How do you go from being general counsel for the New York Yankees to a critical board member of Lutheran Social Services of New York (LSSNY)?
At the Life Lutheran Church in Old Westbury, Rachel Cohen served as missions coordinator for home and abroad. Donating to LSSNY’s Uniondale food pantry was one of her duties as well as her kids’ “heart project.” They donated to the pantry every week.
LSSNY’s Board Chair, Harrison Oellrich, approached Rachel about joining the board.
“I had no idea of the depth and breadth of the things we do until I sat on board,” says Rachel. “It is magnificent. It is something else. Since I’ve joined the board, it’s become my passion.”
In 2014, an unspeakable tragedy befell Rachel and her family. In an instant, she and her husband lost their two precious children, Reagan Elizabeth Cohen and Jaxson Stephen Cohen, as well as Rachel’s mother. Immediately, they found a way to honor their children and let their lights shine. They founded the Reagan and Jax Cohen Memorial Fund with a mission to seek out and support the organizations that best improve children’s lives by making an impact on their health, welfare, and general well-being.
One of the beneficiaries was LSSNY. For the past two years, half of the fund’s proceeds have gone to LSSNY. “It’s such an unbelievable mission. LSSNY helps everyone be the best selves they can be,” Rachel says. “It’s a position of encouragement.”
While the proceeds initially went to LSSNY’s Early LIFE program, Rachel also helped in a hands-on way with Our Sister’s Place, a nurturing residence for young and expectant mothers in foster care. “I said, ‘Tell me what you need that’s helpful,’” she says. “They really needed art supplies. So I collected several hundred dollars’ worth of art supplies.” Two summers ago, Rachel sourced life vests for the children in our Early LIFE program to learn about water safety. “I had to shut down my Venmo,” Rachel says of the outpouring of support.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is gender equity. Though she didn’t personally experience gender discrimination in the workplace, she was one of only a handful of women in leadership when working with the New York Yankees. As might be expected in a sports environment, she had to field inappropriate comments from time to time.
Rachel knows that the all-girls school she attended as a child was an anomaly — a private school that used computers and taught girls they could do anything, embracing STEM years before this was popular.
She understands the distinction of this year’s theme — equality is not the same as equity.
“Giving everyone the same opportunity is still not going to help those who are truly disadvantaged,” she says. School is free for kindergarten and even pre-K. At least where I am, they all know their letter sounds, how to do some math. But if you have food scarcity and you don’t have the opportunity to have three meals, all you are thinking about is your tummy grumbling. You don’t have enough equity to take advantage of the equality.”
Unsurprisingly, Rachel uses a sports metaphor to describe the leadership of LSSNY President and CEO Dr. Damyn Kelly. “He’s hit it out of the park. He’s an unbelievable leader,” she says. “He’s not afraid to make tough decisions. He’s responded to adversity. He’s increased the awareness of LSSNY in the community both with donors and at other levels.”
As an agency, LSSNY is expanding from its origin as a faith-based organization and a provider of social services to a purveyor of social change.
“I never want to lose the faith base because it really lights the fire for a lot of us,” says Rachel, “but at the same time, part of being a person of faith is rooting out these causes that keep people from being their best selves. There is the spiritual [realm] but also the practical [one.] People won’t be able to embrace their faith when so much difficulty is thrown their way. How can we either end the cycle early or make it so they never experience the difficulties to begin with?” she asks.
This is what LSSNY is working to address. We are thankful to have Rachel on board.