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. 

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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A Dream for a North Country Endowment for the Arts

Rande Richardson

“Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.” — Lyndon B. Johnson  

I am not alone in the way the arts have contributed to the quality of my life. I was blessed to have early influences from parents, teachers and other adults that fostered an exposure to and appreciation for the arts. Some of my best childhood memories occurred in an environment where arts were seen as an integral part of developing the mind, heart and soul. There was an early understanding of the relationship between the knowledge of and appreciation for the arts and the education of the whole person and the advancement of society.  

    Consider all of the nonprofit organizations that deliver music, dance, theater, visual arts, film, literature and folk arts to north country residents. Access to the many benefits of arts programs would not be possible without a commitment from both public and private sources. Nearly all of the region’s arts organizations and museums rely on this hybrid funding approach. Most would agree that the role of the arts in education, in civic life, in the economy, and art for the sake of art, is worthy of our continued and sustained investment. Arts and culture contribute more than $760 billion to the national economy and employ nearly five million people with earnings of more than $370 billion.  

    Several years ago, I was fortunate to have served as a panelist for the New York State Council on the Arts. That experience opened my eyes even wider to the many diverse forms of artistic expression and the breadth and depth of ways they are offered. In my time at the Community Foundation, I have often literally had a front row seat to the way the arts in all forms reaches deep inside the core of what makes us human. Many reading this column have similarly experienced the way the arts touch a different part of who you are.  

    I believe gifts given to the Community Foundation over the past 90 years were made to invest not only in basic human needs but also enrichment of life in our region. Over the past decade, requests in support of the arts have far exceeded available resources. Most grants to arts activities in the tri-county area are made from our unrestricted funds. Our largest endowments directed for the arts are restricted to supporting live orchestral music performed in the Watertown area and classical music in Clayton. Some donors have made generous future provisions through their legacy planning to establish or build Community Foundation endowments to benefit specific arts organizations in the region in perpetuity. This is will be transformational as arts organizations will require greater commitment of resources to survive.  

    In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965. The act called for the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities as separate, independent agencies. That foresight has helped ensure the survival and accessibility of the arts. One of the reasons I advocate for Watertown’s annual Concert in the Park is that there is no charge for admission. There is no barrier to experiencing the joy of the amazing gift of live orchestral music. However, keeping access affordable does not come without a cost.  

    I am fortunate to be part of very personal and meaningful conversations with those who want to leave a legacy. If there is an indication that the arts have touched them, I don’t hesitate to make the case for a north country endowment for the arts. While I am grateful for generous expressions of support for specific arts organizations, I also recognize the importance of a permanent, ongoing resource for the arts themselves, in all forms in all places, for all people, forever. Just as it has nationally, a regional endowment for the arts would help ensure the arts will always remain a priority and help leverage additional sources of funding.  

    There are programs, projects and initiatives as-yet unknown that will only happen with a shared commitment to the arts. We need an enduring resource that promotes and strengthens the creative capacity of communities across Northern New York by providing diverse opportunities for arts participation — a defining strength of our shared experience. Think for a moment about that one song that touches the deepest part of your soul. I am confident that in my lifetime, someone will leave a legacy that will forever be that song. 

Access to Quality Child Care Can Strengthen Our Region

Max DelSignore

There are many factors to consider when determining the quality of life in a prospering community. One of the key pillars to a thriving community is access to education.

    The education provided by north country school districts and higher education institutions remains robust as the needs of our region evolve. However, research shows the greatest and most critical development in young children takes place from ages of 18 months to age 4. More than 90 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before age 5. The availability of quality child care and early childhood development programs becomes a focal point for not only the healthy growth of local children, but the community as a whole.

The LEAD Council of the Northern New York Community Foundation is examining this community need more closely. The advisory committee of more than 20 young professionals recently launched its “LEAD Impact Grant Program,” which is designed to address strategic needs affecting residents of all ages in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. The Council representing the tri-county area researched the issue and convened with local experts to identify meaningful support in child care and early childhood development as a community priority.

