 2024. Because many of these kids qualify for free/reduced breakfast and lunch during the school year, the foundation provides free breakfast and lunch daily for all students. The Institute culminates with a tournament on the last day where a number of members of the community (lawyers, judges etc.) volunteer their time to come judge debate. Finally, there is a closing ceremony at the end of the tournament to recognize the winners of the tournament and those students who have really shined during debate camp. Debate camp alumni have gone on to debate in college, including one last year who now debates for Harvard.


The foundation worked with two talented documentarians, Gabe London (a high school friend of Matthew’s) and Charlie Sadoff of Found Object Films to script, film and produce a documentary entitled “Definition of Insanity.” The movie is the story of Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Leifman’s tireless efforts over the past two decades to decriminalize the treatment of those suffering from mental illnesses.

Judge Leifman’s story on the decriminalization of mental illness begins  twenty years ago.  As a young, newly minted judge, Leifman found himself powerless to get help for a man living on the streets of Miami and suffering from psychosis (a graduate of Harvard Medical School and formerly Chief Resident in Psychiatry at Jackson Memorial Hospital). Judge Leifman made himself a promise that he would never allow himself to be in that position again and set out to create a new model.

Definition of Insanity is the story of the creation and implementation of Judge Leifman’s vision. Judge Leifman has built partnerships with social service agency, police officers, 6,700 of them have been trained in CIT (Crisis Intervention Training). And perhaps most importantly, Leifman has enlisted peer counselors to help program participants. To hear Judge Leifman tell it, the secret sauce in his system is reliance on peer counselors, including some who themselves have been through the program.

“Definition of Insanity” premiered on March 9th, 2020 at the Miami Film Festival and was streamed for six months nationwide on PBS on April 14th. Due to COVID-19, plans for in-person showings around the country were suspended. As the situation we have improved we are starting to plan for more in-person showings. In the meantime  you can watch the film and learn more at If you would like to learn more about the Criminal Mental Health Project and the newest work they are doing, check out Please contact us and/or join our mailing list if you're interested in a local screening. 

Henry Amador Center on Anosognosia Partnership

Matthew suffered from anosognosia, a lack of insight into his disease, believing that his circumstances were the result of somehow having displeased God rather than a medical condition. Like countless others, Matthew spent his time focused on spirituality and acts of contrition rather than seeking, or agreeing to, medical treatment, which he believed would only exacerbate the problem.


In order to help other families whose loved ones suffer from anosognosia, the foundation has developed a partnership with the Henry Amador Center on Anosognosia, led by the brilliant psychologist Dr. Xavier Amador, author of “I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help.” Dr. Amador has developed a method for loved ones and others to communicate with, and build productive relationships with individuals who lack insight into the fact that they are ill.


To enable loved ones, first responders, medical professionals and others to understand and communicate better with those suffering from SMI and, in the process, often helping avoid the potentially tragic escalation of conflict, Dr. Amador has developed a training program.  To get a sense of Dr. Amador’s technique and how he teaches it, check out his TED talk and other presentations, available at:

For the past several years, the foundation has joined forces with Dr. Amador and the Henry Amador Center on Anosognosia to offer trainings for 150-200 people, for only nominal fees, in cities around the country.  Moreover, a number of those (between 25-35 in each location) also registered, and stayed, for a second day, to begin the process of themselves becoming certified as trainers. For the past two years, we helped bring LEAP to virtual audiences due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Please check back soon for more information about our projects and partnerships.

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