A Critical Moment in Time

Word Inequality cut with scissors to two parts In and Equality, gray background, top view

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Charity Begins at Home: Loving a Community Inside and Out

Malcolm Goodridge, left, great-grandson of George C. Boldt Sr., with the first recipients of the George C. Boldt Scholarship at Boldt Castle in 2019.

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2020: In A Class By Itself

Rande Richardson

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  — Nelson Mandela 

The Class of 2020 will forever hold a chapter in the book of COVID-19. Students have been deprived of the experiences and joys of many things a complete senior year brings: awards ceremonies, spring sports records, friends, proms, yearbook signings, graduation. The ceremonial rites of passage for their hard work in the classroom, on the athletic field, on stage, and with other extracurricular activities will not be the same. 

    We are all a product of a variety of influences. In the mix of nature and nurture, we are largely shaped by our education. Who we become includes lessons from a variety of influences including parents, family members, coaches and other community role models. We have all had teachers or professors who were instrumental in shaping us. Some took a special interest in our success or believed in us in a way that changed the direction of our lives. In recognizing the loss of the senior year, it heightens our appreciation for the way our school experience advances us to the next stage of life. Our community’s educators are due a special thanks for continuing to develop young minds and souls even from a distance. 

    Education is an investment, and one of the most critical we can make. Since its roots in 1929, the Northern New York Community Foundation has held education high on its list of priorities. Through those 90 years, more resources have consistently been directed toward education than any other area. Community Foundation donors have enabled substantial investments in educational programs, institutions and education-focused nonprofit organizations. For a decade, youth philanthropy programs have educated the next generation about civic service and community needs and resources. Scholarships have helped many thousands of local students as they began or continued their educational journeys, including nontraditional students and those pursuing studies in trade, vocational, and technical fields. Some of those students have remained in the north country, joining our local workforce and helping to meet its needs. Others have chosen to bring their talents elsewhere. Each has contributed to making our world a better place. 

    We are fortunate to partner with many schools in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties to provide long-term stewardship of precious scholarship dollars. Many of those schools have also established educational foundations so donors can support learning beyond scholarships to include every facet of education, including the arts and athletics. We have worked alongside community groups to build educational resources for members of the military and their families. The people of our region have a tradition of generosity that has helped change and shape lives, and, ultimately, made our communities stronger and our workforce better equipped. 

    While in many ways the Class of 2020 was shortchanged, they have been given enhanced valuable life lessons that will serve them (and us) well. The Class of 2020 is one of adaptation, resiliency, flexibility, persistence, resourcefulness, patience, appreciation, tenacity, grit, determination, discipline and strength. They are better equipped for whatever may come their way. You have learned how to learn and find solutions to unexpected challenges. 

    The greatest gift an educator can receive is knowing the difference they have made in the lives of their students. The words, “you changed my life” or “because of you” are music to the ears and a testament to what a good teacher can accomplish. To the class of 2020 and all who have shaped them, know that what you do with adversity and challenges will define your character. Just like the teachers and others who brought you here, your impact will be significant, life-long and lasting. You have the opportunity today to inspire and shape a better tomorrow as you lead our community, society and the world. That is a reason to celebrate and be hopeful. In case you haven’t noticed, we need that now more than ever. 

United Way Transforms to Meet Needs of Community

Lt Col Jamie Cox

Over the past five months, our nation and communities have experienced an unprecedented health and economic crisis, and the repercussions continue to ripple through our towns, neighborhoods, homes, businesses, places of worship and schools. As challenging as the past five months have been, the emergency has also expedited the identification of community challenges and vulnerabilities, which are sometimes unique to each town or village. The United Way of Northern New York (UWNNY) rapidly transformed to meet the needs of our communities in March and will continue to evolve as we face the new and persistent challenges before us. 

    While the federal and state governments prepare to care for the individuals and families most devastated by the pandemic through extended unemployment benefits, enhanced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allowances and more, the United Way is increasing our focus on families and individuals who earn above the Federal Poverty Level, but not enough to afford the basic necessities to have a genuine quality of life. 

    ALICE – or Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – is an acronym used by the United Way Worldwide to identify families who are highly susceptible to situational poverty or worse. With low wages and no savings, these Americans have no ability to meet their current needs or to adequately prepare for the future. These families are particularly vulnerable to financial shocks like job loss, unexpected medical expenses, and natural disasters. Though many ALICE adults work more than one job, their ability to afford rent, utilities, food, car payment, gas, insurance and other life-critical items are constantly being threatened. One minor car repair can force the family to choose between the car repair and food. Or falling behind on rent. Or paying for a prescription. The chart below demonstrates the dire financial challenges faced by ALICE adults and families in our region.  

