Charitable Calling: Attorney relishes opportunity to help disbaled in the region

Howard Luckoff has always felt a calling to not just the legal profession, but to helping make his community a better place.

But he admits he couldnt have been as successful professionally or personally without the help of his wife Nancy, whose interest in charitable causes equals his.

The couple has been a team in supporting and volunteering for numerous charitable causes for more than two decades, and it is a calling that they have handed down to their four children. It should come as no surprise though that such a commitment comes naturally to the family.

Luckoff, a senior partner at Honigman in Bloomfield Hills with a specialty in real estate, grew up in a household that emphasized the importance of helping make the community in which you live a better place. The same can be said for Nancy.

And in reality, its not something that Luckoff considers as work. They enjoy attending and planning fund-raisers together, sitting on organizational boards and spreading the word of the great works done by such charities.

I think that desire to give back is in our blood and you can really thank our own families for instilling those values in us, Luckoff says. We both come from families with long standing philosophies of giving back to community.

Nancys grandparents were active in donating time and money to the construction of the emergency room at Sinai Hospital three decades ago. Luckoffs parents were frequently recognized for their charitable work in and around southeastern Michigan.

We grew up in homes where it was important to give back to the communities in which we live in, he says. It wasnt an optionit was expected.

Nearly 20 years ago, the Luckoffs became active in JARC, a nonprofit, nonsectarian agency in the Detroit metropolitan area dedicated to enabling people with disabilities to live full, dignified lives in the community, and to providing support and advocacy for their families.

Luckoff was referred to the organization because he had an adult cousin who was developmentally disabled. It didnt take long for him and Nancy to realize what a wonderful cause the organization supported.

You can say it tugged at our heartstrings, especially when you see the impact it had on the lives of those individuals it helps, Luckoff says. Plus JARC gives so much for the family members of disabled adults and children as well.

So the Luckoffs have been active in JARC ever since. The couple co-chaired JARCs annual fall/winter fund-raiser that traditionally has featured a special showing of a Broadway play in the Detroit area for donors. The December event featured Wicked, A New Musical, held at the Detroit Opera House. It was expected to attract a full house of donors.

Because of the play that was chosen, Luckoff jokingly refers to himself, Nancy and other top volunteers as wizards and munchkins. Past JARC fund-raisers have included showings of such stage hits as Mama Mia and The Lion King.

JARC has a phenomenal staff and it provides a much needed service to our community, Luckoff says. Our spring fund-raiser is geared toward raising money for the childrens division and has been held at such local sites as the Detroit Zoo, Great Lakes Crossing and Joe Dumars Fieldhouse.

Fund-raising is a skill and many volunteers dont have the experience, or the desire, to help with such efforts. More than 25 percent of JARCs $10 million annual budget, or $3 million, is raised privately from thousands of individual donors, corporations, businesses and foundations. The Michigan Department of Community Health and Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority fund the remainder of JARCs operational expenses.

So while the need for donors is great, the need for professionals who volunteer their time to not only solicit donations, but also to volunteer to come up with creative ways of garnering donations is immensely important. So it should come as no surprise that Luckoffs energy is contagious, says Rena Friedberg, director of Development for JARC.

He and Nancy bring tremendous skills to their role as chair of our fund-raiser, Friedberg says. What sets them apart is an ability to successfully motivate fund-raising volunteers and professional staff.

Luckoffs sharp analytical skills and creative approaches to raising money are also critical, Friedberg says.

He has a strong commitment to follow through with any responsibilities he accepts, she says.

That sense of reliability is appreciated by nonprofit associations that not only rely on the community and area corporations for donations, but also as the organizers of events held throughout the year, Friedberg says.

Such responsibilities have been passed down to the Luckoffs four children. Their three boys and one girl range in age from 6 to 18. The two oldest teenagers have already been actively involved in philanthropic work as JARC volunteers and former or current presidents of other youth organizations.

Luckoffs philanthropic interests go well beyond his work with JARC. He has sat on the boards of the Fresh Air Society and of World ORT, a nearly 130-year organization that is the largest Jewish education and vocational training non-governmental entity worldwide.

World ORT will provide education and training through its network of schools, colleges, training centers and programs in such countries as Israel, Russia, Argentina and the United States. It benefited more than 200,000 people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, in 2008 alone.

He and Nancy are also active in the Karmanos Cancer Institutes annual partners event. That fund-raiser helps earn money for research and the purchase of needed medical equipment to help provide better patient care and keep up with technological updates. The Luckoffs have been honorary co-chairs for the past three years of that Karmanos fund-raiser.

We became active in that event through (lawyer colleagues), Luckoff says. Its a lot of work but we have fun. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that you get to meet so many other great people in the community who have worked with us on the planning of such events.

Being financially comfortable is a luxury, not a right in the opinion of the Luckoffs. Luckoffs legal skills have allowed him and his family to make such a comfortable living, but much of the familys time is spent giving back to those around them. They do it for their community, for fun and because they feel a sense of duty. As Luckoff says, its as much a calling for him as the legal profession.

Its something we can enjoy as a family together and hopefully will provide us with many of our greatest memories, Luckoff says. And we hope our children will pass this tradition down to their families.


JARC is a non-sectarian, nonprofit organization founded in 1969 by a group of parents concerned about the future of their children with developmental disabilities.  

Today, JARC is one of the nations largest providers of community-based Jewish residential services, serving nearly 150 adults in its group homes and various supported independent living arrangements.  

In 1998, JARC discovered a need in the community for support services for families who have a child with any disability still at home. Through the establishment of the Harris Children and Family Division, JARC is able to provide these services to more than 450 families.

By Mike Scott

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