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Funding the Fight Against Alzheimer’s

Jennifer DiVittorio donated $300,000 in her parents’ names for research into neurological diseases.

Kiplinger’s spoke with Jennifer DiVittorio, of Charlotte, N.C., who gave money to Penn State for research. Read on for an excerpt from our interview:

What inspired your donation? In 2015, my mom, then 68, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and my dad, then 70, was diagnosed with multiple system atrophy, which resembles Parkinson’s. My mom now lives in a memory-care unit. My dad received hospice care for a year and a half and passed away on June 21. I saw on Facebook that a friend had set up an endowment through her alma mater. I got choked up, and a light went on in my head. I thought, That’s how I could honor my parents at Penn State. My dad, my brother and I are alumni.

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How much did you give? Penn State requires a minimum of $20,000 for an award, $50,000 for a college or department-specific research fund, and $400,000 for a graduate fellowship. In 2016, I gave $50,000 to establish the Mark and Sharon Robb Research Fund, named for my parents, at the Eberly College of Science at Penn State. In 2017, I pledged $250,000 to establish the Robb Family Graduate Fellowship. The university matched my gift of $250,000 dollar for dollar, creating a fellowship of $500,000.

How will the money be used? All the money will support the research of Gong Chen, a faculty member. He and the students in his lab­oratory are focused on developing treatments for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

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How did you find Professor Chen? I wrote to Penn State and said I wanted to set up an endowment to fund research into neurological diseases. They connected me with Mike Weyandt, the director of major gifts for the Eberly school, who said, “We have someone who specifically works on brain repair.” It was an exact fit.

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Where did the money come from? I’m just a regular girl from Pittsburgh. I didn’t grow up with money, and I never did anything like this before. The first time, after consulting with my financial adviser, I transferred stock to the university. The second time, I pledged to pay the money over three years, although Penn State allows up to five years. The money will come from my income as an independent sales consultant for Rodan & Fields, a skin-care line. I built and run my business on social media.

What do you hope your gifts will accomplish? Both of the endowments will go on in perpetuity. It’s a tremendous legacy in my parents’ names. I’m hopeful that with research all over the world—whether it’s Professor Chen’s or someone else’s—we’ll find viable treatments.

Have you met the recipients? I’ve met Professor Chen twice, and he keeps in touch by e-mail. This past year, the research fund helped support eight undergrad and grad students. The graduate fellowship supports one grad student. For the past two years, I’ve received pictures of all the undergrad and grad students who work with him, and they’ve sent me handwritten thank-you notes. It’s incredibly touching.

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