    Many nonprofit organizations, school districts and local agencies offer support in child care and early childhood development. While some programs receive federal funding to operate, other agencies scramble to secure appropriate resources and staff to optimize their programming. A compromise in the quality of programs is likely to hinder the preparedness of children entering kindergarten and grade school. Children are not only challenged with fundamentals in education, but with development of cognitive and social skills as well.

    “It is a simple and an incredibly complex fact that a person’s earliest years set the stage for the rest of their life,” said Joanna Loomis, a LEAD Council member and director of provider strategy and transformation at the North Country Initiative. “The quality of child care services for any child, along with other factors that influence their early development such as housing, family relationships and nutrition, all intersect to inform not only that child’s well-being, but by extension, that of their community.”

    LEAD is an acronym that means Leadership, Engagement, Access, and Direction. The LEAD Council and the Community Foundation announced in February up to $25,000 in grant funding is available to tri-county nonprofit organizations with a mission to provide services and support in child care and early childhood development. The focus areas for this grant opportunity are programs, advocacy, accessibility, and opportunities to support staff through training and professional development. Nonprofits, as well as other publicly supported organizations, such as school districts and municipalities, are eligible to apply for funding. The application deadline is April 19, and grant awards will be announced in September.

    “Although our grant is not a fix-all, we felt strongly that we could make a significant impact in this field with the potential that our grant is a step toward overall betterment,” said Andrew Boulter, LEAD member and a lifelong Watertown resident.

    Across the country, advocacy for quality child care and early childhood development is building momentum. Some municipalities have built partnerships and initiatives into their strategic plans to focus on providing growth and sustainability to support early childhood development. Bruce Stewart, the executive director of the St. Lawrence Child Care Council, noted that raising awareness of the gaps in support is one of the north country’s greatest challenges. Recent results from the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College reflects good or fair outcomes related to availability of child care in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties. But local municipalities continue to evaluate feasible models to make improvements.

    “Child care and early childhood development should be thought of as infrastructure when it comes to community planning,” said Jennifer Voss, LEAD member and senior planner with the City of Watertown. “It’s an integral part of economic development. Parents who cannot find secure, affordable day care are not able to work outside of their homes. Child care is more than taking care of children, it’s a vital component to a community’s quality of life.”

    Investment in a child’s education and development begins well before the first steps into a kindergarten classroom. The LEAD Council and its “LEAD Impact Grant Program” will help continue the conversation and serve as a catalyst to augment support for optimal child care and early childhood development efforts in our region. As our communities evolve and grow it is important that we are mindful of properly nurturing our young children to give them the best chance to succeed in Northern New York.

 

United Way Partnerships Boost NNY Programs

Bob Gorman

Prior to this gig at the United Way of NNY, I was a journalist for 39 years. After interviewing a lot of people over the years and paying attention to what they said one day and then what they said the next, I concluded – only half-jokingly – that I became adept at diagnosing mental illness. I just didn’t know how to treat it.

    Frankly, I am no good at helping anybody who needs serious help. For instance: You have an addiction? Just say no. You’re depressed? Snap out of it.  In other words, I don’t have the right words when it comes to truly helping people.

    But helping the helpers? I figured out a long time ago that THAT is something I can do.

    At the United Way the easiest way to see that help is in the $420,000 or so in grants we make every year to our nonprofit partners. But there’s more to helping the helpers than just money.

    In the last five years we have produced programs with nationally recognized speakers to support the work of agencies that make a difference in the lives of thousands of north country citizens.

That includes:

  • Former NFL All-Pro Joe Ehrmann on the subject “The three lies every boy is told on what it means to be a man.” St. Lawrence Renewal House, Victims Assistance Center of Jefferson County, Catholic Charities, Mountain View Prevention and Lewis County Opportunities joined us in bringing Ehrmann to SUNY Canton, Massena and Lowville school districts and Jefferson Community College.
  • Olympic Champion Carl Lewis on organ donation, in which we partnered with Jefferson Community College and area health agencies, including the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network.
  • Roger Breisch, who has spent 15 years on regional and national suicide hotlines. His talk “Finding Life on the Suicide Hotline” was attended by more than 4,000 area high school students. We partnered with the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, Northern Regional Center for Independent Living, and the north country’s suicide coalitions, made up of representatives of dozens of human service nonprofits.

