The Diva Fund
Est. 2021 by Allison Ann Alkire and Roslyn Rubinstein.
The Diva Fund was established in memory of Allison Alkire and Roslyn (Roz) Rubinstein's beloved Bernese Mountain Dog — the first of their many dogs and cats. Grants from the Diva Fund will be made with a preference given to nonprofits providing shelter for cats and dogs in the Greater New Haven community.
Before meeting one for the first time backstage at the Westminster Dog Show in the 80s, Allison and Roz were not familiar with the impressive Bernese Mountain Dog breed — but then, one came over, sat down at their feet and leaned right up against them.
“They're visually very striking,” Allison and Roz recall. “So they get your attention right away. One of the things they typically do is sit at your feet and lean against you. It was just a very adorable behavior.”
Soon after, they adopted their own Bernese Mountain Dog and named her Diva, “after the opera ‘Tosca,’ in which the lead character, diva Floria Tosca, is described as a ‘raven haired beauty’ — which described our dog well,” says Allison, a longtime opera fan.
Diva turned heads and won hearts all over the streets of Brooklyn, New York, and the sidewalks of Guilford, Connecticut, their summer home at the time (which later became their permanent hometown, and where they've continued to live since the early 2000s). Though the breed is popular nowadays, “back then, you didn't see them very often,” the couple notes.
“Diva was friendly to everybody. The face markings on Bernese Mountain Dogs make them look like they're smiling all the time.” As a puppy, Diva looked like a cute little stuffed animal. “Absolutely adorable. We would get stopped all the time; people would pet her. We never had a walk where we weren’t stopped.”
A few years later, Allison and Roz decided to share Diva’s good nature more broadly: The couple brought Diva to the ASPCA in New York to be trained as a certified therapy dog.
“We took her to work with young adults with cerebral palsy,” recalls Roz. “She was phenomenal. She knew how to behave in different circumstances. She had a red harness that she wore when we would go to United Cerebral Palsy, a day center. We walked in and she just knew, once we put the harness on, that she was working.”
After a warm welcome from staff upon entering the facility, “we’d go and see different young adults, and it was great.” Depending on individual abilities, the young adults would walk Diva, brush her or simply sit and pet her.
“You could just see their eyes widen, a smile on their face,” says Roz “and you knew she was having an impact. We did that for a couple of years. It was a wonderful experience.”
Giving back has always been a part of life for Allison and Roz. “We’ve both always donated to philanthropic organizations, animal-oriented and otherwise. Since we retired, we also have time for hands-on volunteering at a local feline rescue and adoption center. We became more aware of the many small organizations that work tirelessly for animal welfare." Through their experience with locally-based, volunteer-driven organizations, they became familiar with the work of The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.
When updating their estate plans, Allison and Roz decided that, “in order to have a meaningful impact in an area of importance to us, we needed to concentrate our assets around a specific cause,” which led them to start the fund. At The Community Foundation, “you make the process so easy,” adds Roz. “You do all the work for the donors in terms of coordinating the whole grant process.”
When trying to think of a name for their fund, Roz recalls, “we had this ‘aha’ moment: Diva, because of how much she meant to us so many years ago. Not that we didn't have pets before, individually [followed by four more dogs and 10 cats together since], but Diva was the first one in our family; she started it all. So it just seemed so appropriate for the fund to be named after her.”
“We've been very fortunate,” says Roz. “Hopefully, we can leave something behind. And what better way to leave it behind, than in a fund to help animals. There will always be a need.”
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