Charitable Contributions A ‘Non-Factor’ to Determine Domicile

Rande Richardson

Approximately one-third of all annual giving occurs in December. Supporters of local charitable organizations are generous throughout the year; however, nonprofit organizations rely heavily on year-end giving to fulfill their work and mission for all 12 months. At the Community Foundation, in addition to annual giving, many donors turn their thoughts to ways to perpetuate their support of causes through lifetime giving and legacy planning. At the same time, many take advantage of utilizing the benefit of the unique tool of a Community Foundation donor-advised fund to help ensure they reach a level that allows all of their yearly charitable giving to surpass standard deduction levels to ensure their deductibility.

Meanwhile, more Northern New Yorkers have become residents of other states (predominantly Florida). For local nonprofits, this is a trend that may be a cause for concern. An unintended consequence of a change of domicile is that now-seasonal New Yorkers inevitably become attached to charitable organizations and churches where they spend the winter. This is understandable.

What is less understandable, however, is some former residents are wrongly led to believe that their choice to change their residence limits, or even prohibits, their ability to make charitable contributions in New York. I occasionally have conversations with donors who have spent their lives, raised their families and earned their living in the North Country who fear that their domicile status may be jeopardized by their expression of charity. Not only is this notion hurtful to our area, it is simply not true. There are checklists of “do’s and don’ts” where domicile is concerned, however, published tax audit guidelines make clear the intent of the law is not to interfere in any way with personal giving, either within New York or anywhere else.

You should always consult your advisors for accounting and legal advice, and the Community Foundation will soon publish a more in-depth article on this written by a local estate planning attorney. For the purposes of this column, it is simply worth noting in broad terms that New York State auditor’s guidelines specifically state that a taxpayer’s charitable contributions are a “non-factor” and are not to be taken into account in determining domicile. The guidelines go even further to ensure that volunteer service not be used in any way to jeopardize domicile. Taken directly from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance website: “Live out of state? Donating to a NY-based charity doesn’t make you a NYS resident for tax purposes. Making a charitable contribution to a New York State charity does not determine your domicile (your permanent and principal home for tax purposes). We want residents of other states to know that they can contribute to New York State charities with full knowledge that such a contribution isn’t taken into account when determining domicile.”

The North Country relies on gifts of both time and treasure from all for whom this place holds special meaning. We must do everything we can to help ensure that both organizations and the donors who support them are not misled down a path that somehow those relationships need end with a change in domicile.

Charitable giving is a very personal decision. Done properly, it is an extension of the individual and a reflection of one’s interests, passions and values. For many, that includes causes that they have supported for many years, across multiple generations. It is a reflection of their fondness and appreciation for the way the North Country has weaved through their lives. If donors choose to cease their giving and sever their ties to Northern New York charities, it should be for reasons other than mistaken myth and misconception.

Our region has been blessed by a culture of giving that has enhanced the quality of life here. Not only do our regional organizations rely on and value that type of generosity, those donors who desire to be part of that heritage need to be reassured that domicile need not be an obstacle to their personal and individualized expression of their core values in an enduring way.

The Effects of the Opioid Crisis in NNY

Bob Gorman

I have never been addicted to alcohol, drugs or gambling.

    (I have also never been addicted to housekeeping, food preparation or lawn care, but I digress…)

And there you have it: flippancy. It comes easily if you’ve never carried an addiction monkey on your back. You can’t understand what it is like to live every waking moment with an out-of-control desire to find pleasure in something that can kill everything you know: your family relationships, your career and eventually yourself.

    So you can only try to relate to the statistics.

    The cost of the opioid crisis is producing crazy numbers. Last year the U.S. reported 71,568 overdose deaths, around 196 a day. When factoring in the cost of treatment of the addicted and their inability to produce income and pay taxes, the federal Council of Economic Advisers reports that the nation’s economy lost $504 billion in 2015 alone.

    Whether you want the government to spend more money on free tuition or building a border wall, those numbers should be making us all pause together to consider what the United States could be accomplishing today without the scourge of opioids robbing us of so much talent and treasure in the last 10 years.

    In my job at the United Way working with such nonprofits as Credo Community Center and Pivot, I see some of the effects of this crisis, but from a safe vantage point. For instance, last year, I took Ty Stone, then the new president of Jefferson Community College, on a tour of several local nonprofits, including Credo’s recovery house for women with addictions.

    We walked into the room where they hold group discussions and were suddenly looking into the eyes of some 14 women in their 20s. Some were pregnant and all had been exposed to every bad thing that can happen to you when you are addicted to drugs.

