Helmsley Charitable Trust Awards $136 Million in First Round of Grants

The New York City-based Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust has announced grants totaling $136 million to support medical research, human services, and emergency services. An additional $1 million in grants was divided equally among ten animal charities, the Associated Press reports.

In its inaugural round of grants, the trust awarded more than $115 million to a range of organizations, with a focus on health-related issues and medical research. The largest grant, $40 million over three years, will support the creation of a digestive diseases center at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. In addition, a grant of $35 million will be used to create two research facilities in Helmsley's name at Mount Sinai Medical Center, also in New York. The trust also awarded more than $15 million to healthcare systems in South Dakota.

In the field of human services, grants were awarded to organizations working to address the critical needs of children and adults living in poverty, including homeless shelters, food banks, and emergency service programs in New York City. Education grants awarded by the trust will support greater access to educational resources and opportunities, while its conservation grants will help preserve threatened ecosystems in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, and Baja California.

In the category of "other," the trust awarded grants of $100,000 to ten animal charities, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and several groups that train guide dogs for the blind. In the days following Helmsley's death in 2007 at the age of 87, media reports revealed that her will, which named her own dog Trouble as a primary beneficiary, specifically instructed that her multibillion-dollar estate be put in trust and dedicated to the care of dogs "and such other charitable activities as the trustees shall determine." In February 2009, a surrogate court judge ruled that the trustees of her estate — her brother Alvin, two grandchildren, one of her lawyers, and a friend — had sole authority to decide which charities would benefit from her estate.

"Throughout their lives, the Helmsleys were committed to helping others through the innovations of medical research, responding to those in need during critical times, and in other areas," the trustees said in a statement. "We now have the privilege of continuing their good works by providing support where it will make a difference."

Animal rights advocates voiced concerns. "Giving less than 1 percent of the allocation to dog-related organizations is a trifling amount and not consistent with Leona Helmsley's expressed intention," said Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, which did not receive a grant. "We've been in touch with interested parties and hope for a constructive resolution."

For a complete list of grantees, visit the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust Web site.

Amy Westfeldt. "Helmsley Estate: $136M to Charity, $1M to Dogs." Associated Press 04/21/2009. "The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust Donates $136 Million to Charities." Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust Press Release 04/21/2009.