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New Year's charity launches family's legacy

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New Year’s Eve is a time of reflection and planning for many, including the Mike and Susan Zeleznik family. 

On Dec. 31, 2012, at the end of what had been a rewarding year, the Hudson residents chose to express their gratitude by planning for the future: They started a donor-advised fund at Akron Community Foundation, beginning a charitable legacy to engage their family in philanthropy and give back to their community.

While Mike and Susan had always been generous with their time and finances, a significant life event in 1997 caused a shift in their charitable thinking. The parents of a 5-year-old daughter, Natalie, they learned Susan was pregnant with not one but two babies. The pregnancy was high risk, forcing Susan to leave her job at NASA.

Just after the holidays—a mere 28 weeks into her pregnancy—Susan gave birth to Steven and Christina, their tiny New Year’s twins. "At one point, Christina weighed less than two pounds," Susan remembered. The initial months were tense, but after much nurturing, the Zelezniks watched their twins strengthen, and the couple’s desire to give back grew in tandem.

Fifteen years later, all three of the Zeleznik children were thriving—and so was Mike’s insurance and business valuation consulting business. 

Because of his background, Mike was invited to join Akron Community Foundation’s new Professional Advisor Council. And while he had long understood the benefit of using charitable giving as a tax-planning tool, he was unaware of the myriad charitable options available through Akron Community Foundation.

Mike soon realized a charitable fund at the community foundation wasn’t just a great option for his clients but something that also made sense for him personally. And it was something he could easily do in the waning hours of the tax year. "Starting our fund was easy," he said. "I think it took all of an hour."

As 2014 draws to an end, the Zelezniks and their children will gather to choose the community organizations they want to support as a family with a grant from their fund. It’s something they hope plants a seed for philanthropy in the future. "We want to get the kids involved," Susan explained. "We want them to contribute to the discussion."

Similarly, the couple plans to let their children decide how to carry forward the Zeleznik Family Fund when the couple is no longer able to do it themselves—whether that means continuing to choose grants on their behalf or turning that duty over to the community foundation’s capable board of directors. "Our oldest daughter is in Columbus now. If she continues her life outside of Northeast Ohio, I don’t know that she would be connected closely enough to make those recommendations," Mike said.

Regardless of what the children ultimately decide, Mike and Susan are adamant about where the fund should reside: "This is where we live," Mike explained. "We want our charitable dollars to stay here."

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