Partnering has allowed us to create the highly successful Food 4 Families programs at the Watertown City School District. By working with officials from the district and city, we developed a program through the Food Bank of CNY that allows the district to provide weekend food to 100 students a week during the school year. The advantages for the district are many: The food is less expensive than from a commercial store; it is already vetted for nutritional value; it is delivered directly to the school district by the food bank.

    Several years ago, a roof leak at the Salvation Army in Watertown forced the agency to close its soup kitchen for a week. But after we made a few phone calls, we put together a temporary daily lunch at the Watertown First Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship Hall with the food prepared by the Mental Health Association of Jefferson County.

    (As an aside, we contract with the Mental Health Association once a year for our annual awards luncheon for state workers who make payroll deduction donations to area nonprofits. If you need to feed 30 or 40 people and want good food at a good value, you should contact the Mental Health Association at (315) 788-0970).

    Partnering works for us. A few years ago we rallied 35 businesses to provide a day of free labor to help build a Habitat for Humanity home in Carthage. And every fall we ask businesses to support our county food drives. Watertown Savings Bank and Northern Credit Union generate huge shipments of food every year, and added to the donations large and small from so many others, we generated 24,000 items that were shared by every pantry in Jefferson County.

    And we partner with individual companies, such as the Wladis Law Firm, to create adult education scholarships, which are awarded through Lewis County Opportunities, St. Lawrence Community Development Program and Community Action Planning Council.

    Helping the helpers is the best way to understand community service. Personally, I have no interest in providing anyone medical care. But donating blood through the Red Cross? Now you’re talking. After donating 13 gallons of blood in the last 50 years I can say without fear of contradiction that blood donation is the lazy man’s way to save a life. You sit on a table for 20 minutes while reading your smart phone, and then they give you snacks and apple juice. It’s the best deal in town.

    Let’s face it: The people who DO help people have a pretty tough row to hoe. Working with people who suffer through poverty, addiction, developmental disabilities, etc., often means a lot of days where progress can be hard to find, and relapse is a constant threat. If the rest of us don’t provide help through board membership, volunteer help and financial donations, those services will wither.

    At the United Way, we are committed to ensuring our community continues to help the helpers.

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.

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.

Giving, Sharing, Makes Lives Better

Rande Richardson

BY: Rande Richardson
Nonprofit organizations across the country are looking at the implications of the tax reform bill on the work they do and those they serve, including operational and compliance issues, potential related state and local government changes and the impact of the increased standard deduction as it relates to charitable giving. Changes in laws that affect nonprofits have direct impact, and make a statement on how we view their role in our society and the value we place on them.

    At the same time we were hearing about tax reform, media retrospectives were reminding us of lives lived and lost. The year-end summaries honor those who have left an imprint on our world. It is in those moments that we have a heightened sense of the way others affect our lives and shape us. The most profound legacies are those that reach deep into our collective, human souls and the heart of our communities.

    There are diverse ways others touch us and leave their mark but there is a common theme. As a society and as individuals, the greatest meaning comes from that which makes us uniquely human. Throughout our lifetimes, the things that become the fabric of our culture and heritage are the expressions of the essence of our humanity.

    Each December, the Kennedy Center recognizes those whose talent and ingenuity have enriched and shaped cultural life in America. The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize celebrates the work of artists whose careers reflect lifetime achievement in promoting song as a vehicle of musical expression and cultural understanding. There are numerous other awards that we bestow that affirm the values and ideals we hold most dear. It is through these that we celebrate and uphold what matters most to us.