    I introduced Dr. Stone and asked her if she would like to say something. And she then said something I could not have anticipated. She said the drug crisis was also personal for her because in 2007 in Dayton, OH., her 19-year-old son, Steven Adrian Smith, while walking home from work, was run over and killed by a car driven by a man under the influence of heroin.

    After she paused for a few moments, she then looked at every woman in the room and said that when they completed their recovery time at Credo, she would welcome them if they chose to attend JCC. They may have thought they were looking at a college president, she noted, but they didn’t know the whole story of how that title came to be. Stone’s education had been interrupted many times over the years, including her recovery period after the death of her son. They should never give up on themselves, she said, and they should know that there are people throughout the community who are always willing to help them at a moment’s notice.

    Nationally, the issue of how to help those in recovery is becoming the topic of magazine articles about parents who have exhausted their savings trying to rescue their adult children who keep relapsing time and time again. There are no easy answers, but the subject of what to do with so many addicted people also allows for the flippant suggestion that nothing needs to be done because the opioid crisis will die out once the addicted die out.

    Doreen Slocum is a good example of why working to find a better answer is necessary.

    She began using drugs while a student at Alexandria Central School and by her mid-20s, she had been arrested twice: Once for selling drugs and once for shoplifting so that she could sell the merchandise to buy drugs. She overdosed once at her parents’ home and was saved by members of the Thousands Islands Rescue Squad who arrived in time to administer Narcan.

    (The number of overdose deaths potentially could be tripled if not for first responders using such drugs that bring the addicted back to life).

    Slocum today works at Credo, helping others who are trying to kill the addiction monkey rather than themselves. She is often asked to speak throughout the area about her wild ride that almost ended in her death. And today she smiles often when considering her moments of beautiful irony, such as when she was volunteering at the United Way’s annual food drive last year and was working side by side with Sheriff Colleen O’Neill. It hadn’t been that many years earlier when Slocum was housed in the jail that O’Neill oversees.

                Like a lot of people, I wish we were spending $504 billion a year on something more tangible, like infrastructure. But then again, maybe we are. People are this nation’s true infrastructure. And hearing stories from people as diverse as Ty Stone and Doreen Slocum remind us that working together in a united way to find an answer to our addiction problem is worth our time and treasure.

Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge

Rande Richardson

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”  –Robert Louis Stevenson

At the Community Foundation, we hold a firm belief that the best way we honor the north country’s history and heritage of commitment to community betterment is to find ways to thoughtfully perpetuate it. Much like in life, you can never start too early to instill positive concepts and lead by example with the help of positive role models. When our youth learn the value and practice of giving and civic and social responsibility, all of our community’s organizations, including schools, benefit.

                Last fall, the Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge was launched as a mission-centric way to proactively encourage civic engagement among middle school students. Seventh and eighth graders were asked to put into words what “community” meant to them and then identify a local nonprofit organization that they felt helped make their community a better place. Over 60 students from nine school districts expressed consistent themes of neighbors, safety, love, beauty, happiness, betterment, togetherness, kindness, helping, caring, belonging, sharing, and respect. I think we all want to live in a community where these themes run through it. At the same time, it is likely that the process led to conversations between the students, their peers, their teachers and families. All good things.

                A total of 23 students were able to present grants ranging from $500 to $1,000, totaling $10,000. As part of the program, students also visited the organizations that their grant was supporting. This allowed them the opportunity to see the work of their charitable organization up close. There is no doubt that the first Giving Challenge left memorable impressions on these young adults. At the same time, 19 organizations across Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties were provided with additional resources to advance their missions. The students’ interests included arts, culture and education as well as health and human services. Adelyne Jareo, who was awarded the largest grant to Meals on Wheels of Greater Watertown, said “To me, community means living through both good and bad times with people who love and support you. Community is about connection and brightening someone’s day and making it better even in the smallest way possible. Lending a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen, or even a friendly warm smile can make the world a better place. That is what community is all about.”

                While the first year had positive outcomes and good participation, there is now an opportunity to have even more students involved in directly improving the quality of life in their community. From now until Nov. 19, seventh and eighth graders attending school in Jefferson, Lewis or St. Lawrence counties are encouraged to participate. Entry applications are available at www.nnycf.org or at the Philanthropy Center at 131 Washington St., Watertown. We encourage teachers and parents to begin conversations that foster an environment of caring and respect, and inspire student engagement and contribution.

