Editor’s note: This article has been updated with comments from an interview with Bernie Marcus.
Home Depot co-founders Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank are teaming up on a new nationwide mental health network, their first partnership on a major project since leaving the Atlanta-based retail giant nearly two decades ago.
They each are donating $20 million through their foundations to establish 20 treatment sites around the U.S. to serve military veterans, first responders and their families who are experiencing post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries and substance abuse issues.
The billionaires are teaming up with actor and veterans advocate Gary Sinise, whose foundation announced Tuesday plans for the cognitive health and mental wellness initiative: the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network.
The announcement fleshes out a pledge Blank had made in 2019 at a celebration of Marcus’ 90th birthday to donate a total of $20 million toward causes his Home Depot compadre has championed.
Marcus, 91, retired from Home Depot in 2002. Blank, 78, left in 2001 and now owns the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United.
Starting from scratch in the late 1970s, Blank, Marcus and co-founder Ken Langone struggled to build what became Georgia’s largest publicly traded company. Home Depot now has about 2,300 stores and more than 400,000 employees. It generated more than $110 billion in sales in 2019.
Blank and Marcus have stay connected over the years. “We are more like brothers” than business partners, Marcus told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday.
The two have differences in styles, most philanthropic targets and politics — the Marcus Foundation has been a heavy giver to Republicans, while the Blank foundation’s giving veers to Democrats, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
As far as philanthropy, addressing the mental wellness of vets and first responders is “the first thing that we really have been totally in sync to,” Marcus said.
Marcus said he hopes the new mental health network will be serving 10,000 people annually within five years. He views his and Blank’s giving toward the effort as somewhat open ended. They also are hoping to attract other philanthropists, because it may take $200 million to $300 million to fully fund the system, he said.
The two have been, separately, among the biggest philanthropists in Georgia on a variety of projects. Marcus, for example, gave nearly $250 million to create the Georgia Aquarium. In October, Blank’s foundation announced a $200 million donation to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. In December, Marcus’ foundation announced an $80 million gift to the Shepherd Center, the largest grant in the Atlanta-based rehabilitation center’s 45-year history.
Sinise, an actor with a long list of TV and movie credits including playing Lt. Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump, has been active for years in efforts to support veterans.
Hundreds of thousands of service members have suffered traumatic brain injuries, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Others have also been affected by post-traumatic stress, as have first responders. The impacts can appear in many forms, from depression and anxiety to suicide and substance abuse.
“They have this invisible wound that they carry,” Marcus said. “We want to help them get back to life.”
In a released statement, Blank said, “I couldn’t be more pleased to partner with Bernie Marcus again to support a cause that’s important to both of us, the well-being of the individuals in our armed forces and our first responders.”