A Letter from Our Founders
In twenty-first century America, mental illness is criminalized and stigmatized. Behaviors associated with poor mental health and addiction are mistaken for, and treated as, willful criminality. Rather than supporting people’s health and social development, and providing access to quality care, and education, we default to law enforcement response and incarceration, where health declines further, and poor behavior is exacerbated by punishment.
Health and justice should not be tangled together. It reflects poorly on our values and takes a terrible toll on our community wellbeing.
The Equitas Project works to disentangle mental health and criminal justice by activating leadership, influencing policy, and energizing grassroots. What every U.S. community needs is greater alignment between what we do and who we say we are when we define our nation as the home of freedom, justice, and equality. By disentangling mental health and criminal justice, U.S. communities will see reduced incarceration rates, enhanced public safety, greater justice, more individuals reaching their potential, and positive economic outcomes associated with all of the above.
According to the United Nations, the number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide was cut in half between 1990 and 2015 due to the generosity of individuals and governments in wealthy nations. Philanthropists, giving together, have created a measurably better world through shared vision and willingness to give back. That’s the kind of progress we’re after.
With your help, we will take equally giant steps toward changing the course of mental health and criminal justice. Please join us in supporting The Equitas Project’s efforts to move our communities toward greater health, justice, and prosperity.
Let’s be champions for what’s right, and help those who are in need of our help.
David and Laura Merage
Founders, The Equitas Project
and The David and Laura Merage Foundation
About David and Laura Merage and the David & Laura Merage Foundation
David Merage knew from an early age that he was destined to be an entrepreneur. In 1976, David Merage co-founded Chef America, Inc., a national frozen food manufacturer known for inventing and marketing Hot Pockets, Lean Pockets, and Croissant Pockets. At the time of its sale in 2002 to Nestlé, the company had reached $750 million in annual sales, employed 1,800 people and was growing at a rate of 15 percent per year, making it one of the fastest growing food companies in the world. Having immigrated to the United States from Iran in 1968, David has built a legacy here as an investor and venture philanthropist. Through his company, Consolidated Investment Group (CIG), David invests in real estate and Wall Street. Through the David and Laura Merage Foundation, he also invests in people.
Laura Merage is an accomplished artist and venture philanthropist who works to positively influence the lives of thousands of people every day. Also an immigrant to U.S., Laura has profound respect for U.S. civil liberties and religious freedoms. She invests considerable time and financial resources to ensure the preservation of these basic human rights. Laura currently serves on the Anti-Defamation League Board of Directors (Mountain States Region and National), and is deeply committed to their mission of promoting justice and fair treatment to all.
David and Laura Merage formed the David & Laura Merage Foundation in 2002, with the mission of promoting self-sufficiency through education and community involvement. As venture philanthropists, David and Laura have modeled their Foundation’s operational platform on the successful business ventures of the Merage family. The Merage Foundations’ investments focus on early childhood education, arts and culture, community development, Jewish life, and the growth of Israel. The David & Laura Merage Foundation created Early Learning Ventures, RedLine, Black Cube, and The Equitas Project.