                It is always good to remind ourselves that all of our actions impact more than just ourselves. The more seeds we plant, the better chance we have of developing critical thinkers, leaders and lives that inspire the pursuit of the fulfillment of life-long service and action for the common good. There are four kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, those who wonder what happened and those who don’t know that anything happened. If we continue to plant good seeds, we will reap a bountiful harvest of those who will make things happen.

Strength in Local Journalism

Bob Gorman

Nineteen years ago during my previous career in journalism, an applicant for a reporter’s job at the Watertown Daily Times was in my office, outlining his background.

    He was the son of a former U.S. diplomat. He grew up in Japan and once wrote – in Japanese – a magazine article on Japanese architecture.  Over the previous year he kayaked from the St. Lawrence River through the Great Lakes, down the Illinois & Michigan Canal and Mississippi River to New Orleans because, well, he lived in Vermont at the time and it was something he thought would be interesting.

    He had been a reporter at other newspapers. So I had to ask: Of all the gin joints and newspapers in the world, why Watertown?

     “Because my dad worked here as a reporter for a short time after he got out of college,” he explained. “He once told me about this story he did that caused a lot of commotion. He was on a train from Albany to Watertown and there was a huge delay because of a snow storm. And the mayor of Watertown was on the train as well and started berating the crew because he had to get back to something important in Watertown. He didn’t know my dad was there and so the next day there was a story in the paper about the mayor yelling at everyone on the train.”

    When my interview was over, I took the applicant into the office of the late and great John Johnson, who had been the editor and publisher of the newspaper since 1949. I wanted to see if he would remember the applicant’s father, even though he had only briefly worked at the Watertown Daily Times more than 40 years earlier.

    Johnson eyed the applicant for a few moments and said, “You look like your father.”

    He then started to chuckle and added, “I remember this story he wrote about being on a train in a snowstorm with the mayor of Watertown…”

    Old journalists are like that. They remember the good stories, even the ones they didn’t write.

    For instance:

    In 2007 Alec Johnson was a college-aged intern at the Watertown Daily Times assigned to writing feature stories.  One afternoon I heard a call over the police scanner about a man and his dog missing in Lake Ontario at Wehle State Park. We were short-staffed in the newsroom that day so I sent Alec.

    What would he end up writing about? Who knows? All I ever told reporters was “If you don’t go you won’t know.”

    Johnson arrived on the scene soon after to find a lot of confusion. The woman who called for help was on a cliff looking down, but could not see any evidence of her boyfriend and his dog. The waters were becoming increasingly choppy. Had the man and his dog been crushed on the rocks, pulled under or dragged by the current to another place on shore? Law officers couldn’t tell either.

    An hour later, Johnson called me and said there no evidence of a body. Since it looked like a shear wall of rock down to the water, searchers along the cliff were about to leave the area to go see if the body was someplace else along the shore.

    I told Alec he could head home. He had already worked a full day as a features intern. Since I had a night reporter coming in soon, I told Alec I would have that person follow up with police as the evening wore on.

    “I think I’ll hang out here a little longer,” replied Alec.  “Something might happen.”

    Good call. Within the next hour a rescue boat saw the man and his dog in an indentation in the wall of rock, directly below where his girlfriend was looking. And Alec was there to watch the rescue unfold. The newspaper the next day printed Alec’s pictures of the man and his dog pulled to safety and our story included Alec’s on-the-scene quotes from the very lucky survivor and those who rescued him.

    After completing his undergraduate degree at Dickinson College and then getting a master’s degree at Columbia University, Alec spent eight years as a reporter and editor at the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American. Now, he has returned to the Watertown Daily Times as managing editor.

    (The Johnson family avoids hiring its own blood right out of college. They prefer the pups make their early career mistakes on someone else’s dime.)

    While the Johnsons made no hiring exception for Alec when he finished college, maybe they should have as he quickly became an award-winning journalist in Connecticut. He once tracked the police records of a drunk driver who had killed another driver. It was the reprobate’s seventh DWI but because his previous crimes occurred just across the borders of New York and Massachusetts – and nobody was sharing police records — he was still driving and killing another driver instead of being in jail.

    For those of us dependent on a free press to tell us about our local businesses, hospitals, schools, nonprofits, etc., we must be willing to acknowledge some cold truths. Johnson works in a world where our President refers to journalists as “the enemy of the people,” a term preferred by totalitarians who are about to round up the opposition for execution. Combine that with a growing population that thinks their Facebook “news feed” is actual journalism and you end up with the sorry mess of news coverage we find ourselves in today.

