BY PETER ELLISON
In late January, Roberta “Bertie” Bialek Elliott made a generous contribution of $105.8 million to build a youth mental health center in Monterey, marking only one example of Elliot’s generosity to both the community and CUSD over the years.
“I wanted to make a significant gift to the community here, which I love and I wanted to do something that would benefit the community at large, and [the] community hospital benefits almost everyone,” Elliot said in a video released by Montage Health.
The $105.8 million will go to Montage Health, the parent company of the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, and be used to construct the Ohana center, an inpatient facility focused on adolescent mental health. Part of the money will go towards an endowment to help propel the Ohana project indefinitely.
“Our goal is to use Bertie Bialek Elliott’s gift to develop a program that can be emulated by others throughout the nation,” Montage Health CEO Steve Packer said in a press release. “We consider this an investment in the future of countless children and families, and we are committed to being the best stewards possible.”
The philanthropist has long been involved with the Community Hospital, serving on the board of trustees from 1997 to 2003 and helping build CHOMP’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Elliot’s contributions have also had a unique impact on CUSD. The most visible was born from collaboration between Elliot and Craig Hohenberger, a now-retired eighth grade science teacher, who worked together to make the CMS habitat a reality.
“Hohenberger wanted to do a working, hands-on science curriculum out there in the habitat,” says Karl Pallastrini, former Carmel Middle School and CHS principal and a current CUSD board member. “We went to Bertie Bialek and told her about what we were doing. She was a big believer in education and kids. So we said, ‘Can you help us with a funding gift?’ And she said she could and gave us a million dollars.”
Elliot prefers not to take credit for her donations, often donating anonymously, according to Pallastrini. However in 2003, the habitat was named the Hilton Bialek Habitat in honor of Elliott’s late husband and longtime school board member Dr. Hilton Bialek, who died in 2002.
The habitat has enabled a unique learning experience for students at CMS, centered on lessons about the environment and sustainable practices. English and foreign language classes use the LEED-certified green kitchen throughout the year to make traditional dishes and science classes from all grades use the space to both learn about and observe the natural world.
Elliot’s contributions haven’t been limited to CMS alone, with contributions toward the Carmel High performing arts center and the athletic stadium. In addition to monetary contributions in the community, Elliot has also given much time working for local organizations such as the Community Foundation for Monterey County and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, among others.
Elliot is sister to Warren Buffett, investor and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. Both have made immense philanthropic contributions, with Buffet pledging 99 percent of his fortune to charity.