November 2015 Cover Story: Gifts of Giving

Gifts of giving brighten the region

Margot C. Jacoby, with her daughter, Martha Papworth O’Neill. Martha died in 2010 after a fight against renal cell carcinoma, a rare form of kidney cancer. Mrs. Jacoby and her husband, Douglas, have established the Martha Papworth O’Neill Scholarship at the JCC Foundation. The scholarship in Martha’s name is given each year to a non-traditional student enrolled in humanities and social sciences. A scholarship fund was also set up in Martha’s name at Cazenovia College, where she had served on the Alumni Board of Directors.

Margot C. Jacoby, with her daughter, Martha Papworth O’Neill. Martha died in 2010 after a fight against renal cell carcinoma, a rare form of kidney cancer. Mrs. Jacoby and her husband, Douglas, have established the Martha Papworth O’Neill Scholarship at the JCC Foundation. The scholarship in Martha’s name is given each year to a non-traditional student enrolled in humanities and social sciences. A scholarship fund was also set up in Martha’s name at Cazenovia College, where she had served on the Alumni Board of Directors.

Across Northern New York, philanthropy large and small aids causes and honors memories while building legacies that leave the north country a better place

By Norah Machia, NNY Business

At age 30, Martha Papworth O’Neill told her mother that she had finally found her “dream job” teaching at Jefferson Community College, after having traveled to 13 different countries, including China, Turkey, Peru, and several European nations.

“She traveled extensively and loved learning about other people and their cultures,” her mother, Margot C. Jacoby, wrote in a book describing her daughter’s life. “She taught English in China at all levels, elementary through college.”

Martha had graduated with honors from Cazenovia College and later earned a second degree from Lee University in Tennessee. She developed a passion for teaching and researching both English and history.

In 2007, she started working as an adjunct at Jefferson Community College, even sharing office space with her mother, who was also teaching in the school’s English Department.

“It was a really wonderful time,” Mrs. Jacoby said. “She would bring me coffee in the morning, and we even worked out together at the gym. I learned from her as an adult child. It was such a privilege knowing her as an adult.”

Martha was also employed as a substitute teacher for children with special needs through the Jefferson-Lewis BOCES System. She played violin for the Jefferson Community College Orchestra.

She was popular among students and staff, and received the college’s Phi Theta Kappa Outstanding Part-time Faculty Award for the 2009-2010 academic year.

But it was during this time that Martha started to feel very fatigued. She was initially diagnosed with a case of pneumonia, treated with antibiotics, and seemed to be improving. Then she started to experience a persistent pain on her life side, where an ovarian cyst was discovered.

The exhaustion and pain, however, continued to worsen. One night after she could not stop vomiting, Martha was taken to the emergency department at Samaritan Medical Center. A battery of tests were run, including a CT scan, which revealed a tumor the size of a fist on her left kidney.

The physician in the emergency department broke devastating news to the family: Martha had a probable diagnosis of renal cell carcinoma, a rare form of kidney cancer. It was Stage 4, meaning it was advanced. Before she was discharged, a consultation was set up with Upstate Medical University, Syracuse.

The family was shocked. There was no history of kidney cancer in the family. Martha lived a healthy lifestyle, ate well and exercised, and she was not a smoker.

Mrs. Jacoby wrote some of her initial reactions in her book, titled “Love Lives: Becoming Martha O’Neill.”

“That’s not right, that can’t be,” she wrote. “This is my daughter, my first born you are talking about. My beautiful, loving daughter who is just embarking on her dream career. She has her whole life ahead of her. She’s just 30 years old.”

For the following four months, Martha sought traditional cancer treatment at Upstate Medical University and alternative treatment at a North Carolina clinic. She turned 31 years old while she was still in the hospital.

Martha wanted to make as many of her own decisions as possible during her battle with cancer. And that was not reserved to just medical treatments.