    Similar to the view he had on the cliff at Wehle State Park many years ago, Alec Johnson now navigates these choppy waters of news gathering. Fortunately, the new managing editor – who now stands on the bridge were his family has stood for more than 100 years — has the patience, fortitude and competence to guide the Times’ newsroom in service to our community.

 

‘Uncertainties’ in Nonprofits Are Uncertain

Rande Richardson

One of the most frequent words used when discussing the future of nonprofit organizations is “uncertainty.” Nearly every week I hear speculation that the next generation won’t choose to support the work of nonprofits in the same way their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did. Others wonder whether the work and mission of some nonprofits will be relevant to those in line to lead them. While I remain optimistic based on what I see through the Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council, Young Professional’s LEAD Council and Youth Giving Challenge initiative, I believe that “business as usual” for some local charitable organizations may be turning the page on its last chapter.

                It would have been difficult to predict 25 years ago that the Syracuse Symphony would cease to exist after 50 years, but we all know what happened in 2011. While there were likely multiple reasons for this, one of them had to be the changing landscape and the growing disparity between the mission, its sustainability and those willing to support it.

                At the Community Foundation, we continue to look for opportunities to encourage and support the thoughtful consideration of nonprofit reorganization through mergers or other affiliations, as well as sharing of resources. Indeed, there have been successful examples of preservation of mission over entity, including the Teen Center finding sustainability under the auspices of the Children’s Home of Jefferson County or Meals on Wheels finding a natural collaboration with the Watertown Urban Mission. The Philanthropy Center now allows five nonprofits to share space and other resources, with one more expected soon. More of these will happen. Some organizations may even dissolve completely where the mission has become increasingly irrelevant or obsolete or another organization has found a more sustainable way to fulfill that same purpose.

                All is not lost, however. When I meet with charitably-inclined citizens looking to perpetuate their giving for a specific nonprofit, I will usually ask: “Is it the organization you want to support or is it WHAT THEY DO that you want to support?” There is a distinction. In most cases, the donor acknowledges that it is the work and mission they are supporting, not the organization itself. While they may be sentimentally or emotionally attached to the current provider of that work and mission, they recognize that it is the result that they want to see sustained through their gift or bequest.

                While community foundations exist to support diverse aspects of a region’s quality of life, what truly makes them unique is their ability to maintain appropriate flexibility and adaptability through something called “variance power.” In 1976, the Internal Revenue Service issued Treasury Regulations that endorsed and codified the variance power as an essential feature of community foundations.

                Back to the Syracuse Symphony illustration. Many years ago, a committed group of residents teamed up to raise funds to establish an endowment to support Syracuse Symphony performances in the Watertown area. That fund was entrusted to the Community Foundation, and through prudent management, has grown to nearly $700,000. Because of this, when the Syracuse Symphony officially dissolved, the Community Foundation’s governing body was able to deploy those funds to support live orchestral music performed by other groups. The charitable purpose endures as each year the fund supports performances by the Orchestra of Northern New York, among others. Recently, a donor created an endowment to support their church, with provisions for three other nonprofit organizations if the church should someday face an unforeseen end. The might and muscle of this variance power cannot be overstated, both for the purpose and the donor.

                I will always feel strongly that the best gift is an enduring one, and the future of the nonprofit sector will increasingly rely on that long-term support. As organizations shuffle, the sacred trust and stewardship of donors who want to see vibrant, healthy, happy communities must be positioned to do the most good, regardless of the organization doing it. If not for variance power, we run the risk of not only losing the charitable resource, but providing an obstacle for perpetuating legacies that can make a difference, despite the nonprofit landscape of the future.

                Remaining relevant in a world that, inevitably, will change, applies not only to nonprofit organizations, but also to the resources that are used to support them. Part of that relevancy includes providing an approach that balances the desire for specificity and the desire for thoughtful flexibility over time so the larger charitable intent remains intact. The standard for variance action is extremely high, however, when it is needed, its value to the donor, the nonprofit sector and the needs of our ever-changing community landscape is even higher.

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.

Expertise Aided Multiple Organizations

Bob Gorman

Three years ago Watertown City Manager Sharon Addison called me about the fledgling backpack program at the Watertown City School District.

    Could the United Way, she asked, be the conduit for money so that people can make a tax deductible contribution to the United Way of NNY and designate the donation to the backpack program?

