In 2016, we saluted Scott B. Salmirs, a founder of Donate Eight, a nonprofit organization that has galvanized members of New York’s real estate, building management, and building services community on behalf of organ donation awareness and registration.
In New York City, lots of important ideas are born over lunch. It’s rare, though, that an idea takes root that has the potential to save thousands of New Yorkers’ lives. Yet that’s just what happened in 2012 when Scott Salmirs, president and chief executive officer of ABM Industries, an international facility management provider, and Jodi Goldman, a colleague in the real estate industry, got talking about New York’s desperate need for more organ donors.
Already a registered organ donor, Scott was passionate about the issue and dismayed by the dire statistics: 10,000 New Yorkers are awaiting an organ transplant; every 18 hours, a New Yorker dies waiting for a heart, lung, kidney, or pancreas; New York State is ranked last in the nation in the percentage of people registered to be organ donors. He was also drawn to the cause because making progress didn’t require finding a cure. “The ‘cure’ is right in front of us,” says Scott. “Lives can be saved by simply educating people and getting them registered as donors.” Scott left that lunch with a growing belief that he could make a difference.
Within weeks, Scott was offering his help to a very grateful and somewhat incredulous Helen Irving, the CEO and president of LiveOnNY, the nonprofit, federally designated organ procurement organization that serves 13 million people in the greater New York metropolitan area. LiveOnNY works closely with 10 transplant centers and more than 90 hospitals to facilitate organ, eye, and tissue donation and transplantation, and is dedicated to educating the public about donation and encouraging enrollment in the New York State Donate Life Registry.
Scott then tapped eight prominent and like-minded executives from New York’s real estate, building management, and building services community, who enthusiastically joined his cause. They named themselves Donate Eight, a reference to the eight life-saving organs that one person can donate.
“Getting that initial call from Scott was the kind of gift every leader of a nonprofit dreams of,” says Helen Irving.
An early and central priority of Donate Eight was to raise significant funds to support LiveOnNY’s vital work and strong partnership with the hospital community—and to raise awareness among members of the New York real estate community about the power of organ donation. In just four years, Donate Eight’s annual reception has become both a signature event and an eye-opening, “must-attend” evening for hundreds of real estate executives—raising hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, and showcasing the miracle of organ donation.
“Every donation story is so moving,” says Scott. “When you hear a father talk about meeting a child who received the heart of his own deceased three-year-old son, it just takes your breath away.”
Spurred by the funds Donate Eight raised—now $3.2 million—and the promise of continuing support, in early 2016 LiveOnNY established the LiveOnNY Foundation to extend its critical work of encouraging New Yorkers to register as organ donors, raising awareness about donation as a gift of life, and supporting donor families in their decision-making and in their grief. New initiatives will also support scientific research on transplantation and opportunities to advance living donation.
Dispelling myths about organ donation is a particular passion for Scott. “Some people inaccurately believe that if they are registered as organ donors, medical professionals won’t work as hard to save their life,” he says. “Others are concerned that organ donation may be against their religion, when in reality it is consistent with most major religions’ beliefs. And some believe that an open-casket funeral isn’t an option for people who have donated organs or tissues—also not true. Education about these and other issues is truly a matter of life and death.”
What drives Scott Salmirs? He’s always been guided, he says, by the principle that helping others enriches your own life—and his wife of 30 years, Marcy, has been a key role model for his charitable work. For more than 20 years, she’s spearheaded a program that delivers food to needy families in the south Bronx; she’s also been instrumental in Donate Eight’s success, running all aspects of its annual fundraising event. Scott is quick to acknowledge, too, that the organization’s success comes from the collective strength, commitment, and enthusiasm of its founding board.
For his bold and decisive action to address the urgent need for increased organ donation awareness and registration in the greater New York area—and for tapping his vast professional and personal network to assist in this truly life-saving initiative—United Hospital Fund is proud to present Scott Salmirs with the 2016 Distinguished Community Service Award.
Reprinted from the 2016 United Hospital Fund Gala program.