Sharing the wealth: Heather Spielmaker

For Heather Spielmaker, what's important is giving people the opportunity to succeed.

Heather SpielmakerHeather Spielmaker has spent her life supporting people. Whether she was working late-night shifts at a video store so she could make enough money to take care of herself and her young son or offering financial assistance to her two sisters who are also single mothers, her role in life is clear.

She’s a giver.

Spielmaker became a single mom when she was 19. She dropped out of Aquinas College and got a job. “But I didn’t have reliable transportation.”

That's an enormous stumbling block for single parents. You need a car to find a job. Then you need it to get to work on time each day.

Without a car she could count on to start when she turned the key, simply getting her son to day care and herself to work became complicated, elaborate and challenging.

After a few years of struggling to make ends meet and raise her son, Spielmaker got married and had a daughter, but, “there were lots of indications that the marriage would not be successful, and my motto in life is, ‘Always have a Plan B,’ ” so she continued with her education.

“I knew if I got my degree, there would be so much more available to me,” she said.

“So by the time I was divorced, I’d graduated with high honors from Lansing Community College and transferred to MSU.” She earned her degree in Interdisciplinary Social Science and graduated with honors a year later.

Today, Spielmaker is the director of Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Center for Ethics, Service and Professionalism.

Her story: At left, Heather Spielmaker talks at the Community Foundation’s annual breakfast in October 2010 about what drove her to create a fund. Above, Heather is pictured with her son, Damian, and her daughter, Kennedy.

“Being a single mom is easier now because I make more money,” she said. “But it doesn’t matter how good a mom or how hard a worker you are, it takes money to do some of the things you need to do when you’re a single parent.”

When Spielmaker was a city council woman in Charlotte in 2007, she heard the Capital Region Community Foundation’s President and CEO Dennis Fliehman give a presentation on philanthropy.

“I assumed I would be writing a $50 check for some worthwhile cause at the end of his speech,” Spielmaker recalled. But when she heard Fliehman talk about the concept of “legacy giving,” whereby donors establish testamentary funds through the community foundation, she was intrigued.

“I liked the idea of being able to help people who were experiencing the same obstacles I had faced. This is the best way to give that I’ve ever come across. That’s why I’m a charter member of the Capital Region Community Foundation’s Legacy Society.”

She established the Heather Spielmaker Testamentary Fund with the Community Foundation to support causes important to her: assistance for single parents and homeowners and programs that help emancipated minors.

“I’ve always been really committed to sharing the wealth,” Spielmaker said. “If I’m not sharing it with my sisters, I give a lot away. I didn’t know you could designate life insurance to start a charitable fund. The concept of being able to give even though I can’t really give a significant amount right now was really appealing to me.”

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