    Two things should be noted here: The United Way is the nation’s largest mover of money that connects donors and good works; and, food insecurity is one of the United Way’s national focal points.

    In other words, Addison had me at “could.”

    Soon after I found out that:

  • School districts collect money all sorts of ways, including booster club fundraisers and PTO membership drives. But the more money that comes and goes – other than taxes coming in and salaries, supplies and maintenance expenses going out – the more antsy school officials get. Creating new funding streams – such as backpack programs — makes it that much easier for some “helpful” outsider to quietly syphon off, i.e. embezzle, a little bit here and a little bit there.
  • To make a backpack program work, volunteers (usually administrators and teachers) spend their own time and gas money driving to various grocery stores to buy the least expensive food that meets minimum nutritional standards. The model often becomes unsustainable after creators of backpack programs discover that generating money to sustain a program is a lot harder than generating money to start one.

    In time Addison, Watertown School Superintendent Patti LaBarr and I were trying to figure out how to make the Watertown backpack program efficient and sustainable.

    Today, WCSD has a “Food 4 Families,” pantry that provides weekend food to around 100 students during the school year. The food is ordered online through the Food Bank of Central New York and delivered by an 18-wheeler every two weeks to the school district’s building on Massey Street. And more than $30,000 in donations has come to the United Way for our account at the Food Bank.

    During this same period of time, Addison played a quiet, behind-the-scene role in helping the New York State Zoo at Thompson Park remain viable as it retrofitted while in a chokehold world of increased animal care costs and a declining number of locally owned businesses available to sponsor educational programs.

    As a long-time Thompson Park Conservancy board member and former chair, I can tell you that over the years some city politicians have foisted agendas on the zoo that had more to do with their own election cycles rather than exhibit upkeep, animal health and procurement, and educational outreach.

    While the zoo is run independently from the city, the zoo is dependent on the city to pay for utility services, and provide upkeep of buildings that existed before the conservancy was created in the early 1990s. Addison always committed the city to fulfill its zoo obligations immediately – such as extensive improvements to the director’s house — rather than put the zoo at the end of the line for attention, as every city manager is tempted to do.

    I also worked with Addison on the $1 million Watertown Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI). While ESPRI Director Peter Schmitt deserves the credit for Watertown being the first city in the state to have its projects approved and funded, Schmitt in turn will tell you that Addison and Mayor Joe Butler set a tone and direction that greased the skids for success.

    To us, it is no wonder that Addison was recently honored by the Watertown Urban Mission and the Community Action Planning Council for her role in the success of the program “Getting Ahead in a Just-Getting-By World.” The program, which will now be funded through ESPRI, helps participants identify what they need to do to resolve crises in their own lives, and gives them the tools to overcome barriers that keep them in poverty.

    And have you noticed the impressive growth of the Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County, which now has programs in St. Lawrence and Lewis counties? The VAC’s board of directors is chaired by Sharon Addison.

    Addison’s time as city manager is over, and we’re all entitled to our opinions about whether the city council hit a home run or struck out in deciding to not extend her contract.

    However, I think there is one thing everyone should be able to agree on: Addison was a failure at self-promotion and developing street-fighting skills. She never bought a horn to toot. And she never embraced the governmental management axiom that success requires you to occasionally and cold-bloodedly do unto others before they do unto you.

    My opinion of Addison is limited to only working with her in the nonprofit world. So maybe I am wrong, but I think our community would be better served if more women were like Sharon Addison.

                Actually, I think our community would be even better served if more men were like Sharon Addison as well.

Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge

Rande Richardson

“Love is at the root of everything…all learning, all relationships…love or the lack of it. A great gift of any adult to a child is to love what you do in front of them. Let them catch the attitude.” –Fred Rogers


American treasure, children’s television icon and everyone’s favorite neighbor, Fred Rogers, is being honored with documentaries and on postage stamps in this year when he would have turned 90 and as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood commemorates its 50th anniversary. Mister Rogers showed us all how a little compassion, kindness and love can make a world of difference in every neighborhood.

    Recently, the Northern New York Community Foundation, in partnership with Stage Notes, announced the results of the first “Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge.” This competition was an invitation for area middle school students to talk about the things they love about their community. They were competing to award a total of $10,000 to area charitable organizations. Whether they realized it or not, they were really exploring, thinking, and reflecting on the importance of love of community, love of the place where they live, and making it better for them and their neighbors.

