A Legacy of Giving: The O’Gara Family

Dec 27, 2023

When we broke ground on our new Crisis and Recovery Center in West Saint Paul on October 3, 2023, we did so with backing from dozens of companies and individuals in the public and private sector as well as several other generous donors. One of these donors was the O’Gara family, who made the largest single donation in Guild history to furnish and operationalize the center’s first year. 

Early on in their 48-year marriage, Debbie shares that they made sure to support their favorite causes not just financially, but also with their time. Volunteering became a family value, and was passed on to their son, Ryan, from an early age. For the O’Garas, giving back isn’t just about helping others; it’s about discovering a deeper sense of purpose in life. Now that Ryan has grown up, he and his wife Luisa are continuing the tradition with their two kids, making them the third generation of charitable O’Garas. It’s a family legacy of kindness and generosity that keeps on growing.

Prior to getting more deeply involved in philanthropic work, Debbie worked for 20 years for a mental health organization. There, she saw firsthand that donors were less likely to give to causes and nonprofits like hers due to the stigma and fear facing individuals living with mental illness.

“People love to raise money for children,” she said. “But it’s a harder sell for people with mental illness, for certain.” 

Debbie first heard about Guild through one of her then-employer’s board members. She and Rick started attending Ladder of Hope, our hour-long fundraiser that has been supporting our services for more than 15 years, and became drawn in by the people and services we offer. 

It’s people that got me involved. Every program, every class is wonderful,” she said. “It’s been the most rewarding — the kindest people, the most intelligent people, everything about it.”

In 2012, Rick sold a profitable business which has allowed the O’Gara family to establish a Family Foundation. Again, their son and family are involved in the decision-making process of where donations are allocated. 

“You can talk all you want and say all these things, but [kids] see it when you lead by example,” Debbie said. “You can’t tell them. You really can’t. You have to invite them in, to experience it. ”

When the discussion of a Crisis and Recovery Center first began, Debbie knew from her prior work combined with personal experience that she wanted her family to be involved in the project. We were thrilled to have her and the rest of the O’Gara family with us at the October groundbreaking to celebrate and thank them for their generosity.

“It’s a population that’s underfunded, and the need is so, so great,” she said. 

At Guild, we pride ourselves on giving our donors a front row seat to the many ways their giving grows empathy for people living with mental illness and supports our clients throughout their mental health journey … on making sure donors like the O’Gara family see and feel the impact of their gifts.

“We trust that [Guild knows] where the money should be spent and what’s going to best enhance the lives of the people you serve,” Debbie said. 

When we asked Debbie about the legacy that she, Rick, Ryan, and Luisa are building for future generations of O’Garas and why they continue to share their wealth with others, the answer was as simple as it was meaningful: people.

“We show up for a cause, but deepen our relationships there because of the people,” she said. “Everything has to come from within. You can acquaint people to things, but you can’t make them do something … it’s got to be what they feel.”

You can join the O’Garas in supporting our lifesaving work. Consider a gift today.