While on a ventilator, she sent a text message to her “soul-mate” of many years, Watertown resident William D. O’Neill. Actually, it was more of a text proposal.

“Martha was very independent, and very determined,” her mother said.

Her message: “Wish you were here. Let’s get married.”

Mr. O’Neill said yes right away, and within days, he was in the intensive care unit putting a ring on Martha’s finger during a wedding ceremony held right at the hospital.

She not only gained a husband from her hospital bed, but she also gained three step-children: Ian, Kyle and Caleb O’Neill. Their time together as husband and wife, however, was short.

The following month, on Aug. 22, 2010, Martha died at Upstate Medical University following her courageous battle against kidney cancer.

After her death, Mrs. Jacoby and her husband, Douglas, established the Martha Papworth O’Neill Scholarship at the JCC Foundation. The first scholarship in Martha’s name was awarded in 2011. It’s given each year to a non-traditional student enrolled in humanities and social sciences.

A scholarship fund was also set up in Martha’s name at Cazenovia College, where she had served on the Alumni Board of Directors. The family also established an endowment fund at Upstate Medical University to support renal cancer research.

Many of the scholarships given through the Jefferson Community College Foundation are established in honor or memory of a family member, said foundation director Lisa Familo.

“There is a story behind every single scholarship,” she said. “The people behind these scholarships show tremendous acts of kindness.”

“They take something tragic and turn it into something positive,” Mrs. Familo added. “A scholarship is a beautiful way to honor or remember someone.”

Last year, the college awarded 270 scholarships totaling $334,760, a record year for JCC, Mrs. Familo said. Approximately 82 percent of the college’s students receive some type of financial aid.

In addition to support from individuals, alumni and businesses, the JCC Foundation also hosts several fundraising events throughout the year. The majority of money donated to the foundation is used for scholarships, and the remaining money helps with technology and infrastructure upgrades.

The JCC Foundation was established in 1979 to work in partnership with the college, as well as with alumni and others in the community to create scholarship opportunities for students. The foundation maintains assets of nearly $6.2 million, and is governed by a 21-member volunteer board of directors.

The Northern New York Community Foundation has also experienced growth in designated scholarships and total funds, said Executive Director Rande S. Richardson. The foundation serves Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

“In regards to growth, over the past five years, the foundation has added about 200 additional named funds, which serve a variety of charitable purposes,” he said. “Over that time, the assets the community foundation stewards has grown from just under $40 million to approximately $60 million.”

The foundation’s growth is due, in large part, “to an effort to build upon a local heritage and tradition of giving, coupled with an increased awareness of all the various ways donors can customize and tailor their giving both now and in perpetuity,” Mr. Richardson said.

“Certainly, we have more relationships with those who never thought they could make a difference with more modest giving,” he said. “For many, it is a way to discover how a community foundation works, and how they can continue to develop ways to customize their giving.”

“This helps provide more of a sense of ownership in the community foundation, which is exactly as it should be,” Mr. Richardson added.
An increasing number of donors are becoming more passionate about specific causes and issues, he noted.

“That is exactly what community foundations are engineered to help facilitate,” Mr. Richardson said. “Of our roughly 200 new funds established over the past few years, most of them have been created with specific objectives in mind.”

Dr. James Oliver and his mother, Jan, pose inside the Flower Memorial Library. Dr. Oliver has set up a NNY Community Foundation fund in her honor to promote reading. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

Dr. James Oliver and his mother, Jan, pose inside the Flower Memorial Library. Dr. Oliver has set up a NNY Community Foundation fund in her honor to promote reading. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

One of those funds was established by Watertown dentist Dr. James B. Oliver, as a gift to his mother, Jan Oliver, a retired school library aide. It was established to honor her devotion for reading. The purpose of the fund is to support an organization or initiative that promotes the importance of reading among all ages.

“My grandmother was an avid reader, and my mother always had a book in her hand,” Dr. Oliver said. “That’s the way I grew up. As a kid, I read more for enjoyment.”

