January 2016: Nonprofits Today

Be what’s right with our region this year

Richardson_RandeW-“Those who invest in our treasures are what’s right with Watertown. Make it your resolution to be a part of what’s right with Watertown.” — Mark Walczyk, newly elected Watertown city councilman

It is common at this time of year to look back and dream forward. During the New Year’s Day swearing-in ceremonies at Watertown’s Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library, one didn’t have to listen too hard to find a theme emerge — hope and optimism for a greater community. Those assembled were gathered in a building that itself serves as a living example of civic pride, love of community, respect for heritage and giving back. It is hard to be in that space and not sense the importance of thoughtful stewardship. The best way we honor those who have led before us is by ensuring that this generation and the next recognizes the great responsibility, privilege, honor and joy of being a trustee. We honor yesterday by advancing tomorrow.Why is this relevant to this column? A lot of time and energy is spent thinking about ensuring that the nonprofit organizations in our community — including libraries — remain relevant and viable so they can continue to enhance our region’s quality of life.

What causes individuals to answer the call to lead and serve in support of our nonprofits? I believe it is quite simple. Many, many good people love the place they live. Not just a little. Not just casually. They make it a priority of life to build stronger, healthier, more vibrant communities.

They choose to invest in it, as Emma Flower Taylor did.

I am fortunate that one of the honors of the position I am currently blessed to hold is to have the opportunity to see people love their communities all across Northern New York. I am thankful, too, that in a previous career, I was able to have a front row seat to the honoring of lives lived for family and community. When a life is lost, communities come together to mourn. You quickly realize we are one big, connected family. Connected, we stand; divided we fall and connecting leads to cooperation and collaboration.

I have been reminded very clearly in the last half of the year of the way this calling is imprinted on the DNA of certain people and hope for the promise of a continual wave of this kind of citizenship into the future.

During this time, there were several obituaries written that told stories of lives lived for family and community. These stories paid homage to the fulfillment of community service and told great stories of the power and meaning of community heritage. We are often bound together by something greater than ourselves and by rejecting the status quo. We must continue to grow, nurture and cultivate that desire.

At the Northern New York Community Foundation, we see it as an important responsibility to look for opportunities to do that.

There isn’t just one way to make an impact and everyone is capable of making a positive impact in the lives of others. Once you strip away labels, titles and designations, this is what our region’s nonprofit organizations do best. With the help and support of engaged citizens, they invest in our community’s treasures- its people, places and institutions. That is just how it should be.

Identity, purpose, place. There is no better time than now to shape the future of your community. As you look for your intersection of passion and purpose, you can be what is right with your community and you can inspire others and the generations that come after you to care for something you invested in.

Communities of choice take their cue from that type of shared leadership. For our collective future, consider taking Mr. Walczyk’s sentiments to heart. Choose to make 2016 the year to be what’s right with your community.

Rande Richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. He is a lifelong Northern New York resident and former funeral director. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org. His column appears every other month in NNY Business.