    The 2020 United for ALICE study, which was recently released, identifies that 42.3% of households (40,853 out of 96,579 households) in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence Counties are ALICE or in poverty. It’s time that we strengthen and empower everyone in our community. 

    What is the United Way of Northern New York doing about ALICE? 

    In collaboration with communities and local nonprofit organizations, UWNNY is focused on creating and sustaining a stable environment for every resident of the north country through equitable access to quality childcare, the power to purchase nutritious food, the ability to reside in safe housing, and access to superior educational institutions. A self-sufficient individual or family adds to the overall quality of the community. We must be fair, just and equal in our words and actions.   

The United Way of Northern New York’s plan:  

  1. Leadership. Provide leadership in thought and action to take daring steps in addressing the challenges faced by the most vulnerable residents in the region.
  2. Training. Provide critical training for community leaders, nonprofit organizations and community stakeholders on how to more effectively and efficiently address the challenges.
  3. Funding. Provide targeted grant funding to create the greatest return on investment to each community.

COVID-19 has forever changed our world: precious lives were lost, jobs vanished, and businesses collapsed. Getting knocked down and staying down is not in our nature. The United Way is leading the charge by tying together all the critical elements of our community’s ecosystem: physical and mental health, nutrition, education, economic development, childcare, employment, recreation, nature and the arts to increase the quality of life for every resident of the north country. 

    Great leaders rise to the occasion. In this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous time, let us be bold in thought, word and action to make our communities stronger than they have ever been. The time is now. 

Defining Courage

Lt. Col. Jamie Cox

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines courage as the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.” Synonyms for courage include bravery, fearlessness, gallantry, guts, heart, heroism, intrepidity, valor and virtue.   

    In the first 54 years of my life, which was celebrated this past February, I had the opportunity to witness dozens of acts of raw, pure courage. The U.S. Marine aviator successfully landing a helicopter with an engine on fire and a cabin full of infantrymen on a ship at night. The female Navy corpsman who ran through machine gun and mortar fire to perform triage on me during the battle of Fallujah. Individuals of great integrity taking a stand in the face of overwhelming odds. The company CEO who prioritizes employees over profit.  

    In the 60 days since my birthday, I have witnessed more than a hundred acts of courage. Ordinary people in every community performing extraordinary acts that have changed the trajectory of Northern New York.  

    The stories that capture the headlines in the media beautifully articulate the heroism of our doctors, nurses, certified nursing assistants, police officers, fire fighters and emergency medical technicians. Their sacrifice and courage in the face of this pandemic has inspired a nation.  

    In March 1945, Admiral Chester Nimitz, reflected on the battle of Iwo Jima, which was fought between the U.S. Marine Corps and the Japanese army, by saying, “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”  I believe that quote – referencing the men who fought a horrific, bloody battle – runs deep in our north country blood.  

    Consider these snapshots of simple valor in our community:   

  • The cashier at Price Chopper supermarket, who only makes minimum wage, running her check-out register without a protective mask as everyone panicked to purchase food and supplies in late March.  
  • The gas station employee, who does not receive benefits, working without protective equipment to ensure that we’re all able to purchase gas and other necessities.   
  • The school bus driver and teacher who ran endless routes to deliver food to children and families – jumping out of the bus at every home to drop off meals with a wave and a smile.  
  • The school district superintendent who didn’t bat an eye when asked for $10,000 to help the North Country Library System provide online educational tools for children and parents.   
  • The agricultural small business owner who delivers his high-end, organic produce to food pantries and schools throughout Northern New York for free, and is keeping his employees working and paid despite no revenue coming in the door. 
  • The nonprofit company executive director who slashed her own pay to keep more of her staff from getting furloughed. 
  • The general manager of a local television network outlet who has donated significant airtime to public service announcements and is hosting a benefit concert on his own dime. 
  • The nonprofit employee who has continued to risk his health by providing critical services and food to more and more families each day. 
  • The young reporters from our news station and newspaper who are in the field every day to find uplifting stories to keep our morale high. 
  • The volunteer drivers, who put their health at risk by transporting residents without vehicles or the ability to drive to grocery stores or medical appointments.  
  • The guy in front of me at the store yesterday who purchased groceries for the elderly lady in front of him, and then carried them to her car. 