In fact, his wife and one of his two daughters became teachers, and everyone in the family had a passion for reading, he said.

“We developed our own family and friends library loan system,” he joked.

Establishing a fund at the foundation “was a unique way of honoring” his mother, and at the same time, providing support for a cause in the community that was very important to his family, Dr. Oliver said.

Dr. Oliver made a similar gesture for his late father, Vincent R. Oliver, a retired Watertown City School District administrator who died in 2013. Before his father’s death, Dr. Oliver had set up a scholarship fund in his name at the Jefferson Community College Foundation.

“It was a Christmas gift in honor of him when he was alive,” Dr. Oliver said. “He said that was one of the best Christmas gifts he could have received.”

The scholarship is aimed at helping first-generation college students.

“My grandparents were Italian immigrants,” Dr. Oliver said. “They did not have a lot of education, but they were hard workers.”

His father grew up during the Depression, entered the Air Force, “paid for college with help from the G.I. Bill, and then became a teacher and later an administrator in the Watertown School District,” Dr. Oliver said.

“He taught me about the value of education, and how it gives you so many more opportunities in life,” he added.

The Northern New York Community Foundation has worked diligently to promote the idea that anyone who cares about the community can become involved in helping it, Mr. Richardson said.

“There is a place for everyone here, and we continue to adapt to ensure that we are able to provide that opportunity for all,” Mr. Richardson said. “Accessibility and diversity is a very big part of my personal mission statement.”

Another trend that the foundation has been experiencing is an increase in the number of donors who are designating their gifts for specific geographic areas of the north country, a “give where you live” concept, he said.

“That is something that community foundations can do particularly well,” Mr. Richardson said. “Our north country is so vast in size, and with some community-specific challenges and opportunities. I think, overall, the trend is going to be more donor-directed, both by location, and in areas of interest.”

Stephen W. Moyer and Lester C. Allen, are an example of donors who wanted to support a specific region in St. Lawrence County because of a strong connection to the area. Last year, they established a special fund at the Northern New York Community Foundation to support projects and endeavors in the Clifton-Fine region.

Stephen W. Moyer and Lester C. Allen, are an example of donors who wanted to support a specific region in St. Lawrence County because of a strong connection to the area. Last year, they established a special fund at the Northern New York Community Foundation to support projects and endeavors in the Clifton-Fine region.

Stephen W. Moyer and his husband, Lester C. Allen, are an example of donors who wanted to support a specific region in St. Lawrence County because of a strong connection to the area.

Last year, they established a special fund at the foundation to support projects and endeavors in the Clifton-Fine region. Although they live in Syracuse, the men have maintained a summer home in the Wanakena area for decades.

Their designated fund is a component of the Clifton-Fine Community Fund, which is administered by the NNYCF.

“At one time this area had a lot of paper mills and mines, but many have closed over the years,” Mr. Moyer said.

Because the region has faced economic challenges, establishing a fund “seemed like a great thing to do,” he said.

“We feel part of this community,” Mr. Moyer said. “We also have a strong belief in the Northern New York Community Foundation. So many other people also care about this region, so we wanted to support that permanent fund.”

One grant from their fund was made to the Wanakena Historical Association to help support the rebuilding of a historic suspension pedestrian bridge that had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. The Wanakena footbridge was built in 1902 by the Rich Lumber Co., who had operated a timber tract and large sawmill. It was initially used by the company’s workers to get back and forth from their homes to the mill, which were separated by the Oswegatchie River.

But in January 2014, the bridge sustained severe damage from chucks of ice in the river, and the area was closed off after the bridge’s foundation was destroyed. Shortly after, the community began a fundraising effort to restore the iconic bridge.

A second grant was given to “a group of young people hoping to revitalize the area by establishing a coffee house and music place at the area’s general store, which is now closing,” Mr. Moyer said.

