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A Passion Greater Than Profit

By Jeff Schwartz

The step of going public, which was critical if we were to achieve our goals, was harder for me than my wife. While Ellen gains strength from sharing, I tend to keep my personal problems to myself. However, if we were to make progress, I understood that I would have to share.

SETTING GOALS. Actually, after our first public appearance, talking about our situation became easier for me, largely because of the support we received. In fact, our very first fundraiser occurred because a coffee server at Starbuck's had recognized Ellen and Jacob on a television broadcast as the mother and son who frequented the shop. Within a week, that Starbuck's hosted an auction at the store, raising $10,000 for us in a single evening.

In the past five years, Jacob's Ladder has succeeded in ensuring that screening for Canavan's Disease is readily available in Ontario-based hospitals. Our foundation also has funded targeted research projects that, some day, may lead to a cure for Canavan's and other such diseases. In 2003, Jacob's Ladder received a Kauffman Community Award. Our work as a foundation, of course, won't be finished until cures are found.

Along the way, I have learned to value what has been a snowballing level of support for our foundation. However, I don't advocate that entrepreneurs make their nonprofit interests the whole of their lives. In my case, I spend about a half day a week working for Jacob's Ladder. While I recently left my job as general manager of AmTruck, a Toronto-based based buyer and seller of used commercial vehicles, I am currently evaluating a handful of intriguing entrepreneurial opportunities.

STEADFAST COURAGE. Indeed, I believe that my work at Jacob's Ladder has helped me in my professional career. Prior to starting the charity, I found that, at times, I missed giving back to the community on a meaningful level, and, as a result, my life was unbalanced. What energy I had went primarily to the business -- and what was left over went to the family. The time I have spent on the foundation has allowed me a respite to attend to personal goals and recharge my batteries -- all of which will be invaluable when I resume my professional work.

In May 2002, Jacob reached a milestone in his life -- his fifth birthday. While Canavan's patients don't usually live beyond the age of 10, our doctors were particularly concerned about Jacob after he experienced an especially difficult period when he was 3 years old. Although the disease takes away something from him each year, he continues to be an inspiration for everyone who meets him. I can only hope that Ellen and I are able to similarly inspire people through our commitment to the foundation that bears Jacob's name.

Jeff Schwartz, 39, co-founded Jacob's Ladder, a nonprofit foundation named for his young son, who was diagnosed with a rare genetic neuro-degenerative disorder called Canavan's Disease, with his wife in 1998.

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