Community health education gains support with $5 million gift from Third Federal, Stefanski foundations

Stefanski Center for Community Health Education rendering
Architect Fosters + Partners’ rendering of the Rhonda and Marc Stefanski Center for Community Health Education.

The Stefanski family’s legacy in Cleveland dates back to the 19th century, when Valentine Stefanski and his friends hand-dug basements for houses on Fleet Avenue while the structures were up on stilts.

Today, grandson Marc likes to say, “My family’s responsible for the foundations of our community.”

Last week, Marc Stefanski, chairman and CEO of Cleveland’s Third Federal, announced yet another way that his family and the bank have deepened their roots in the community, this time with a $5 million commitment to Case Western Reserve and Cleveland Clinic for community health education.

The donation from the Third Federal Foundation, in partnership with the Marc A. and Rhonda L. Stefanski Foundation, will support the opening of a dedicated center within the two institutions’ 485,000-square-foot Health Education Campus. The commitment is the largest ever from either foundation.

“Working with local residents, our faculty and students learn important lessons,” President Barbara R. Snyder said at the press conference. “They see health challenges firsthand, and learn which interventions are most effective. And, they share their findings with professionals and policy makers across the country.”

The Health Education Campus will include dental, nursing and medical students in a state-of-the-art structure designed to emphasize interactions among the different professions. Research shows that team-based health care leads to better patient outcomes and satisfaction, and also increases the sense of fulfillment caregivers report.

Case Western Reserve and Cleveland Clinic students already collaborate in the community through programs like the Student-Run Free Clinic at the Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland, screening and treatment programs within Cleveland’s schools, and educational outreach to middle and high school students.

Given the nation’s rapidly changing health care landscape, such direct engagement is more important than ever. Toby Cosgrove, MD, president and CEO of Cleveland Clinic, noted that chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes are becoming increasingly prevalent, while diseases once thought to be eradicated are resurfacing in areas where families cannot access vaccinations.

Meanwhile, he added, economic and other disparities can lead to life expectancy differences of inner-city and suburban residents as wide as 20 years.

“It all starts with education,” Cosgrove said. “This is an opportunity for us to reach out into the community.”

The Rhonda and Marc Stefanski Center for Community Health Education will be located on the first floor of the Health Education Campus, which itself will stand between East 93rd and 100th Streets and Chester and Euclid Avenues. Rhonda, Marc’s wife of 33 years, passed away in 2014 after a brave battle with pancreatic cancer. One of the catalysts for the gift, Marc Stefanski has said, is the desire to ensure that those in need are able to access some of the world-class care his wife received.

Said Stefanski of the new center, “It’s one of the best things we’ll ever do.”

In 1938 Ben and Gerome Stefanski founded Third Federal in Slavic Village with $50,000 in capital. Seventy-seven years later the institution’s headquarters remains in the same neighborhood where it began, albeit now with 38 full-service branches in Northeast Ohio and Florida, lending in 21 states and the District of Columbia, and more than $12 billion in assets. Created in 2007, the Third Federal Foundation is led by Kurt Karakul, a 1979 graduate of Case Western Reserve’s School of Law who has been a partner and co-chair of the Real Estate Law Section at the Weston Hurd law firm. Over the years, the foundation has committed more than $7.5 million to programs that improve education, health and well-being for residents throughout Cleveland.