The idea is to also create a “community meeting hall and an art gallery” inside the building, said Mr. Moyer, a broker associate for Berkshire Hathaway CNY Realty.

Sometimes donors don’t have a specific designation for their gifts, but they just want to support a nonprofit agency because it has helped their family.


 

Michael Chiappone, right, and his grandson Brian, left, inside the DPAO, where Brian receives services and Michael is a philanthropist. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

Michael Chiappone, right, and his grandson Brian, left, inside the DPAO, where Brian receives services and Michael is a philanthropist. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

Michael Chiappone, owner of Chiappone’s Tire Warehouse on West Main Street in Watertown, credits the nonprofit Disabled Persons Action Organization for helping his developmentally disabled grandson learn the social skills needed to work in the community.

For the past 11 years, his grandson Brian has worked as a greeter at Sam’s Club in Watertown, and has been recognized by the company with awards for his dedication to the job.

“DPAO has such a compassionate staff,” Mr. Chiappone said. “They do a first-class job with their clients.”

Brian had been participating in socialization programs offered by the DPAO since he was a toddler. He has also received job training services through the Jefferson Rehabilitation Center.

“Our community is blessed to have both agencies,” Mr. Chiappone said. “They really work hand-in-hand with each other.”

Brian lives with his parents, Mark and Joni Chiappone, who have “done a fantastic job raising him,” the grandfather said.

The activities at the DPAO, 617 Davidson Street, Watertown, “not only helped Brian develop his social skills, but they really helped to draw out his personality,” said Mr. Chiappone.

Mr. Chiappone also had Brian spend time at the tire business while growing up, and he became fast friends with the business’s regular customers and suppliers.

A scrapbook in Mr. Chiappone’s office contains a newspaper clipping with a photo printed several years ago in the Watertown Daily Times. The photo was taken of Brian at a dance marathon being held as a fundraiser for the Disabled Persons Action Organization. Mr. Chiappone had helped his grandson raise more than $3,000 for that event.

The tire repair shop owner remains grateful for the help provided by the agency, and still supports them with regular contributions. He also works with the Kiwanis Club, which sponsors an annual picnic for the DPAO clients.

“The kids really look forward to that picnic every year,” Mr. Chiappone said.

Although he is 37 years old, Brian still participates in some of the DPAO activities, including attending the agency’s fundraising concerts.

“It make him feel part of the community,” Mr. Chiappone said. “And he really enjoys the music.”

In late 2013, the DPAO incorporated a foundation to help with its fundraising events, including its annual concert series. Joseph L. Rich, former DPAO Executive Director, was appointed to serve as the foundation’s president.

It was Mr. Rich who started the agency in 1976 and has seen it grown to serve hundreds of families in Jefferson and Lewis counties with a staff of 140 full and part-time employees.

Mr. Rich, a former television reporter for WWNY-TV, decided to establish an agency that could help people with a range of disabilities after he had covered a story of a young man paralyzed in a hunting accident. The man’s family was not able to receive any financial assistance to help with his care.

Over the years, much of the agency’s fundraising efforts have focused on its concerts, drawing performers ranging from Loretta Lynn to Meatloaf, and more recently, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Although the agency receives state funding, it also needs proceeds from the concerts to help as many individuals and families as possible.

What many people may not realize, however, is the amount of support the agency receives from businesses and individuals to help sponsor the annual fundraising concerts, said Mr. Rich.

“We have donors who are always there, they just can’t do enough for us,” he said. “The season ticket people come every year, they know all the money is going to help the individuals we serve.”

The agency sees “folks from all walks of life” giving to support the programs and services offered in both Jefferson and Lewis counties, he said.

“I just can’t say enough about the people who volunteer their time and money in support of our agency,” Mr. Rich said.

Norah Machia is a freelance writer who lives in Watertown. She is a 20-year veteran journalist and former Watertown Daily Times reporter. Contact her at norahmachia@gmail.com.