Preserve the stories that make us great


Rande Richardson

Rande Richardson

We owe it to those who have come before to do all we can, as best as we can, as long as we can, to make this place great. As we head into the season of counting blessings and sharing those blessings with others, it’s a perfect time to point out how well the north country does both of these. Our citizens, organizations and businesses have maintained and grown a great tradition and heritage of civic pride and caring over many, many years. Without that tradition, some of our greatest community assets would not exist today.

I admit, I am an overly sentimental lover of history and I love living and raising my sons here. When I see old photographs showing a sea of faces at various gatherings, events and parades on Watertown’s Public Square, I am reminded that they are the faces of people who made the north country more than just another dot on a map. I wonder about the story behind each face. I feel an obligation to find ways to honor them. Those stories, in their humanness, both individually and collectively, must not be forgotten.

At the Community Foundation, I am blessed to work closely with those who have taken that responsibility very seriously throughout their lifetimes. There is, indeed, some hand wringing in wondering if the investments made in our communities over the many decades will continue to be supported by those to whom the torch will be passed.

I am sympathetic to that concern. For the place we call home to be more than mediocre, we will have to do all we can to ensure it has the best chance to flourish across the generations. We must promote the importance of an engaged citizenry that sees giving not only as an expectation but also as a way to bring both joy and fulfillment to life. Even though I bet previous generations had some similar concerns, it is not enough to simply wish and hope. We must be proactive, deliberate and thoughtful. Initiatives such as the Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy and Next Generation LEAD programs certainly help, but we can always do more.

Earlier this year, the Foundation embarked on a project to tell the stories of civic engagement and citizen philanthropy in the best way possible — directly from those who have demonstrated it. “Northern New York Community Podcast: Stories from the Heart of Our Community” will be an ongoing effort to capture first-hand audio testimonials from residents of Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. While similar projects have collected historical accounts of life in this region, this program has a special focus on the personal stories of what motivates one to give, and how giving has made our communities better.

I hope these first-person accounts of philanthropy will serve as an inspiration and guide for those who inherit our communities. Through a partnership with WPBS-TV public television, these voices will be accessible to people of all ages, for generations to come, through traditional and modern methods.

To date, 10 interviews have been conducted, with many more planned in the months and years ahead. A conscious effort has been made to reinforce that giving is not “one-size fits all,” and comes in many forms and sizes. Sometimes the “everyday citizen” stories are the most compelling and inspirational. Everyone can give something, and that something need not necessarily be monumental or monetary.

I have come to realize that those who have built and enhanced our communities gain great joy and fulfillment from doing it. They are keenly aware that even greater satisfaction can come from not so much someone knowing you gave, but rather, knowing why you gave. Great communities lovingly care for the stories behind what made them great. Nonprofit organizations whose work is made possible by those stories have a duty to hold them up.

In so doing, we have a much better chance that those who come after us will be able to tell the very same story. It is true, the best way to predict the future is to create it, one story at a time, yours included.