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He may be only 7 years old, but Michael Reitman already considers himself a philanthropist and social activist.

Each year, through the auspices of the MIMAST Philanthropy Club—and in partnership with its founder and his grandmother, Sharon Morton of Deerfield—young Michael and his brothers carefully decide how to spend their “philanthropy budget.”

Last year, for example, Michael was out shopping and spotted some mittens on sale for only 65 cents. He consulted with Grandma and brothers, funds were released, and the Reitman brothers spent $100 to buy as many mittens as they could to distribute to the poor. Needless to say, this makes their Bubbe very proud.

This is exactly what Sharon Morton had in mind when she created MIMAST, named after her grandsons, Michael, 10, Mathew, 11, and Steven, 13. Eager to encourage philanthropic habits and social service at an early age, Morton deposited $125 in “philanthropy” bank accounts for each child, created certificates on her computer declaring them to be junior philanthropists and Charter Members of the MIMAST Philanthropy Club and asked each new “member” to raise their hand and pledge: “I promise to make the world a better place.”

Morton beams as she describes this latest of her 35 years of “make it better” initiatives.

“Now my grandchildren already know the words ‘philanthropist’ and ‘philanthropy.’ They feel empowered,” she says. “This broadens my relationship with my grandchildren beyond movies and cookies and teaches them values important to me.”

In fact, MIMAST was such a hit and felt so rewarding and meaningful that Morton decided to expand the concept and create a new organization called Grandparents for Social Justice. As Director of Jewish Education at the Am Shalom Synagogue in Glencoe, this was easy for her to do. But it was a grant from the Jewish Healing Network that further extended the program beyond the temple and throughout the North Shore.

“When I retire, I want to grow this project to a national level,” Morton says. “It’s powerful for a variety of reasons. It reconnects seniors with their congregations, develops a grandparent network, encourages them to volunteer when they have more time in their lives to do so and gives them significant things to do with their grandchildren.”

During her 30 years of service, Morton took advantage of the mandate to travel the world and weave a “make it better” network that materially improved lives in Russia, Poland, Israel and El Salvador, in addition to the United States.

Thanks in part to Morton’s efforts, Israeli soldiers have received college scholarships and brighter futures for their families, Russian authorities released Refuseniks, gentiles who saved Jews during the Holocaust have been honored, massive Hurricane Katrina relief flowed from the North Shore, and thousands of individuals have learned the joy and power of working to make the world a better place.

In closing, Morton uses her arms to demonstrate “Kedushah,” an important principle of her work. The Hebrew word means holiness.

“We reach out, reach up and reach in. This makes a big heart,” Morton says. “With Kedushah, you affect your whole heart and the heart of the world.”

A Make It Better reader recommended Sharon Morton as a “local treasure” in our community. If you know of other inspiring individuals on the North Shore, please send information about them to Susan@MakeItBetter.net.

HOW MORTON MADE IT BETTER:

Here is a list of the organizations Sharon Morton has either helped found, supports or recommends to others who share her mission.

Am Shalom
840 Vernon Ave., Glencoe
847-835-4800

Children’s Memorial Hospital
2300 Children’s Plaza, Chicago
773-880-4000

Help supply Treasure Chest for children after they receive chemotherapy in the 4th floor oncology and hematology clinic.

American Jewish World Service
45 W. 36th St., New York, NY
800-889-7146

Nonsectarian humanitarian assistance and emergency relief in the developing world.

Glencoe Interfaith Builders
840 Vernon, Glencoe
Contact: Jim Axelrad
847-432-0462

An interfaith group working to build homes through Habitat for Humanity for deserving families, and to give them a start in life.

Reach Out and Read

A national non-profit organization that promotes early literacy by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud in pediatric exam rooms across the nation.

FIDF
29 E. Madison St., Chicago
Contact: Bill Lipper
312-372-8500

Scholarships to help put needy Israeli combat veterans through college.

Sojourn of the Union of the Reform Judaism
555 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook
Contact: Laura Horn
847-239-6990

Jewish Council on Urban Affairs
618 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 700, Chicago
312-663-0960

Combats poverty and racism

Tov Network of Jewish Federation
30 S. Wells St., Chicago
312-346-6700

Change the world — one mitzvah (deed) at a time

Chicago Action for Jews in the Former Soviet Union
555 Vine Ave., Highland Park
847-433-0144

(Dedicated to the sustenance and protection of Jews in need in the former Soviet Union.)