Steve Gorin: Legal, financial background helps nonprofits thrive

Steve Gorin and Covenant Place Executive Director Joan Denison look at plans for Covenant’s new building project.

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Being president of the board at Covenant Place during the biggest decision in its history was a tough job but Steve Gorin is quick to credit others for the accomplishment.

“We had the right executive director in place,” recalls Gorin, 55, as he works his way through a brunch fruit cup at the St. Louis Bread Company in Creve Coeur. “We have a great team of people advising us. We have great volunteers. We really have all the talent that we need to get it done well and get it done right.”

Today, much like his love of chess or his affinity for technical tax matters, the new buildings rising at the affordable senior living facility on the Millstone Campus are a testament to Gorin’s analytical mind, his ability to see a problem, understand its challenges, contemplate its opportunities and find solutions. It is a skill set that seems to come naturally to the Washington University Law School graduate who spent time as a practicing accountant before making partner at Thompson Coburn in 2000 where he helps clients with trusts and estate work as well as other business concerns.

That behind-the-scenes gift for strategic planning may not be as visible as the “in the trenches” work of some volunteers who interact directly with underserved individuals but it is every bit as valuable. Harnessing his legal and financial acumen complements the volunteerism of those who want to give time in other ways.

“It enables other people to do the hands-on work and to do only the work that they like as opposed to having to get their hands dirty working on things they don’t understand and are not comfortable with,” he said. “Let them do only what they love.”

The Shaare Emeth congregant originally joined Covenant’s board about a decade ago because members of his own family found themselves in need of senior housing options. This situation has become increasingly prevalent in a state where one in five residents will be age 65 or older by 2030. It is a problem on the mind of many as rising costs and extended lifespans create an ever-larger population of 80-, 90- or 100-year-old citizens.

“Most of our residents are people who, they’ve worked hard, they saved for retirement but then they just lived too long so they ran out of money,” he said. “You don’t want to punish them for living too long. We want them to enjoy their long life and help provide services for them.”

Those changing demographics pushed the organization to consider its options with regard to its own aging infrastructure and its ongoing subsidies from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Gorin said that first they looked at renovation but soon it became apparent that new construction was the better answer.

The important thing is that it was the best way to support the residents.

“The people we serve are people who don’t have anywhere else to turn, people of very modest means,” he said. “We can do a lot to help them enjoy a dignified retirement in a very warm, supportive environment. I really like the fact that we are making a big difference in people’s lives and their quality of life.”

Helping people has always been foremost on Gorin’s mind. Originally, the Atlanta native wanted to be a neurosurgeon, but a failing grade in organic chemistry pushed him toward law school, from which he eventually emerged with both a degree and his spouse, Judy.

“I obeyed the law that said if you marry someone from St. Louis, you have to stay there,” he chuckled.

A lot of folks are glad he did.

“We feel very fortunate that Steve is such an important part of Covenant Place,” said Joan Denison, executive director of the agency, who calls Gorin a detail-oriented planner with a strategic mindset. “At the same time, he’s very kind and very generous and helps empower other leaders to really step up and contribute.”

The Olivette resident also has fans at Jewish Family & Children’s Service, where he’s played various roles.

“Steve is the kind of person who never seeks the limelight for what he does. He just does it,” said CEO Louis Albert.

Gorin has served as treasurer at JF&CS and been involved in strategic planning, finance, fundraising and on the program services committee.

Albert notes that Gorin’s background as a CPA and a lawyer makes him uniquely useful in viewing both a non-profit’s programmatic and operational aspects.

“I love having him involved with the agency,” he said. “If we had a dozen more people with his level of expertise and experience we would be thrilled. But he’s one of a kind.”

Gorin is no longer president at Covenant, but he still sits on its finance and executive committees. More important are the lasting legacies he’s helped to leave both in terms of the building projects and in helping to bring active members onto the board. He noted that one of the first things a board president has to do is start looking for his successor.

“We have presidents lined up,” he said proudly. “People are waiting in the wings to become president.”

His other Jewish community involvement includes the Jewish Federation, where he serves on the Planned Giving Committee. Previously, he was part of YPD, served as part of the Planning and Allocations Committee and helped to review budgets as a volunteer accountant.

All of it relates back to the values he learned early on. His grandfather, Solomon Earl Britton, the same man who taught him chess, also gave him an appreciation of Judaism and Jewish values.

Gorin likes to say he’ll never retire because helping others is what he does.

“I think that God put us on this earth to help people,” he said. “I help my clients. I help people in the professional organizations [and] the community organizations for which I volunteer.”

It all boils down to a responsibility to give back to those around him.

“I have a duty to develop my talents as best as I can so that I can lead a meaningful life and I can help other people,” he said. “I need to be the best Steve Gorin I can be.”