    Away from Washington, D.C., and Albany, patriotism comes in every shape and form. Love for the north country resides in our hearts, regardless of race, religion, or creed. While our economy struggles and residents are suffering, we are witnessing some of the finest acts of kindness and courage.   

    I hope and pray for the end of the pandemic and a healthy economic recovery.  But I know that when we get to that point – sadly – partisan finger pointing will return to our discourse, drowning out the heroics we’re witnessing today. I hope you’ll join me in taking a moment to recognize the special heroes during this crisis. 

The Best Communities Shine Amid Challenging Times

Rande Richardson

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller 

The value of partnerships become even more apparent during challenging times. Amid a crisis, when friends and neighbors are frightened, hurting and vulnerable, every possible resource must be deployed to help ensure health, safety and well-being. Our region’s nonprofits are often the front lines to work to complement and supplement the efforts of government. Our organizations will be there for now and for the long-term after the immediate crisis subsides, to address the emotional, spiritual and mental health needs of residents. As our lives are overturned, having that strong network of community resources is critical. 

    Despite the clouds that hover over us during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there are glimpses of sunlight that break through. As with past community challenges, the people of the North Country provide countless examples of “we” over “me” as individuals, organizations, schools, churches and businesses join together so that we all can emerge stronger, braver and healthier. 

    As it should, government takes the lead in responding to situations such as this. During the early stages of this battle we are fighting, I received a call from Scott Gray, chairman of the Jefferson County Legislature. He was looking to link actions at the state and county level with our community nonprofit network. All contacted responded immediately and willingly. Within a day, a group of officials representing the nonprofit, education and child care sectors convened at the Community Foundation. It was the perfect display of collaboration, cooperative sharing of information, insight for preparedness, planning and solutions. Watching people who love their community combine resources together is powerful and inspiring and makes one proud to call this place home. 

    That same week saw all hands on deck. You didn’t have to look far to see the North Country tradition of unified response through its public health agencies, hospitals, school districts, businesses, civic and nonprofit organizations and the media. At the same time, neighbors were helping neighbors on the personal level, one friend at a time. 

    Due to these pressing concerns, and because of the unique way community foundations can respond to emerging needs, $50,000 was provided to seed the Northern New York COVID-19 Community Support Fund to provide rapid response micro grants with maximum reach and effectiveness. Within hours of announcing the fund, donors stepped forward with thousands more. As fundraising continues, we will collect resources and coordinate support responsibly. 

    Consideration for grants is limited to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations or other charitable organizations able to receive tax-deductible contributions, such as schools, faith-based organizations serving community needs, and other public entities based in or primarily serving Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence county communities. Grants will be made on a rolling basis as we collect information. As a central hub we are already learning of situations that we were not aware of. 

    We know there will be short-term needs and longer-term demands which are bound to increase in the months ahead. Together, we can do more for those nonprofits on the front lines. We are intentionally streamlining the process and hope to be able to make decisions and supply funding in seven to 10 days. We also want to know of needs that may fall outside of the current focus so that we can be prepared to best allocate future resources. Nonprofit organizations should contact Kraig Everard, director of stewardship and programs, to apply at 315-782-7110 or at kraig@nnycf.org. To join the effort to extend the reach, secure gifts can be made online at www.nnycf.org or by mail to the Community Foundation at 131 Washington St., Watertown, NY 13601. 

    We will continue to come together as a community as we always do, in good times and in bad, acting in unison so that we emerge from this crisis stronger because of the way we respond. Meanwhile, may we all stand ready to bolster those organizations that carry out that work for us every day. We are one community with caring, local leadership. Our collective response now will help shape tomorrow for all of us. It is often at the darkest times that our stars shine the brightest. 

Legacies Come In All Shapes And Sizes

Second Lieutenant Marjorie J. Rock, U.S. Army Nurse Corps, 1942. Ms. Rock retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1970 and made St. Lawrence County her home.

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For The Love Of Community: Superheroes without Capes

Lt. Col. Jamie Cox

The people who’ve made Northern New York home have come from all over America. The vast majority have generational connections to the north country. However, some arrived on orders from the Army. Others journeyed north to raise their family. A few came to be part of something special. 

    There is an extraordinary breed of individuals amongst us who rise above the the rest. They are servants to the community. 

