Longmeadow entrepreneur and philanthropist wants to 'invest in helping people'

By Elise Linscott | September 7, 2018

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LONGMEADOW -- Entrepreneur, philanthropist and Longmeadow resident Harold Grinspoon has not only lived a rags-to-riches story, he's spent decades giving back to local farmers, recognizing teachers and helping others in this community and around the world.

Visit the new MGM Springfield casino and you'll see one of his tree sculptures in the courtyard, its branches reaching up to the sky. Directing the tree sculptures is one of the newest initiatives in Grinspoon's expansive career. He "loves nature" and recently went whitewater rafting to celebrate his 89th birthday.

But his main focus for the last several decades has been using his wealth and business-minded spirit to improve the lives of others.

"Growing up poor, I wanted to invest in helping people," Grinspoon said.

He first moved to Springfield for a job selling paper cups, then tapped his entrepreneurial spirit and switched to real estate, buying a duplex in West Springfield and building his business from there.

He grew up in a Jewish family in an underprivileged section of Newton, on the "wrong side of the tracks." His father loved farming, and because of this, he knows how hard farmers work, and how they're often hesitant to ask for help or financial assistance. That's why, for the past four years, the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation has focused on awarding money to local farmers in order to upgrade their infrastructure. Big Y is also a partner in this initiative, he said.

His foundation's other main focus is awarding money to local college students with strong entrepreneurship initiatives - not to fund a specific project or idea, necessarily, but to recognize their ambitions, curiosity and creativity, and help them start on the path to leadership. Over the last 15 years, the foundation has given more than 825 awards and $630,000 directly to students.

Grinspoon's foundation also organizes banquets to honor teachers and offer teaching excellence awards, which he called "the logical thing to do." Teachers are often under-recognized for their efforts, but can inspire students and get them excited about lifelong learning, he said.

The foundation offers various awards for local teachers, including those with under three years of experience, "to encourage them to continue the good work they're doing."

Grinspoon said he "learned best through hands-on learning." He wasn't a great student, but remembers teachers who thought outside the box and organized educational projects. That's why the foundation also offers awards to teachers who have demonstrated educational projects in the classroom.

Being Jewish and growing up witnessing the horrors of the holocaust, he's also wanted to help Jews around the world. Today, his PJ Library program sends more than 200,000 books a month to Jewish children in the United States, and worldwide delivers more than 700,000 books a month to kids living in countries like Australia, Russia, Mexico, Israel and soon Ukraine.

Last year, Grinspoon also started an "ener-G-save" initiative to nudge homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient. Working in the building industry, he saw how much money was being wasted through inefficient buildings, and has been working with towns and grassroots groups to reach out to homeowners and encourage them to get free consultations to point out ways they can make improvements, save money and reduce impact on the environment long-term. Last year, the initiative reached 1,600 homeowners who made improvements.

To keep the giving going, Grinspoon and his wife have signed the Giving Pledge, which was started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet, encouraging wealthy individuals to donate most of their fortunes to charity after they die.

Learn more about Harold Grinspoon Foundation