People’s Will Propels Nonprofits

Rande Richardson

Nonprofit organizations across the north country provide services and enhancements to our quality of life that government can’t, won’t or shouldn’t provide or for-profit entities can’t offer without losing money. There are additional various constraints on nonprofits that create challenges to what we desire to have them reliably do to build strong communities for us all.

     That is why nonprofit organizations must raise funds, plain and simple. When communities believe an organization’s work and mission is important and valuable, they respond positively. Most of our area nonprofits successfully exist because the will of the people had demanded it and inspired a type of sacrifice that ensures that their ability to continue to make a difference is maintained.             

     For nearly half of my life I have been fortunate to help raise funds for causes I believe in. The region is blessed with many who have done the same for various projects, initiatives, programs and organizations. Anyone who has asked someone for money knows that the emotions range from elation and joy to terror, rejection and defeat. I often look for shining examples of citizen philanthropy to motivate and sustain me. There is one I keep going back to that deeply touches me each time I see it.

     A few years ago, CBS News told the story of young Myles Eckert. Nine-year-old Myles found a $20 bill in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Maumee, Ohio. While his first thought was to buy a video game with his surprise find, he quickly changed his mind.

     Myles’ father, Army Sgt. Andy Eckert, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq just five weeks after Myles was born. So, when he spotted a uniformed Lt. Col Frank Daily in that restaurant that day, he was reminded of the father he never knew. Something within him compelled Myles to forgo the video game to give a gift that was greater than himself and so much more than $20.

                Myles wrapped the $20 with a note that read: “Dear Soldier, my Dad was a soldier. He’s in heaven now. I found this $20 in the parking lot when we got here. We like to pay it forward in my family. It’s your lucky day! Thank you for your service,” signed, Myles Eckert, a Gold Star Kid. Not only did that gift forever affect Lt. Col. Daily, as the story became known, others were motivated to do the same. Individuals, organizations and businesses came forward, wanting to be part of the example Myles set. As requested by the Eckert family, gifts were directed toward Snowball Express, a nonprofit initiative providing support to children who have lost a parent during military service.

                On the way home from Cracker Barrel that day, Myles asked his Mom if he could visit his Dad. The image of Myles, and his footprints in the snowy cemetery, hugging his father’s gravestone with an American flag in the foreground, is one that is permanently etched in my mind. I am continually grateful that he showed us how a gift of kindness can not only help others but can inspire many more to do the same. In so doing, we are also reminded to keep our hearts and minds open to supporting each other and the organizations that help ensure the same spirit is perpetuated. Myles gave a gift much larger than $20. He showed us how it’s done.

                The Community Foundation feels strongly that part of its mission is to introduce concepts of civic responsibility, not as a mandate, but as part of the joy of a fulfilling life. In addition to its Youth Philanthropy program, which targets high school students, there are plans underway to explore engaging elementary and middle school students in similar ways. It will help nurture the kind of thinking that has helped make our region great. It will help sustain the nonprofit organizations as reliable providers of useful community programs and services. It will determine what type of community we have, and what values and traditions we uphold. As we all look inward and consider, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” Myles very clearly helped answer that question.

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. 

The Key to Downtown Revitalization?

Brooke Rouse

A vibrant downtown is on the top of nearly every community’s wish list; how to get there is the question. Livability is a word used in planning that refers to the aspects of a community that improve quality of life. If livability is high, people will want to live, work and play in the community and are invested and committed to its future. Factors include both built and natural elements, “economic prosperity, social stability and equality, educational opportunity and cultural, entertainment and recreation possibilities” as defined by the Partners for Livable Communities.

     A review of several “top rated downtowns” reveal some common threads, often referencing locations that have experienced the common theme of peripheral development draining downtowns, and a new surge of interest in bringing people and business back to the historic commercial centers. Of greatest importance is that a community has a vision statement. Ideally the vision statement is then translated into a comprehensive plan that includes action items and key stakeholders and partners. That vision will direct the priority, investment and character of some of the other elements noted here as “keys to livability.”

     Land Use and Zoning: Communities are diligently reviewing their zoning and land use laws to ensure they are updated and in line with the current vision for the community. Often the comprehensive plan may identify what the “downtown” is, which may be a certain area or street other than the Main Street. Many municipalities are operating off of old and sometimes irrelevant or counterproductive laws.

     Pedestrian Friendly: Access and safety for cyclists and walkers is a top priority in increasing downtown vitality. Widening streets, widening and connecting sidewalks and paths, installation and strategic placement of light posts and bike racks, along with beautification features such as landscaping and public art all entice more people, and families, to come and spend time in the downtown. Reduced noise and pollution, combined with increased public spaces for outdoor dining and music are defining “hip” downtowns.