    What does an ideal community look like through the eyes of our young people? Of the 62 essays submitted from 9 school districts, there were several common themes including love, kindness, joy, caring, connecting, safety, support, helping, togetherness, diversity, belonging, neighbors, beauty, happiness, betterment, belonging, sharing and respect. These young adults also recognized that it takes all different types of organizations to help create and sustain their best vision of their community as they nominated charities that they felt help supported their love of community.

    These young minds demonstrated an awareness that quality of life includes addressing the most basic of needs as well as the enhancement of quality of life. Sackets Harbor Central School student Adelyne Jareo, wrote an essay that won a $1,000 grant for Meals on Wheels of Greater Watertown. “To me, community means living through both good and bad times with people who love and support you,” she said. “Community is about connection and brightening someone’s day and making it better even in the smallest way possible.” I can assure you that if you were able to read every essay submitted, you would be inspired.

    Other organizations receiving grants include: Croghan Free Library, Lewis County Humane Society, Credo Community Center, Jefferson County SPCA, Carthage YMCA, Orchestra of Northern New York, Thousand Islands Emergency Rescue Service, PIVOT, Children’s Home of Jefferson County, Children’s Miracle Network, Croghan Volunteer Fire Department, Historical Association of South Jefferson, Cape Vincent Community Library, Clayton Figure Skating Club, Clayton Youth Commission, Hawn Memorial Library, Relay for Life of Jefferson County, and Thousands Islands Area Habitat for Humanity.

    As generational shifts continue, programs like this not only provide insight into how those who will inherit our communities think, they also are a proactive way to instill concepts of civic engagement and nurture the importance of giving of oneself to maintain a vibrant community. It is easy at times to cast doubt upon our community’s future. Indeed, recent generations relate differently, communicate in new ways and find relevancy in contrast to their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

    I asked my 14-year-old son if he knew who Mister Rogers was. He did not. While the 1970’s me was stunned, I suspect if he watched the first broadcast of Mister Rogers’ neighborhood, the messages delivered would apply even more today. We all must find ways to continue to do all we can to pass along to our community’s children an affirmation of love. Our world needs it now more than ever. Every participant in the inaugural Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge gives us all reason to be hopeful and confident.

                We must not stop there. We must look for all the ways to present positive role models for our children and introducing them to ways to make a difference in expressions that are meaningful to them. We must show them how much we love our community. We must encourage and challenge them to carry the torch forward.  With your help, the Community Foundation will remain vigilant in providing pathways that will make all of our neighborhoods, and the organizations that enhance them, better. Our greatest gift to those who have come before us is to make sure those who come after see our example and love it enough to “catch” the attitude to perpetuate it.

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.

Suicide Prevention and Understanding in NNY

Bob Gorman

Suicide remains the death that dares not speak its name.

    Families often write around the word in obituaries to avoid citing the actual cause of death. Medical examiners are occasionally begged to do the same thing if writing the word “suicide” in their report will mean the loss of benefits for a grieving survivor with three small children.

    And all those drug overdoses? Local death statistics include actual question marks. That’s because even though investigators are pretty sure many of these deaths were intentional, they can’t be certain if there were no notes or witnesses.

    If you talk to first responders, nonprofit leaders and high school guidance counselors, you learn quickly that suicide is a topic that can no longer be avoided. Somebody this year will attempt suicide while in jail, or at a halfway house or after another evening of reading texts from a mob attacking the psyche of a solitary teenager.

    My one lone involvement with a suicide was the death of an employee at the Watertown Daily Times in 1999. Charlie Tenny took his life by hanging himself from a tree in his beloved Adirondacks. Because Charlie was a journalist, many other journalists tried to make sense of the senseless.

    One of Charlie’s friends, who worked at the Hartford Courant, wrote a column almost a year after Charlie’s death that included this: “The timing of his suicide remains incomprehensible to me. He did it while his sister, Carol, was in China adopting a baby girl. Carol got the news of Charlie’s death in Los Angeles, between flights on the way home to Pittsburgh. She screamed “No! No! No!” so loud that people came running across the terminal.

    Back home, Carol fell into depression.

    “I did feel my life changed unalterably from the moment I found out that Charlie did what he did,” Carol told me. “I would look at teenagers laughing, and I would just be amazed. They were like foreign animals. What are these people doing? There just seemed to be such a gulf between me and them.”

    In public places, Carol would suddenly blurt out, “I love you, Charlie.”

    “I thought I was saying it quietly, but people would look at me funnily… but I couldn’t talk to anybody without telling them about [Charlie’s suicide]; it was a central fact of my life.”

