Lifestyle & Human Interest

Social Worker Who Patched Own Shoes with Duct Tape Leaves $11 Million to Children's Charities


We’re told that the quiet ones are the ones we have to watch out for; they’re full of surprises.

In some cases, the silence masks deep troubles, but in other cases, the silence is just a side effect of being introverted. For Alan Naiman, the silence was a shroud that hid just how money-savvy and generous he was.

In fact, if he hadn’t passed away, people might not even know how much of a philanthropist he was, but now all his good deeds are coming to light and he is being commended for his jaw-dropping contributions to the needy.

Naiman grew up in Seattle, Washington, and that’s where he spent most of his life. According to WLS-TV, he had an older brother with a developmental disability who passed away in 2013, but everyone around him knew how much Naiman loved his brother.

“Growing up as a kid with an older, disabled brother kind of colored the way he looked at things,” his friend Susan Madsen said.

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Naiman went to both the University of Washington and the University of Puget Sound, studying business and getting his MBA. He never married and he never had children, but that didn’t mean he didn’t connect with the people around him.

He cared very deeply for those in dire straits, especially the underprivileged and forgotten. He became a foster parent, mentored kids and joined Child Protective Services.

He had different gigs over his lifetime, including being a banker, working with the Department of Social Health Services and doing various side jobs whenever he could. No one knew how much money he was sitting on, because he didn’t lead an affluent lifestyle.

Incredibly modest, Naiman bought sensible cars, took people out to fast food restaurants, duct-taped his shoes when they started to fall apart, scoured stores for grocery deals and bought clothes from the same places he bought his food. There was nothing loud or flashy about him.

“I don’t know if he was lonely,” mused another friend, Shashi Karan. “I think he was a loner.”

He was known for taking solitary trips and keeping to himself, which is probably why even his closest friends had no idea just how much cash he had to his name. But he must have had a plan: All those years of hard work but spending little on himself — where was all the money going to go?

To the children, apparently.

When he passed away from cancer earlier this year at the age of 63, he shocked everyone by leaving $11 million dollars to various charities in his home state.

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Treehouse foster care, a group that provides both staples and toys to foster kids, received $900,000. Naiman used to take his foster kids to their center to choose supplies and knew they did good work.

“The frugality that he lived through, that he committed to in his life, was for this. It’s really a gift to all of us to see that pure demonstration of philanthropy and love,” explained Jessica Ross, the chief development officer for Treehouse.

Pediatric Interim Care Center, which assists babies born to drug-addicted mothers, received $2.5 million of his donation. Years ago, they’d responded quickly when Naiman found out about a baby who needed help.

The center is incredibly grateful for this generous donation, but their only sadness is that Naiman won’t get to see all the lives he’s influencing.

“We would never dream that something like this would happen to us,” founder Barbara Drennen said. “I wish very much that I could have met him. I would have loved to have had him see the babies he’s protecting.”

“The way Alan lived, nobody would have ever suspected that he was going to leave this gigantic legacy,” said Karan, according to Childhaven’s newsletter. “He lived such a simple life and his frugality was legendary.”

“He asked for ideas of places that he could donate, but I had no idea how much,” said another friend, Mary Monahan. “I am overwhelmed by the amount of good he did and continues to do. He just kept it so secret. It wasn’t anything he ever talked about.”

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