     Private – Public Partnerships: Successful communities have mechanisms in place for residents to contribute financially to the success of the community, whether it is for a civic or commercial project. These financial “holdings” may be in the form of a crowd sourcing campaign, partnership with a bank or foundation, or as a part of the municipal government. Public funds are necessary (or encouraged) to leverage almost any grant opportunity through state and private foundations and are critical to move projects forward.

     Arts, Entertainment and the Creative Class: Top downtowns always include a number of things to entertain people…a key to quality of life. Identifying, supporting and leveraging art and culture; museums, venues, and events will ensure residents and visitors are enjoying their community. Additionally, what has been referred to as the creative class (by Livability.com and others) includes engaging and finding a meaningful place for artists, innovators, researchers and technology experts to work and share their work.

     These are some of the key Livability Factors. What do you see in your community? What are you missing? Why do live there and why do you consider leaving? These are all good questions for conversation in your community. In 2017, get engaged, join a committee, run for public office, start a private enterprise! Communities will thrive when populations are steady (growing), healthy and happy!

BROOKE ROUSE is president and CEO of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. Contact her at brooke@slcchamber.org.

Nurturing and encouraging a community

Rande Richardson

Over the last several years, the Northern New York Community Foundation has continually looked for ways to extend its reach and scope to fulfill the true spirit and mission by which it was established in 1929. Moving beyond being a transactional grantmaker is a path we believe we should pursue, as making investments through grants and scholarships is really only part of the story. Those efforts have been well received, as the diversity and number of charitable funds and legacies administered on behalf of individuals, families, organizations and businesses has grown significantly. Also during this time, our service area extended to include St. Lawrence County, whose residents have responded positively, with many establishing permanent funds and others supporting the Foundation’s overall efforts to enhance the region’s quality of life. The experience of philanthropy should not belong to any one group or demographic and the options for expressing it should be as diverse as the community itself.

   The Foundation, through the support of its donors, past and present, has been able to implement new programs which encourage and nurture community awareness, leadership and instill the interest and desire to give back across generations. This is most evident in our Youth Philanthropy and Next Generation LEAD Councils. We have also have been steadfast in our belief that one of the most important responsibilities we have is to be a resource to nonprofit organizations that provide both basic services and quality of life enhancements by offering additional tools to ensure their ability to fulfill their mission for the long term. This has included helping build partnership endowments that serve to both diversify revenue streams in good times and bad and also provide donors with a heightened level of structure and long-term stewardship when they choose to support the charitable interests they are most passionate about. This is powerful!

   Because of these things, the Community Foundation reached a crossroads. Over a year ago, thoughtful discussion began regarding how to accommodate the increased reach and scope and ensure that we were properly positioned to continue to diversify the way we serve our community, the donors who support it and the organizations we are able to invest in. Moving simply to provide more office space was not reason nor visionary enough.

   We continually ask organizations we serve to find ways to minimize duplication, find efficiencies of scale, and look for opportunities to share and collaborate when it makes sense. We needed to do the same. We looked inward and asked: “is this an opportunity for us to do better, in a more collaborative way, doing more, for our community, its organizations, donors and all those we strive to serve?”

   The alignment of stars and months of due diligence provided even greater clarity on how to best enter the next chapter.

Following the lead of other community foundations across the state and country, we embraced the philanthropy center concept as a way to:

  • Create a sustainable model that will enable sharing and consolidation of resources (space, services, staff, ideas, technology) with other nonprofits in a synergistic setting while reducing operational costs for up to seven charitable organizations under one roof, including our own.
  • Provide convening and collaboration space for nonprofit organizations and community groups.
  • Provide additional space to expand and grow Youth Philanthropy, Next Generation LEAD and educational internship programs.
  • Offer additional ways to tangibly celebrate, recognize and honor north country philanthropy, and those who have made, and are making, it possible, with the hope that others will be moved and inspired to perpetuate it.

   The new space that we will share with others must be for and about our community. It will open the door to convenings and leadership opportunities and serve as a catalyst for specific and broad philanthropic activities.  

   The third floor will provide organizations the ability to develop a shared services model. All will benefit from the synergy of being united in a facility that promotes new thinking in regards to all ways that allow more charitable resources to go further. The Center itself will be both efficient and sustainable, as up to seven organizations (including the Community Foundation) share one home.

