Daniella Levine ’83
While studying at Columbia Law School in the 1980s, Daniella Levine ’83 mentioned to her grandfather George M. Jaffin ’26 that many of her peers were not pursuing public interest law because of financial constraints. The conversation inspired Jaffin—a lawyer and philanthropist—to help establish the Law School’s Loan Repayment Assistance Program for graduates choosing to pursue careers in public service. Jaffin always pointed to his granddaughter as the catalyst for the idea.
“That’s humbling,” says Levine, who, in addition to her law degree, earned a master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of Social Work. “I thought it was important for students [interested in the field] to keep in touch with their motivations for going to law school.”
Levine’s own desire to dedicate her career to public interest work led her to found Catalyst Miami, a nonprofit organization that helps communities develop strategies for social, educational, and economic improvement. The organization focuses on what Levine considers to be the two pillars of democracy: economic opportunity and civic responsibility. Through initiatives such as the Prosperity Campaign—which provides application assistance for government benefits and free tax preparation services—Catalyst Miami offers pro bono financial planning help to individuals and families. Another initiative, Imagine Miami, links civic-minded individuals and organizations in an effort to enhance community involvement.
Levine, the organization’s president and CEO, created Catalyst Miami as a volunteer group in 1996. It now includes more than 60 employees and apprentices, with an annual budget of $2.8 million. “I never expected to start an organization,” Levine notes. “To me, [this work] is an adventure. It’s a challenge. It’s a puzzle to be solved.”