    What this has to do with nonprofits? When I hear acronyms such as NPOs, NGOs and NFPs to generalize the nonprofit community, I cringe. When I see legislation enacted that devalues charitable investment and its role in our country, I am disheartened. Somehow, in the generalization of “nonprofit,” something gets lost in the translation. If you take the time to think about the way nonprofit organizations have become part of all of our lives, you realize that they are simply a formal expression of our humanness. They embody the values and beliefs that make us human. They represent the best in the human spirit that demands that living life by simply existing is not enough.

    Our nonprofit organizations are a primary mechanism through which we make a difference in the lives of others and express our values. They are the way our own lives are made more enriched and fulfilled. Their importance goes beyond a classification.

    Our community’s nonprofit organizations not only provide a tangible link to the golden rule, they also are the way we sustain things government and the private sector should not or cannot alone provide.

    It is natural to generalize when we place groups in a sector. In doing so, however, we must not lose sight of what the sector actually is. In a world where over-generalization happens too often, we should pause and see nonprofits as an extension of our human existence and our love for the things that make life worth living.

    As long as there are good people in our world, those organizations providing the most value will find the support needed to continue. If you found a way to make a difference in 2017, congratulations. You already know how it feels to experience something so fundamentally human.

    Use 2018 to find more opportunities to express what matters most to you. It is in this way, that nonprofit organizations quickly become more than a sector, more than an acronym. They are an essential part of our lives, they are worthy of our care and nurturing. Ultimately, they are a clear reflection of ourselves. When you look back on the retrospective of your own life, may it have had meaningful moments that are consistent with the core of the beliefs and values that our nonprofit organizations embody.

    So what are nonprofits really? They offer us opportunities to surround ourselves with things that really matter, and, in the end, help ensure that we have more happiness and fewer regrets through this transitory experience called life. Giving, sharing, volunteering and working for a better world makes our lives better, tax deduction or not.

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.

Arts Play Role in Community’s Vibrancy

Rande Richardson

During the holiday season we are especially aware of the important role the arts play in the vibrancy of our communities. You surely have a yuletide carol or two that reaches deep within you and touches you in a way nothing else can. While, rightly so, much focus is placed on nonprofits that serve basic human needs, supporting, sustaining and nurturing our arts and cultural nonprofits must remain in our focus. They are an important enhancement to quality of life and bring us closer together within communities and across communities.

    I recently attended two nonprofit-sponsored arts performances over a weekend. Not once did I think about the political affiliation of the performers or the audience. Not once did I care to think in what ways we were different. At both, there was a multi-generational element. This all speaks to the fundamental human enjoyment of the arts and the way they touch, move and inspire us. The arts are a great unifier with a universal language.

    We are fortunate to have opportunities to enjoy varied expressions of the arts. We have second-to-none, live symphonic experiences provided by the Orchestra of Northern New York. We have both participation and performance through local theatre groups. Arts organizations introduce and develop a love and appreciation among children and youth. Stage Notes and Watertown Musicales combine both youth arts engagement and purposeful civic mindedness. 

    Throughout the year, nonprofit organizations and events such as the Thousand Islands Performing Arts Fund at the Clayton Opera House, Thousand Islands Piano Competition, Community Performance Series, Ogdensburg Command Performances, Norwood Village Green Concert Series, Clifton-Fine Summer Arts Series, Disabled Persons Action Organization and Trinity Concert Series and others bring programming that we would be a lesser community without. Volunteer groups such as Northern Choral Society, the Clayton Community Band and the Sackets Harbor Vocal Ensemble offer especially memorable moments. Local schools bring their students together to produce amazing musicals and concerts. There are other arts organizations, including within our north country colleges and universities, venues for all the various expressions of the arts and humanities.

