Eleanor Blanchard's Legacy: Making Plans Together

It’s a big step--to single out a select few recipients for support in perpetuity. Eleanor Blanchard worked with trusted family attorney Jean C. Coker, PA, and Merrill Lynch’s Bill Merriam to bring her initial thoughts about the charitable aspects of her estate into focus. Eleanor had an interest in helping families dealing with autism issues, and when they began talking about possible beneficiaries, the HEAL (Helping Every Autistic Life) Foundation surfaced as an opportunity to explore. Then, according to daughter Missy Pierce, Eleanor heard that some special service dogs could be trained to help children with autism. That is when the idea of a gift to help provide dogs for families in need really began to take hold. “My dad was a huge animal lover, and my mom thought this would be perfect,” remembers Missy. “This would be a great reflection of both their desire to help people in need and animals.” The HEAL Foundation, based in Ponte Vedra Beach, serves individuals and families living with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Eleanor Blanchard wanted to help HEAL by establishing an Autism Service Dog program—a highly desirable but expensive program HEAL was not able to pursue before the grant.

“Our first duty is to honor the wishes of the donor,” says John Zell, VP Development for The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida. “In this case, we helped structure a gift that connects The HEAL Foundation to the work being done at Project Chance, a Fernandina Beach-based nonprofit that provides service dogs for children in Northeast Florida.” “This gift was a godsend,” says Leslie Weed, the founder of the HEAL Foundation, of the $250,000 estate gift from Eleanor Blanchard, which is backed by a $500,000 endowment.

Already the inaugural class of English cream retriever puppies has been placed with families as part of the HEAL Autism Service Dog program funded by the Blanchard gift. They will work closely with Project Chance for 18 months to ensure that the service dogs and the families bond appropriately, and that the dogs have custom training geared to address individual issues, providing a critical element of calm and reassurance. New puppies have just arrived at Project Chance, and soon they will be matched with families eager to have the special assistance of these service animals. Weed couldn’t be more grateful. “If I could, I would tell her (Eleanor) that I know that I am the steward of her dream, and I believe that she can somehow see all the lives she has changed already and all the lives she will change.”

Missy continued, “My parents were very decent, hardworking people; they functioned as a team and never missed an opportunity to remind us how blessed we all were. To see this process come together as a reflection of their life together has inspired and humbled me.” Missy and her sister were part of the process as Eleanor made the decisions that would direct her charitable giving after her death, which occurred in 2011. Eleanor chose to establish the Blanchard Family Endowment Fund as a designated endowment, making a significant initial distribution to both the HEAL Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Project, with ongoing disbursements to those organizations plus L’Arche Harbor House. Knowing that all the details are in place gives Eleanor’s family peace of mind. “It made my mom feel good that there were no loose ends,” she concluded. “It was very important to her that the money was invested well. It is an eternal gift, and that was very important to her. All in all, it was a seamless journey.”


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