Dr. Gary Gitnick is Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Digestive Diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
A member of the UCLA faculty since 1969, Dr. Gitnick heads the largest gastroenterology division in the world with 70 full-time faculty members and a multimillion-dollar budget. The author or editor of 63 books, Dr. Gitnick was Chief of Staff of the UCLA Medical Center and Medical Director of the UCLA Health Care Programs. Read more at the UCLA Medical Center web site.
Guided by the personal principle that “one of the most worthwhile efforts in life is to nourish the spirit and mind of a young person,” Dr. Gitnick and his wife Cherna founded the Fulfillment Fund in 1977.
After sponsoring an annual holiday party for employees in a UCLA research laboratory for several years, Dr. Gitnick decided that the money he paid for the holiday party could be put to better use, so he hosted a holiday party for children with severe physical disabilities. Out of this experience the Fulfillment Fund was born. In 1977, the decision was made to continue the holiday party but also to start a role modeling organization.
Incorporated as a non-profit in Los Angeles in 1977, the early Fulfillment Fund focused on the needs of young children and teenagers with disabilities, matching them with mentors and challenging them to set high goals and rise above the obstacles set before them. In the 1980s and 90s, the Fulfillment Fund broadened its mission to include able-bodied students and began providing college scholarships, motivational events and other programming.
Today, the Fulfillment Fund has been recognized as one of the most successful long-term mentoring, classroom outreach, college counseling and scholarship programs in the country. Dr. Gitnick’s vision, commitment, and courage have impelled the Fulfillment Fund to rise to the complex challenges facing the nation’s public education system and to emerge as a national model for one-on-one mentoring and comprehensive college-access services.
Each year, the Fulfillment Fund offers thousands of students a broad-based continuum of services beginning in the 9th grade and continuing through high school, college and beyond. The goal: to motivate and enable them to overcome obstacles to finish high school, go on to college, and then give back to their community.
Whereas nationally, only about 50% of students from low-income communities go on to college, more than 90% of Fulfillment Fund high school graduates do. And whereas only 33% of students from low-income communities graduate from four-year colleges, more than 70% of Fulfillment Fund scholars do.
“We have statistics that prove beyond a doubt that what we do makes a difference,” Dr. Gitnick says. “We have a model that works, and a model that can be replicated all over the world.”
Dr. Gitnick, with his co-chair, Dr. Eric Esrailian, has led the charge to replicate the Fulfillment Fund’s successful model in other communities in response to requests for assistance. In 2012, the Fulfillment Fund expanded to Clark County, Nevada, where it is now serving hundreds of students in two Las Vegas high schools, funded entirely by members of the local Las Vegas community.
As part of its program of total enrichment, the Fulfillment Fund also instills in students the value of community service, and thus fosters generations of youth who are productive, engaged, contributing citizens. Dr. Gitnick asks all Fulfillment Fund alumni to give back by becoming mentors and volunteers themselves. His inspirational call to action is being answered: graduates are “completing the circle,” returning to the Fulfillment Fund as mentors, donors, volunteers, staff and board members, paving the way for an organization whose future will be guaranteed by the passion, ability and dedication of its alumni.
The Gitnicks, the proud parents of four adult children and the grandparents of seven, are also immeasurably proud of the thousands of Fulfillment Fund alumni who have achieved college degrees and are living, working, and giving back to the community, serving as role models to the next generation.