When Ann Greif wasn’t running The Women’s Board of The Johns Hopkins Hospital, or advocating for an end to the global arms race, or supporting the work of Planned Parenthood, she would often gather her family and friends around the piano to sing Broadway show tunes, with her children leaning over her shoulder to read the words. Her husband, Leonard, had a fine operatic voice, and everyone joined in the fun. Today, her three children—Geoffrey, Carol, and Stephen—carry on the family’s steadfast commitment to philanthropy, active engagement in the community, and deep appreciation for the arts.
Ann began her philanthropic life early. At the age of six, she and a friend collected a few dollars for the Children’s Milk and Ice Fund, a division of the Baltimore Community Chest. The next year she raised her contribution to $6.60 for the annual campaign.
“My mother always supported the causes she felt passionately about,” says Dr. Geoffrey Greif, Ann’s son, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. “Giving back and being involved were often topics of conversation at our dinner table; it was ingrained in us.”
Ann grew up in Baltimore’s Windsor Hills, attending Friends School and graduating from Goucher College in 1939. She also took music lessons at Peabody. As a result, she and her husband developed a history of charitable giving aimed at improving the quality of life in the city, including becoming patrons of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Through a bequest in her will, Ann Greif left a gift to BCF to create a charitable fund for use by her three children, Stephen Greif, Geoffrey Greif and Carol Greif Sandler. The result was the Greif Family Fund, which honors their mother’s memory. “Fortunately, we were all in agreement around starting the fund and wanting to take on issues that need to be addressed across the city,” explains Geoffrey. “This fund was something we could share among ourselves and then pass on to our kids.” The three Greif siblings found that BCF was particularly helpful as they sought to shape the mission of their fund and creatively explore opportunities to meet the challenges facing Baltimore.
The most recent charitable distribution from the Greif Family Fund at BCF, and one that reflects this thoughtful and collaborative process, is a $10,000 one-time grant to tune and restore pianos in Baltimore City Public Schools. The grant clearly blends their mother’s love of music with efforts to improve the overall learning experience for Baltimore students. The idea for the grant grew out of Geoffrey‘s observations as a professor visiting his Master of Social Work students who were working in city classrooms. “When I walked into those schools, I could see that many of the pianos were gathering dust or in need of repair, and some of those being used were out of tune,” says Geoffrey. Most gifts from the Greif Family Fund have been to support the work of established organizations. “Here,” he says, “was a small but targeted way to try to improve one aspect of the school experience that is too often underappreciated and in need of attention.”
Chan’nel Howard, fine arts coordinator at the Baltimore City Public Schools, could not agree more. The arts, which include music, visual arts, theater, dance, and media arts, have been dramatically underfunded for years, she says. “The arts play such a tremendous role in the lives of our children, yet because of lack of adequate funding, we continue to have to cut slices out of a pie that is already way too small to begin with.” Howard says that BCPS teachers are very excited about this new influx of support for their music programs because many of their elementary and high school students will benefit.
Howard is particularly grateful for the flexibility that the charitable gift offers schools in terms of disbursing the funds. “We asked if we could use the money not just for tuning the pianos but also for maintaining and repairing them, and they said yes, of course.”
Studies show that students who are exposed to arts programs tend to do better academically and socially. “Such exposure,” Howard adds, “also gives kids a voice of their own, and allows them to explore their creativity in hugely supportive environments.” She and her colleagues have developed a 10-year fine arts strategic plan—where one of the first goals is to ensure music and visual art are taught in every school in Baltimore City by a certified fine arts instructor by the year 2022. Howard also states that the Fine Arts Strategic Plan is a way to help focus and infuse efforts to bring the arts back to Baltimore City Public Schools in a big way. “That of course would be my dream,” she says.
Thanks to the Greif family’s support, that dream is a little bit closer to being realized. Teachers across the city will soon be able to play their currently dilapidated pianos. Hundreds of students will sing and dance in classrooms and auditoriums once again.
“The foundation is enormously helpful when it comes to identifying a real need and helping families like ours to take action and find a creative solution,” Geoffrey says. He is looking forward to hearing music in the halls next time he visits his own students. And he and his siblings know as well how pleased their mother would be.