    The list of whom they serve unfortunately runs long. There are victims of domestic violence, families struggling with food insecurity, people who fight mental health conditions, individuals who have become casualties of the opioid crisis, infants born to homeless mothers, veterans in search of work opportunities, adolescents struggling with self-identity, and seniors who can’t afford much needed prescriptions. 

    These selfless servants carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. The stories they hear from their clientele haunt their dreams. And despite the low pay and lack of benefits, they continue to perform miracles day after day. 

    For most who serve, it is a calling: a vocation to help the most vulnerable members of our community. The paychecks they receive are reliant on the generosity of good people, philanthropic foundations and companies who embrace corporate responsibility. When funding dries up, they learn to do more with less. 

    They are desperate for career and job skill training, a cost of living pay raise, benefits, and a clean and professional facility to conduct their business. 

    When they see nationally renowned charitable organizations throwing lavish parties for donors and executives, our local servants cringe at how that image imposes itself on their own company. They fear the effects of the economy on people’s ability to give. They know societal philanthropy is decreasing year after year. 

    And yet they continue to serve. 

    The employees of nonprofit organizations throughout NNY serve to give friends, neighbors, and even strangers hope for a better future. They are passionate to make our part of the country a better place for everyone to live. They do it for the children, seniors, arts, environment and individuals and families in crisis. It’s a willingness to live a simpler life because the sense of fulfillment and pride is more than any paycheck could convey. 

    So to all of those who serve, thank you. Thank you for holding the hand of a teen who’s going through violent withdrawals from drugs and for providing care for toddlers while their parents work. Thank you for teaching people to read and for hugging the senior who’s not able to leave their home. Thank you for driving the veteran to his appointment in Syracuse and for teaching people how to interview for a job. Thank you for feeding the hungry and for educating our children about the dangers of substance abuse. Thank you for guiding teens who have identity challenges and bringing music to our communities. Thank you for protecting victims of domestic violence and for filling propane tanks in the winter. Thank you for saving the river, lake and our forests. Thank you for sacrificing your financial security and for incurring greater personal debt to pursue a life in service to others. 

    Thank you from all of us to all of you who put our neighborhoods and communities ahead of yourselves. You deserve more. You are all – truly – superheroes. 

Lt. Col Jamie Cox, a combat decorated and wounded US Marine Corps (Retired) aviator, is currently the President and CEO of the United Way of Northern New York. He can be reached at Jamie.Cox@unitedway-nny.org.

100 percent: The Importance of Board Member Giving

“The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.” — John Wooden

Rande Richardson

It is generally understood that nonprofit board members are responsible for an organization’s success. Our region is blessed with passionate and sincerely well-intentioned volunteers who answer the call to serve as leaders for the many charities that change our world. As board members are recruited and oriented, they should be made aware of the many functions that are part of their responsibilities. Above all, you must be a roaring advocate for your shared work and mission. You are an evangelist in a sense, and your example is a testimony to that passion and an invitation for others to catch that same energy. Yes, board members are volunteers. The best board members give their hearts, souls, and one of the most precious gifts of all: their time. However, as leaders of an organization that relies on others to make a financial commitment, that leadership must not be overlooked.

Anyone who has served on a board quickly gains a keen awareness of the important role donors play in the ability to fulfill an organization’s work and mission. Unfortunately, what is often downplayed is the way board members must be accountable for the financial health of the institution. Board member giving is natural and essential. The strongest and most engaged boards are those where every board member, in some form, participates in fundraising for the organization. A personal gift by a board member of an organization seeking public support is non-negotiable. Without 100 percent participation, a nonprofit is at a major disadvantage when asking others to commit financial support to a mission driven by board leadership. When organizations ask the Community Foundation to financially participate in a certain program, project or initiative, knowing their leadership is not fully invested is understandably problematic. You would be surprised how often board member names are absent from an organization’s own donor list. Somehow, they have not recognized that leadership giving:

• Is a public declaration that the board member has invested in the charity.

• Indicates that the board member has a commitment to the organization and its work and mission.

• Encourages other donors to give and leads the way for others who provide grants or other support.

As they expect others to give, there is simply no way one can be a fully enthusiastic ambassador for the organization they lead without their own multidimensional skin the game. If a board member does not give, how can they encourage staff to effectively partner with them to raise funds? If a board member does not give, how can they expect them to effectively thank and steward existing donors? While the goal is 100 percent participation at any level, board leaders should consider giving a stretch gift that is among their top three charitable gifts they give each year. People are watching. People want to know. Other funders will ask. Give a gift that you are proud of. Give a gift that invites others to join you. Lead, don’t follow.