    To encourage a conversation about the value of life, the United Way of NNY in late March sponsored events at eight high schools and two evening programs with Roger Breisch of Batavia, Ill. Breisch has spent the last 15 years as a counselor on local and national suicide hotlines, often talking to teenagers who think their lives are useless.

    Breisch’ s talk, “Finding Life on the Suicide Hotline” challenged students to take an inventory of their own lives and find ways to value the person they are, and not give credence to a false narrative about who they aren’t.

    His uplifting message comes at a good time. The region’s suicide prevention coalitions in Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties are working to reverse a trend that saw 163 people commit suicide in the three-county region over a five-year period.

    Kevin Contino, a data analyst for the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, has statistics collected locally and through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    In 2016, the suicide death rate per 100,000 population was:

  • 12.8 for the three-county region
  • 8.5 for New York State
  • 13.9 for the United States

 Over the most recent five years of federal data (2012-2016), the death rate due to suicide was:

  • 14.1 in Jefferson County (83 deaths, 16.6 per year)
  • 21.4 in Lewis County (29 deaths, 5.8 per year)
  • 9.2 in St. Lawrence County (51 deaths, 10.2 per year)
  • The most common mechanisms for suicide were firearms (48 percent), hanging/suffocation (31 percent), and poisoning (19 percent).
  • Eighty-four percent of decedents were male.
  • Sixty percent of suicide deaths were at the decedent’s home, 7 percent were in an outpatient medical facility, and 33 percent elsewhere.
  • During the five year span, the death rate per 100,000 people for the age groups 15-24, 34-44 and 65-74 was almost identical at just over 17 percent.
  • In 2016 residents of the tri-county region had 235 emergency department visits with a principal diagnosis of either suicide attempt or suicidal ideation. The numbers for each county were: Jefferson, 161; Lewis; 15 and St. Lawrence: 59. Seventy-one percent of these patients were younger than 30; the median age was 21 and the percentage of male and female was identical.

    And for every one of these cases, there are dozens of survivors, like Charlie’s sister, who still cry out a loved one’s name.

    As Roger Breisch showed the north country last month, there is never a wrong time to start having a regional conversation to help reduce that suffering.

Bob Gorman is president and CEO of United Way of Northern New York. Contact him at bgorman@unitedway-nny.org or 315-788-5631.

Personal Testimonies Show NNY Pride

Rande Richardson

“When we decided to move back we wanted to create the culture that we wanted to live in. If it’s something that we love, then we want to help create it. In many ways, if you live in a small community, where you give helps to decide what becomes important. If you want a certain community and you want it to have a certain feel or if there’s an area that you want to strengthen, then you have to go do that.” -Jeff Ginger

“There are a lot of negative aspects of humanity, but you often find what you look for. If you’re looking for the positives in others, you want to recognize the positive gifts that have been given you and then the best way to say thank you is to give them to someone else. It is important to give back to that community. It’s where we raise our kids. It’s our community. It’s our home. We decided to live here, and we want to see the community flourish.” –Brenna Ginger


In 2016, through this column, the Community Foundation, in partnership with WPBS-TV announced the launch of an oral history initiative: Northern New York Community Podcast- Stories from the Heart of Our Community. The intent was to capture personal testimonials about their life in the region, why they’ve chosen to live here, and the various ways they’ve found to enrich their experiences through their community and the organizations that make it special. Since that time, 23 interviews have been conducted, with more scheduled. The full conversations are available at www.nnycpodcast.com.

    As more interviews have been completed, they have come to provide an interesting, diverse and varied portrait, representing Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. Some of the interviews are well-known names, but I’ll bet there are some that you don’t know. The more the project progresses, we’ve been able to uncover some great gems of civic pride. While you can find a common thread in the stories, each one has its own special message. One of the primary goals was to capture the essence of what has driven community involvement and citizenship across the generations. It was hoped that providing insight into how others have seen their role in shaping their community’s quality of life could provide the backdrop for conversations with those who will inherit that same community. We still maintain that this type of inspiration will be an important enduring legacy of this endeavor.

    As we’ve begun to capture stories in a multigenerational way, the podcasts help provide valuable insight into the means through which those who will inherit our community will strive to make a difference. I would recommend taking the time to listen to Jeff and Brenna Ginger’s podcast. This young couple was raised in the north country, went away, and came back start their own family and careers. Their message of proactively helping to create the community they want to live in embodies both the mission of the podcast initiative, but also of the Community Foundation itself. The most transformational leadership within all of our region’s nonprofit organizations carry that theme. It is this type of lead-by-example thinking that distinguishes good from great.

