Jacksonville’s Harvey Bernhardt Foundation working to expand reach, ‘fill … – Florida Times

Montana Reinschmidt just wanted to be able to take a shower, a freedom the rest of us might take for granted.

But after a May 2012 spinal cord injury that left him a paraplegic, Reinschmidt needed a $5,000 to $6,000 shower wheelchair to do that.

Enter The Harvey Bernhardt Foundation.

Established in 2007 in memory of a Jacksonville doctor, the foundation provides one-time financial assistance for hardship cases related to medical or natural disasters, victims of crime or other tragedies.

Reinschmidt got his shower wheelchair.

“It meant the world to me,” he said. “It allowed me to feel clean. To be able to get in the shower like I used to. They are great people.”

Reinschmidt, now a 23-year-old University of North Florida student studying mechanical engineering, was one of a dozen or so of the foundation’s individual beneficiaries. Also, the foundation annually works with other local nonprofits to identify families in need during the holiday season, paying $1,000 worth of food and gifts for them, and helped fund a local program that provides books for homeless students.


This year Executive Director Monica Bernhardt, daughter of the foundation’s namesake, is working to increase awareness of the foundation in the nonprofit sector and the overall community. The goal, she said, is to help more people.

“We have money and we would like to use it,” she said.

The foundation was designed to help people who are in crisis but for one reason or another do not qualify for assistance from other sources. Gifts have gone to a family who could not afford funeral expenses for their child and to a woman who had missed work to be with an ill child and could not afford to get her car fixed, Bernhardt said.

“Something they have no control over; something happened and they don’t have a safety net,” she said.

The foundation wants to be on community leaders’ speed-dial list.

“We are building relationships so we can help other agencies,” she said. “We want referrals from other leaders … pastors, bosses, if you think someone is worthy and can pay it forward at some point in their lives.”

Longtime family friend Ray Driver said the foundation’s theme is “the compassionate assist.”

“A lot of nonprofits do a lot of good things in the community. The foundation steps in and fills a niche,” he said. “It is an easy process and quick turnaround.”

The more people the foundation can help, the more the foundation honors Harvey Bernhardt.

He survived polio as a toddler and was stricken in his late 30s with post-polio syndrome. But his accomplishments were many: He became a pathologist, opened his own lab, raised a family, coached two decades of Jacksonville youth in basketball and helped raise public awareness about the dangers of smoking, according to the Times-Union report about his 2007 death at age 62.

“He was not expected to live past 2,” Monica Bernhardt said. “He never let anything stop him.”

His children “saw that spirit in him and wanted to continue that spirit,” she said. “He’d be really proud of us.”


The United Way of Northeast Florida works with the foundation helping needy families during the holidays, said Jan Morse, the agency’s director of childhood and youth strategies.

“It is amazing to see these families’ faces as they experience the warmth and generosity of the Harvey Bernhardt Foundation. Families’ lives are changed every year by the great work that they are doing,” Morse said.

The foundation’s first individual recipient, in 2008, was Bob Rhodin, then a teacher and coach who had been paralyzed after contracting a staph infection. He was given about $6,000 worth of physical therapy equipment.

The “stander” funded by the foundation was a godsend, expanding Rhodin’s world, said his wife, Janice Rhodin.

“It brings him up to his feet,” she said. “It was great. He can stand up at home.”

Since then, the foundation has kept in touch.

“They are beautiful people,” she said. “They have never forgotten us. They really are amazing.”


Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109