Bernard Finkelstein was named president and chairman at Florence Fuller Child Development Center.
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Ron Hayes
For 17 years, Bernard Finkelstein worked in Cleveland, Ohio, and relaxed in Highland Beach.
And then, in 2002, he retired.
“Cleveland was too cold,” he says.
Bernard and Sonia Finkelstein sold their Coronado condo, bought another in the new Toscana development and moved here permanently.
He had found a climate to warm his body. And then he found a calling that warms his heart.
Shortly after arriving in Highland Beach full time, a friend invited him to join the planned giving committee of the Florence Fuller Child Development Center in Boca Raton.
Five years later, he joined the board, and on Jan. 1, he became its president and chairman.
Back in Cleveland, he was Bernard A. Finkelstein, a certified public accountant with Ernst & Young. To the 625 boys and girls at Florence Fuller, he’s “Mr. Bernie.”
“I had a great career,” he says, “and now it’s time to give back. In Cleveland, I’d been a life trustee with the National Conference of Christians & Jews and also was active with a group called Economics America, bringing economic education to the lower grades. Florence Fuller seems to play into both those things — diversity and education.”
Founded in 1971 to help disadvantaged toddlers prepare for kindergarten, the Florence Fuller Center now serves children from infancy to fifth grade at its original home on Northeast 14th Street, as well as a west center at State Road 441 and Yamato Road.
“I’ve always felt we’re the best-kept secret in Boca Raton,” Finkelstein says, “but it’s difficult.”
Despite government grants, he notes, the center still has to raise about $1.7 million every year to meet its $6 million annual budget.
And the ZIP code doesn’t help.
“There’s a great deal of wealth in Boca Raton,” he says, “but also a great deal of poverty, so when we ask for grants and donations, there’s a mental block we have to overcome. People wonder, ‘Why would anyone in the 33432 ZIP code need funding?’ ”
By careful planning, they make the budget, Finkelstein says. What’s lacking is emergency reserves.
“The standard rule is that you should have enough money for three months’ expenses in case of an emergency,” he explains. “We’re just under that, and we should be well over it, given our age.”
A welcome gift arrived on April 10, when Impact100, a South County philanthropy for women, donated $100,000 to the center’s Family Preservation Program, which provide crisis intervention, parenting skills and individual counseling for 500 family members.
“This is the first time we’ve gotten it, and it’s fabulous,” says Finkelstein. “It’s real recognition of what we contribute to the community at large. The Family Preservation is an extension of what we do. We take care of their kids and now we’re trying to move in to a new phase of family support, so this is a real tribute.”
Soon, the center hopes to begin a capital campaign to build a much-needed multipurpose building at the west location, but if the retired accountant’s worried, it doesn’t show. At 69, he likes where he’s living, and loves what he does.
“Highland Beach is the best of all worlds,” he says. “You’ve got quiet, peaceful surroundings while also being close to anything you could ever want.”
When he’s not working to improve the lives of the 625 children at the Florence Fuller Child Development Center, Finkelstein plays — with his own grandchildren. He has six, and three of them live in Parkland.
“I’ve got two herniated disks,” he says. “I can’t play golf, I can’t play tennis, so I play with my grandkids. Because I traveled so much in my working life, my wife, Sonia, gets all the credit for raising our two daughters and I try to make up for it with my grandkids.”
Not long ago, he took those grandkids for a day at the Palm Beach Zoo, where Finkelstein spotted a parade of familiar T-shirts.
A class from the Florence Fuller Center just happened to be there, too — wearing their T-shirts, walking hand-in-hand, staying in line.
“Take a look at this,” Mr. Bernie told his granddaughters. “There’s a lesson here.”
For more information, visit www.ffcdc.org, or call 391-7274.