    Other than our Youth Philanthropy program and our Young Professional LEAD program, documenting these stories has become one of the Foundation’s most transformational endeavors. Their example can encourage us all to more deeply explore what makes for a fulfilling life. If that is accomplished, our community and the organizations that help enhance it will be much better positioned to continue the tradition and heritage of what makes Northern New York so special.

    This is an ongoing initiative and we want to continue to broaden their scope and reach. Part of doing good comes not only in the good itself, but as a catalyst to inspire others. The best way to honor our community’s history and heritage is to perpetuate its relevancy through meaningful expressions of care. If there is a story that needs telling, there is no better time to inspire than now. Our community’s future is calling.

               

Tax Bill Could Impact Charitable Giving

Bob Gorman

If San Francisco Detective “Dirty Harry” Callahan were now running a nonprofit, he might tell you the following:

    “I know what you’re thinking. Did the federal government just cut my taxes or did it eliminate my charitable deductions? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kinda lost track myself. But being this is how tax deductions will now be calculated by the most powerful country in the world, and a miscalculation could blow a hole in your family budget, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

    The likelihood of dismissing a valued donor as a “punk” is one reason Dirty Harry never took over the Bay City chapter of the United Way. But as frightening as it would be to have a nonprofit executive unholster a .44 magnum during campaign appeals, reading the reactions of nonprofit organizations to the recently passed Tax Bill is even more frightening.

    The National Council of Nonprofits, quoting the Joint Committee on Taxation, estimates that the new law will lead the public to reduce its charitable giving nationally by $13 billion a year, forcing nonprofits  to face bankruptcy or eliminate jobs for a quarter of a million people.

    United Way Worldwide CEO Brian Gallagher added, “Because of our reliance on middle-class donors, cumulatively, United Ways across the U.S. will face losses between $256 million to $455 million per year, significantly impacting their ability to help those who will now be in potentially greater need.”

    The new tax plan is indeed funky for a simple reason: While the federal government wants a majority of individuals to get a tax cut, the federal government can’t afford a reduction in how much tax is generated.

    Thus, the tax bill gives and takes away at the same time. You lose individual exemptions for yourself and children, but you’re allowed a larger amount (an increase from $12,700 to $24,000 for a couple) to deduct without the need to itemize. If you itemize, your property tax and state income tax deduction is capped at $10,000, but you can still write off all of your charitable giving.

    So the tax bill is a sweet deal for some and havoc for others.

    How will this all shake out for local nonprofits? My guess is: People who started the year with little interest in helping their neighbors won’t change; those who do care will continue to find ways to help.

    That’s because even before the tax bill was conceived, rapid changes in the economy, social media and community engagement habits were already forcing nonprofits to retool their messaging for fundraising appeals and diversifying their revenue streams.

    Consider how Amazon alone is hurting nonprofit support. The more we buy products online from a warehouse in Alabama, the more we erode the business base of our own community. And that erodes the support local businesses give to nonprofits.

    Meanwhile, more national businesses are following a now familiar marketing scheme: Buy their product, they sweetly suggest, and THEY will donate a portion of your payment to a nonprofit. What a deal… a charitable donation that doesn’t feel – or can be itemized — like a charitable donation! In reality it erodes the relationship between local citizens and local nonprofits.

    “Give, volunteer and advocate” is the mantra of the United Way as we always encourage charity to start at home. I believe caring citizens will not allow themselves to be deterred from that local mission, regardless of the outside agitations of both a dysfunctional federal government and distant businesses who see charity as just another tool to build a global monopoly.


    Larry Storie was aptly named as his life was indeed one long story of overcoming physical adversity with vim and vigor. But it was his vision for the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired of Jefferson County that he will be remembered for by staff, board members and other nonprofit leaders.

    Vision is indeed the right word. During decades of slowly losing the majority of his sight, Larry strove to find every new gadget to help him navigate a world going dark. In less than a year as the executive of the agency, he was making that vision become a reality and generating more and more community support, including increased financial help from the United Way of NNY.

    Larry died in December, another victim of the inexplicable disease of leukemia. Some strains give you a chance to recover with treatment. Other strains lead to death within days of detection, as was the case for Larry.

    Larry was a good friend of the United Way and we will miss him.

 

Bob Gorman is president and CEO of United Way of Northern New York. Contact him at bgorman@unitedway-nny.org or 315-788-5631.