Elizabeth des Cognets signed many of her emails to JF&CS Center for Early Relationship®(CERS) staff with a simple “Bon voyage!” A CERS supporter since 2002, Elizabeth met with CERS staff twice a year – once in her hometown of Washington, DC and once in New England on her summer visits to see family and friends – to hear about the current work of the division. Although she always made time to meet, these bi-annual discussions would often happen between other appointments or on her way to somewhere else.
“Often, Elizabeth would come to JF&CS Headquarters and observe a CERS supervision group. Other times, staff would meet her wherever she was visiting in New England. In the tightest of times, we would meet in hotel lobbies without even getting a cup of tea,” shared Peggy Kaufman, Director of CERS. “We joked that our meetings were more about quality than quantity!”
Born in Lexington, Kentucky, Elizabeth moved to Worcester as a child, attending the Bancroft School and graduating from Concord Academy. She earned degrees from Boston University and Simmons College before moving to Washington, DC where she worked as a child advocate and researched strengthening families at risk. A volunteer throughout her life, Elizabeth worked with international student exchange programs, as a tutor for elementary school children, and as a docent at the National Gallery of Art.
At age 76, Elizabeth, described as someone who appeared ageless, heard of the JF&CS Center for Early Relationship Support when she read an article about our Early Connections program in Zero to Three written by CERS Clinical Director, Eda Spielman. Elizabeth, familiar with the field of infant mental health and with Healthy Families America, was interested in learning more. After a phone call to Eda, the two women met for breakfast in Marblehead, Massachusetts and spoke in detail about the work of the CERS Early Connections program.
“Elizabeth loved that our programs were reaching families before they were in intractable troubles with their children. She understood the value of working with young parents when pregnant and right after the birth of their child,” said Peggy. “She was also impressed that we were focused on the parent-child relationship for all clients in CERS programs and not just on meeting the needs of the parent or the child.”
In a 2013 conversation with Peggy, Elizabeth shared, “I truly understand the importance of the work of CERS: nurturing relationships are at the center of the infant’s life and form the basis for healthy development and learning. Infancy is a sensitive and critical period in child development and the work of CERS can make a difference that lasts a lifetime.”
Inspired, Elizabeth began making a gift each year as well as donating her stock dividends. In 2006, she made CERS a beneficiary of her estate. Last year, when Elizabeth’s health began to decline rapidly due to cancer, she called Peggy. It was then that Peggy learned the details of Elizabeth’s beneficiary gift.
“Once she knew that her health was declining and that she had a very short time to live, she would call me every few weeks to hear updates about CERS,” Peggy fondly recalled. “She would say, very humbly, ‘I want you to know that I’m gifting you more than a million dollars for CERS. I want you to keep doing what you’re doing.’”
Like Ms. des Cognets, you too can make a gift that last a lifetime. When you include JF&CS in your estate plan or name JF&CS as a beneficiary of your retirement or life insurance plan, you invest in improving the lives of individuals and families for generations to come. In fact, if you are 70.5 or older, you can also make a tax-free gift to JF&CS directly from your Individual Requirement Account (IRA) that qualifies for the required minimum distribution each year. If you would like to learn more, please contact Wendy Wilsker, Senior VP of Institutional Advancement at 781-693-5674.
“I was so grateful whenever Elizabeth called,” said Peggy. “I used it as an opportunity to thank her and to remind her how this bequest was her legacy, a gift to both the agency and also to the parents and babies we serve.”
Originally posted on the JF&CS blog.