    We recognize the importance of the arts, not only to fulfill something fundamentally human, but also in the way they indirectly support our local economies. Nationally, the arts contribute a large share to the country’s gross domestic product. Locally, there are many who benefit indirectly from arts and cultural opportunities. People being recruited to relocate here often ask what types of entertainment options are offered. Increasingly, arts programs are tied to involving children of all socioeconomic backgrounds, the elderly, the developmentally disabled, at-risk youth, and numerous arts in healthcare programs. Just recently the Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council awarded a grant to launch a music therapy program for those dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

    Many would agree the arts are not an add-on; they are not just nice things to have around. In many ways, they reach into a special place of the heart, soul and mind. They represent the best things of our human existence. We must do all we can to make these opportunities both accessible and appealing. Each year, although the Community Foundation makes substantial investments in the arts, we pay special attention to those that are provided free of charge to people of all ages across the vast geography of our region. The Orchestra of Northern New York this season is offering free admission to  those 17 and under. The annual concert in Thompson Park is fully underwritten, and Sackets Concerts on the Waterfront Series is open to the public.

    I hope you have had the opportunity to be exposed to the arts in ways that have enhanced your life. If you’re able, consider supporting the arts and nonprofit organizations that bring them to our communities. Fill the seats, show your appreciation, bring your children. We never want to live in a community without the special something the arts offer us. Through the will of the people, may they continue to unite us to sustain them and sustain ourselves to better face the many challenges life presents. In this way, it will help make our days, and those of our friends and neighbors, more merry and bright during the holidays and all year long.

 

Youth Philanthropy Council Program Successful

Rande Richardson

By: Rande Richardson

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” –Aristotle

Now in its eighth year, the Northern New York Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council program continues to thrive as more and more high school students learn about the north country’s nonprofit organizations and the way they impact the lives of us all. In addition to the way it helps engage the next generation within their communities, it also helps provide valuable insight into what way they want to make their mark and change the world. This is on top of the $20,000 in grants they will award this June.

    We also get a glimpse into the way they prioritize and make decisions. We see what resonates with them and what types of organizations they feel provide the most value, and those they don’t. Nonprofit organizations should take note as they will eventually need to effectively engage future generations to remain relevant and supported.  

    For some time, we have sought a way to begin engaging even younger students. As the end of the school year approaches, an initiative is being prepared to be launched when school resumes in September. Targeted at middle school students, this new giving challenge program will be a precursor to the current Youth Philanthropy Program and will help spark an increased awareness of, and interest in, the work of area organizations.

    The Community Foundation and Stage Notes Performance with a Purpose, who share similar objectives, will join forces for good, empowering area middle school students to identify the way they would like to see their communities enhanced. Stage Notes will dedicate $5,000 of their show proceeds this summer, combined with $5,000 from the Community Foundation. By the time we enter the season of gratitude and giving in November and December, a total of $10,000 will be awarded to area nonprofit organizations.

    Students will compete for multiple, various grant awards.  Although specific details will be forthcoming, the challenge will involve two major components. Seventh- and eighth-graders will be asked to write about what “community” means to them— their definition of community and what elements help make the place they live strong and vibrant. The students must then explain which nonprofit organizations they believe can best support their vision for their community in areas of both basic human needs and overall enhancement of quality of life. The winning students will visit the organizations, personally present their gifts and see with their own eyes how their sharing and caring makes a difference, recognizing that the generosity of others has made it possible.

    We hope this program encourages families to think about what others do to make the place they live better and the role they can play in encouraging it, today. As a society, we believe in the importance of educating the mind, and both the Community Foundation and Stage Notes want to continue to encourage fostering educating the heart.

    There is no better way to involve youth in making a difference than allowing them to be a part of the decision making process. We also reinforce that we are a community together and we need good citizens to perpetuate making that community the best it can be.

    Sure, the grants themselves will have a direct positive effect on nonprofit organizations and the work they do, but it is even more exciting to think about the long-term multiplier effect of encouraging this type of thought at a young age. We look forward to sharing the results with you.

    One way or another, our children’s vision for our community will become our vision for the community. These types of meaningful experiences will help provide inspiration throughout life and refine a more deliberate approach. We all have a responsibility to help ensure the community they inherit is one we all would wish for them so the phrase “good enough”  is never used for the place they spend their lives. We know summer vacation is just around the corner, but you can understand why we’re already excited to get back to school!