When you and your organization are recruiting board members, be sure to explain, write down, and clarify these expectations. It is important enough to commit to something as simple as “Each year, I will make, without being reminded, a personal financial contribution to the organization for which I serve as a board member at a level that is meaningful to me.” The board chairman and members should hold one another accountable around these expectations rather than leaving it to staff. Prospective board members should be told whatever expectations exist and be given a chance to bow out of the process if they aren’t comfortable with them.

Would you be less likely to be a passenger on a plane that the pilot is flying from the ground? You were recruited and asked to serve on a board for various reasons and you’re much better able to be a champion for your cause if you serve from a front row seat. You and the board are instrumental in the future of your organization. As a visible and vocal ambassador, you are passionate about the example you set. It creates and reinforces a culture of giving that is not as achievable by volunteering alone. If you don’t feel that kind of drive for your organization, it may be the wrong cause for you. Board service is a joy and a privilege. Done right, you will always get so much more than you give.

Today For Tomorrow: The power of endowment

Rande Richardson

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” — Chinese Proverb 

More than ever, nonprofit organizations providing valuable services that enrich and enhance our lives are finding the wisdom and necessity of diversifying their revenue. Just as in the private sector, survival is enhanced when there are reliable streams of operating funds. Just as there are short-term, near-term and long-term needs, there should be a resource approach built with each in mind. 

    Currently, over 150 nonprofit organizations, churches and schools serving Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties have committed to ensuring their long-term viability by partnering with the Community Foundation. Through these partnerships, they have consciously established and built dedicated resources for the purpose of creating a financial bedrock for the sustainability of their work and mission and best stewardship of gifts entrusted to them. While organizational endowments are not a one-size-fits-all proposition, I can point to many charitable organizations, large and small, whose strength has been enhanced by a permanent fund with the accountable discipline only an endowment brings. 

    This approach continues to be of interest to donors who seek to extend their annual giving beyond their lifetimes. Individuals often prefer to make major gifts, including legacy bequests, to provide support for specific charities that will remain in place in perpetuity or to those charities for specific purposes. Recognizing the importance of annual support, the typical Community Foundation donor creates or adds to a permanent endowment for multiple charities at various percentages. Contributing to an endowment provides an enduring gift that can support programs, projects, buildings and initiatives that the donor may have helped previously provide for. 

    This is a primary reason why the Community Foundation now routinely couples grants with an incentive to help build protection for the initial capital expense. To that end, we are currently doubling gifts to build endowments for over 30 local organizations. Just as in life, it is wise to consider the ability to maintain, improve and properly care for things we have made investments in. Even for smaller charitable organizations, an endowment demonstrates to the community and donors a long-term thinking and a commitment to building capacity for the future. In many ways, earnings from endowments help complement and maximize the annual giving that is so critical to fulfillment of mission. This may draw further support from those who wish to provide for an institution that has stability, longevity, permanence and strength. 

    While some may point out that an endowment is of minimal help until it reaches a certain level, taking the first step to proactively focus on the long-term may help a nonprofit’s most loyal supporters see a clear pathway to do the same. The endowment goal should be aligned with realistic levels of giving for this institution even though organizations often underestimate the ability of one donor to be a game changer for future strength. By demonstrating to donors a responsible, stewarded mechanism to perpetuate their support, the case becomes more compelling. Community Foundation endowments help build even more confidence knowing that there is an additional layer of oversight and accountability through leadership changes over time. Being able to stipulate alternate uses for endowment funds in the event an entity ceases to exist is also incredibly powerful from a donor advocacy perspective. This aligns closely with the sanctity of donor intent knowing that what an organization does is likely the ultimate motivation for the gift over the organization itself. The delivery of that program or service may someday be offered in an alternate form. 

    Whether you are a board member, donor or employee, if you believe that the work your organization does is important enough to support today, finding ways to support that mission long-term should be equally critical. As with a savings or retirement program, there is no substitute for starting early. Endowment gifts help ensure that legacies are best remembered for generations to come, in service of the things about which you care most. Ultimately, this protects the investments you’ve made in those causes during your lifetime and has the potential to provide many times the impact of a gift made in one lump sum. When the generosity of the past is combined with the actions of today’s donors, a powerful effect is created, making both acts of kindness more powerful and far reaching. Together, this helps increase the chance that organizations that are here for good can remain here for good. 

Rande Richardson is executive director of the Northern New York Community Foundation. Contact him at rande@nnycf.org.