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The sky above Shea Stadium is cloudless; it is the perfect June day. Off-duty police officers and firefighters serve chili and barbecued chicken as children clamor off to get their baseballs signed by the members of the Mets’ starting lineup. It is the New York Police & Fire Widows’ & Children’s Benefit Fund’s annual spring picnic, and Stephen Dannhauser, the organization’s president, makes his way through the crowd, shaking hands and greeting guests. Dannhauser, the managing partner of New York’s Weil, Gotshal & Manges, has long been active in the charity, but after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, his role — and the amount of time he gives to the fund — has grown exponentially. Former Mets star Rusty Staub started the fund in 1985 to give financial assistance, both at the time of death and on a yearly basis thereafter, to immediate survivors of firefighters and police officers who have died in the line of duty. The fund also tries to build a network among the survivors’ families, through picnics and annual dinners. On Sept. 11 the number of surviving spouses served by the fund shot up from 425 to 725. More money was needed to help them. So, in the two months following the attacks, Dannhauser and Staub worked up to 18-hour days publicizing the charity and raising funds for it. On top of it all, Dannhauser continued to manage his firm as it reaped the benefits of a surge in bankruptcy work. “Running the charity was a full-time job and running the firm was a full-time job,” says Dannhauser. “The only thing that suffered during that time was sleep.” However, Dannhauser stresses that he had strong backup teams at both the firm and the charity. Shortly after the twin towers collapsed, Dannhauser called Staub and told him that they would need to mobilize quickly. “Stephen and I did every radio and television show out there,” Staub says. Adds Dannhauser: “We were actively trying to get the message out that we’d been at this for 16 years, that we knew what we were doing.” By early August, the fund had collected more than $115 million. (Prior to 9/11, the fund had collected about $15 million in its 16-year history.) Unlike charities formed after the attacks, the fund had a pre-existing infrastructure and volunteers to draw upon. Dannhauser also tapped Weil Gotshal’s resources. For instance, Weil Gotshal public affairs manager Peter Columbus sent group e-mails through a legal marketing association and received donations from law firms around the globe. Weil Gotshal also created a war room in which volunteers sorted through donations, which numbered more than 110,000. Every donation was logged into a database, and a thank-you letter was sent to each donor, Dannhauser says. For a corporate lawyer, Dannhauser, 52, has always had a deep connection to firefighters and police officers. Growing up in the Long Island suburb of Hicksville, N.Y., Dannhauser knew many from those ranks, and, while attending Brooklyn Law School, he lived in a building off-campus where he became friends with even more. Robert Groth, a police officer who lived in Dannhauser’s apartment building at that time, even tried recruiting him into the New York Police Department — a fact that the two now laugh about. Groth and Dannhauser remained friends through the years, and this past April, after retiring from the force, Groth became Weil Gotshal’s firmwide security manager. Dannhauser had been involved with the fund almost from its start, but he assumed a more active role when he became chairman of its annual dinner in 1995. The next year his efforts helped catapult the charity to $1 million in collections for the first time, a mark it has maintained since then. “When Steve makes phone calls to people, they respond,” says Staub. Increasing involvement led to Dannhauser’s being named president of the organization in 1999. The aftermath of Sept. 11 tested more than just Dannhauser’s marketing skills. For instance, the fund needed to come up with a distribution plan. Within weeks of the attacks, the fund disbursed $100,000 to each surviving spouse of a firefighter or police officer killed at the twin towers. It also gave $30,000 to survivors whose spouses had died in the line of duty before Sept. 11. Dannhauser says that the division advanced the charity’s mission — meeting the needs of all immediate survivors — while providing for the acute needs of those affected by the terrorist attacks. The initial sum given to new survivors — those whose spouses were killed in the line of duty after Sept. 11 — was increased as well, from $10,000 to $25,000. Over the next eight years, the fund will give all surviving spouses $12,000 a year. Before Sept. 11, the amount ranged between $2,000 and $2,500. That change will deplete the amount currently in the charity’s coffers. Dannhauser says he hopes that the growing network of support for this charity will allow for a perpetual fund. While money does matter, Tara Stackpole, whose husband, a firefighter, was killed on Sept. 11, stresses the importance of the charity’s communal activities for her five children. “It’s good for children to know they are in a safe place, where people understand” the loss of a parent, she says. “And there are not a lot of places where they can feel that.”

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