A moment with: Brian Hammel

Photo of Brian Hammel.

Brian Hammel is the President of the Northridge Hospital Foundation in Northridge, California, having joined the organization in 2002. 

At the recent 2023 CommonSpirit Health Philanthropy Education Summit, Brian received the Philanthropy Values Award which was established to honor a foundation team member from one of CommonSpirit’s 80+ fundraising offices who truly embodies our mission, vision and values. Northridge Hospital Foundation, along with the other foundations in the Southern California Division, was also recognized as the Division of the Year, celebrating their collaboration and performance over the prior fiscal year.

Philanthropy is …
Philanthropy is sharing. Sharing your personal resources and time, as well as encouraging and engaging others to share their resources and time with those who may not be as fortunate, that don't have the resources, or that are underserved or underinsured. It could be serving as a good listener, hearing what people are saying to learn if there is a way that you can assist and help them. I look at all of that as being a good steward, being kind, being philanthropic and just being a good person.
Tell us about your background and how you came to CommonSpirit.
I was a college basketball coach for many years. I was born and raised in New York and I had a short career in the NBA and over in Europe. When I came back, I was a junior varsity coach in high school and then a college coach. I was very fortunate to be a head coach at 25, which is pretty young. That was at Bentley College, and then I went to University of Iowa as an assistant for two years before going to University of Southern California as an associate coach for five years. After that I was the head coach at Northern Illinois University for about 11 years.

At that point I didn’t see myself coaching for the rest of my life and I was blessed to be called by the CEO here at Northridge who was a real sports guy, so I think that helped. I was appointed to this position and now I’m going on 20 years.

What attracted you to philanthropy?
There are so many similarities in what I did as a coach … putting teams together, recruiting, trying to have people reach their potential and getting them to serve or to play at their maximum.

A lot of the things I do now, I base on my coaching experience. Putting the game plan together, for example, is putting a strategic plan together. I like the dynamics of a team and being instrumental in having the team and all the individual parts come together as a whole to think and play as one. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that. Coming to a hospital … I'm not clinical and I didn't know a lot about health care … but once I got here I realized that the foundation can help a lot of people either through purchasing equipment or running programs in the community to support them. I found that intriguing and very interesting.
Is there a specific donor, project or story that stands out to you?
There are so many. We have two brothers on our board, Dana and David Pump. Their dad passed away with lymphoma. I knew them when I was coaching and, in fact, they were the ones who told the CEO about me. They have done a wonderful job raising money for cancer research and care in our community. They've raised about $9.5 million in 21 years. They put on a big celebrity event in August and the work that they do supports free mammograms, ultrasounds, x-rays and follow-up services through biopsies, family consultations and home health transportation. They have given our hospital the kind of money which has elevated our care and helped a tremendous amount of people. We have another gentleman and his wife who unfortunately lost their daughter to suicide. He started a foundation to support our adolescent behavioral health unit, trying to turn a negative into a positive. Now he’s running a golf tournament in March and those proceeds will come to our foundation.

Those are just a couple of the bigger ticket items but they all have different meanings and the more you get to know these people the closer they get, you feel that real connection. They are really helping us and their community but also I think by them being able to give, they have an insatiable appetite that they need to feel that they are making a difference and it can help in their pain. They feel good about donating to an organization in the community.

When do you feel best at work?
No matter what you do, in any job, it comes down to people. It’s meaningful when we have a good board meeting and I feel that there's value being added and they feel included and give value back. I get value and I feel good at work when I see our staff growing. I enjoy seeing people reach their potential and I feel it is incumbent on me, as the leader of the team, to try to encourage and raise the bar and set a level of expectation so we’re able to stretch. You figure it out as you go but that’s probably the most satisfying thing is to see people continuing to bring value as they say “Wow, I thought I was busy two years ago but I can accomplish a lot more if I continue to stretch and grow.” 
Tell us about how it felt to receive the Division of the Year Award and the Philanthropy Values Award at February’s Philanthropy Education Summit.
We're in a great location. The division has gotten bigger. California [Hospital Medical Center Foundation], for example, has always been a very strong revenue producer with the wonderful work they do in their community. We've always been in that grouping because we have some high producers and now that area has really grown. The award and recognition was very cool to see. 

The Philanthropy Values Award was … to say it was a surprise would certainly be an understatement. I couldn’t collect my thoughts. I was stunned but I was very appreciative. I’m sure there were a lot of deserving candidates, probably more than me, but I certainly appreciated it. The comments that were made that evening, and even afterwards, were heartfelt. It was humbling and I felt really special to have been selected.

What did you dream of being when you grew up?
I dreamed of being a New York Yankee. That's what I wanted to be up until my sophomore year in high school. 
What would others be surprised to learn about you?
I was a third-round draft choice by the Milwaukee Bucks and a fourth round by the Indiana Pacers, because they had the NBA and the ABA back then. I’ve also played basketball in 14 different countries.
What does relaxation look like for you?
I like to read and enjoy working out. I watch college basketball and sports, major league baseball and pro football. I just became a granddad so my wife and I try to see my grandson in Denver. My other son is an assistant coach at UC Riverside so I go out there. Spending time with my daughter is always special for me. I hang out with my golden retriever and take her to the beach. Those are some of the things that I enjoy doing.

Final thoughts?
I've been blessed. Someone told me when I was coaching that the two basic ingredients in life are to always have a positive attitude and maintain a good perspective. I’ve always tried to do that. There are so many distractions, so many noises and voices out there that can pollute you mentally. My mom had two little signs over our kitchen sink when I was growing up. One said “two men looked out from their prison bars and one saw mud while the other saw stars.” The other said “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” 

I just feel blessed to be employed and working, in good health, around a good board … I think we have so many good things to look forward to and to be positive about.