   With the help of Purcell Construction, an historically significant building was preserved, restored and returned to community use, enhancing the other investments being made in the Downtown area. With over $2 million raised, the community expressed its will to make it happen, sharing the vision for the space and its potential to broadly support all charitable organizations with contributions of various sizes.

In the end, the Philanthropy Center is a tool and will only be as valuable as the way it is used. We take this responsibility seriously. We hope you share with us in celebrating this next chapter in community philanthropy that this collaborative venture represents, while honoring the past, celebrating the present and preparing for the future. It is the natural next step in realizing and building upon the same bold vision and mission that the founders of your community foundation had 88 years ago that you continue to embrace, and that enhances the quality of life for us, and those who will come after us.

 

Working to change the culture of care

Bob Gorman

Bob Gorman

Fort Drum is full of acronyms, but the two most recent acronyms to come to the north country are courtesy of civilians: DSRIP and ALICE.

The state’s Delivery System Reform Initiative Payment (DSRIP) program is a short but tongue-twisting way of saying that too much money is being spent on people after they are sick and not enough is being spent on keeping people from getting sick.

ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, which is another tongue-twisting way of referring to the working poor.

The DSRIP punchline is this: The region wants to reduce hospital use by 25 percent within five years

The ALICE punchline is this: The state is getting dangerously close to having 50 percent of its households unable to generate enough income to cover the basic costs of living, let alone save for the future.

But first, DSRIP. Changing the culture of treatment to a culture of prevention is going to be difficult, especially when too many of us overdose on opiates, alcohol, tobacco, sugar, etc. Too many of us also suffer from mental, emotional and behavioral health issues. The easy thing to do is put off addressing a health issue in hopes it will go away. If we are wrong, well, there is an emergency room nearby.

Everyone in health care agrees with the direction, although hospitals are quietly trying to figure out how to eventually retool their budgets, staffs, etc., if one quarter of their patient load no longer shows up.

Leading that conversation is the North Country Initiative, which is operated out of the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization. The Initiative has already secured $3 million to help the region’s hospitals with this transition, while identifying key targets such as suicide prevention, smoking cessation and diabetes reduction.

Also facing the change in direction is our nonprofit community, which is now expected to become part of a health care provider system. That sounds nice on paper, but it is requiring a complete turning of the ship for agencies that have historically operated as individual organizations.

“(DSRIP) is extremely relevant and is actually what I spend most of my days, and sleepless nights, working on,” said Korin Scheible, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Jefferson County.

“DSRIP is the main reason for our name change” from the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council of Jefferson County to Pivot, said Executive Director William Bowman. That’s because Pivot is looking at the entire health care of an individual, not simply guiding people away from addictions.

“Currently the impact to our agency is mainly administrative, but there will be some programmatic aspects that will become part of our services as time goes on,” said Bowman. “We are looking at how our services impact the DSRIP goals of reducing unnecessary hospital admissions by 25 percent, and aligning our outcome measures to help determine that.”

Access Care and Resources for Health recently hired a staff person specifically to guide its agency through DSRIP. But it wasn’t easy. In a press release the agency noted: “ACR Health recognized the magnitude of DSRIP and made the difficult decision to take on a full-time DSRIP Coordinator, Poonam Patel. The lack of supporting funds to manage infrastructure and hire staff poses challenges as individuals in their full-time roles take on newly incorporated DSRIP responsibilities.”

Yet, all nonprofits that provides any health care services — such as behavioral health and opioid addiction — understand that treating an individual individually by each agency and health center or hospital is not always in the best interest of the person.

“We are trying to help treat the overall health — mind, body and spirit,” said Jim Scordo, executive director of Credo, which several years added a mental health clinic to its role in helping people end their drug addictions.

To better understand how DISRIP will affect the north country, please see this 20-minute tutorial at: https://vimeo.com/160913448

As for ALICE, a statewide United Way report released in November shows that 44 percent of the state’s households are generating incomes below the threshold needed to provide rent, food, medical care, educational opportunities for children and saving for the future.

In Watertown, the percentage is 57 percent. That number is in part the reason the state this year awarded a $1 million anti-poverty grant to the city, which has asked the United Way of NNY to administer. We have asked former Watertown Y executive director Peter Schmitt to lead this effort to help us better understand how we can help people receive services more promptly, and fund programs that help more citizens become self-sufficient.

DSRIP and ALICE alone won’t solve all the issues facing our community. But they are good starts and will be acronyms worth knowing about in the years to come.

Preserve the stories that make us great

 

Rande Richardson

Rande Richardson

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