Suicide Prevention and Understanding in NNY

Bob Gorman

Suicide remains the death that dares not speak its name.

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

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

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

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

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

    Back home, Carol fell into depression.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Philanthropist in all of Us

Rande Richardson

Philanthropy is a major part of what defines America. In the north country, philanthropy has enhanced our communities. Do you consider yourself a philanthropist? When the Community Foundation embarked on the concept of developing a philanthropy center, inspired from a similar model in Central New York, a friend’s response was: “I love the idea, but I wish you would call it something else.”

    For someone who has spent a significant time striving to make service to the place you live increasingly inviting, inclusive and diverse, I was taken aback, perhaps even a bit offended. I quickly realized that somewhere along the line, the word “philanthropy” had lost its true meaning in the Greek origin of the word: “love of humankind.”

    Make no mistake, there are wonderfully generous people who have the ability to give financially in support of philanthropy, and our communities are phenomenally better for it. I am fortunate to witness it nearly every day. Financial resources can and have accomplished great things; however, money alone does not define philanthropy. Without other elements of philanthropy, the impact is never as great nor as sustainable.

    Theoretically, everyone has the ability to love their fellow human beings. It is as simple as using any of your resources to make life better for other people. Time, energy, ideas and advocacy are something anyone can share. In fact, many north country citizens have already done this, and have for hundreds of years. Some of our region’s greatest institutions, programs, and nonprofit organizations were made possible because of philanthropy in all of its forms.

    Have you ever volunteered for a community organization or effort? Have you taken time to help someone without a thought of receiving something in return? Have you ever given blood? Have you been a volunteer coach or mentor? Have you provided support or encouragement to someone when they’ve experienced a difficulty or a loss? If so, you are a philanthropist.
    So, by definition the opportunity to be a philanthropist is available to all of us. At the Community Foundation, we’ve encouraged more people to participate through programs that have helped inspire children, youth and younger generations. We’ve created mechanisms that provide people of all means a seat at the table for community change. It has resonated. We’ve grown. We have philanthropists that never thought they could be, seeing the meaningful impact they never thought they could have. Together, we’ve created more opportunities for caring more, loving more, sharing more and helping others more through giving in all of its forms.

    I believe that by practicing philanthropy in the way we want to shape our community and our world, we lead happier, healthier lives. We must inspire and nurture the ability for everyone to know they’ve done something to make their community a better place for others, and themselves. Time, energy and ideas are things everyone with some skill or talent can share, and have the joy in giving them.

    We all have a stake in the failure or success of community philanthropy. I challenge you to be thoughtful, intentional and deliberate in the way you affect humankind, looking to do it in more stewarded, lasting ways. Be confident that you’ve got what it takes to use your life to fulfill the true meaning of the word in support of the things you are most passionate about

    So who gets to call themselves philanthropist? It is a concept and a title that is accessible to everyone. It is important to embrace the broadening “democratization” of philanthropy, widening the playing field, and send the message that we must continue our focus on giving in all ways, including volunteerism and nonprofit service and leadership as well as monetary. Without the passion and resources devoted to philanthropy, not only would our communities be less vibrant, so would each of our lives. The next time you hear the word philanthropy, I hope you see yourself, your family, your children and your friends as the catalysts for real change.

    Our time on this earth is relatively short. That should not stop us from aspiring to have our impact be enduring. Now that I think of it, being a center for philanthropy (in all the ways it is expressed) is exactly the right name, for the right cause, at exactly the right time.

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.

April 20 Questions: A Rich Life of Giving

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS DPAO founder recalls service to community and lasting impacts

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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. 

Thank you, volunteers, for all you do

HOLLY BONAME n NNY BUSINESS In Jefferson County this year's recipients of the Macsherry Family Community Spirit Awards are Tops Family Markets and Heather White, left, With Richard Macsherry.

HOLLY BONAME n NNY BUSINESS
In Jefferson County this year’s recipients of the Macsherry Family Community Spirit Awards are Tops Family Markets and Heather White, left, With Richard Macsherry.

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Consider a proactive grant strategy

Leonard_Diane_HWYou may be asking, “What is proactive grant seeking?” Isn’t the act of submitting an application for grant funding proactive rather than merely sitting back and waiting for foundations to find you and make grants? True.

That is an initial way to look at being proactive in your grant-seeking efforts.

For the sake of this column, proactive grant-seeking is the act of writing a proposal — or at least a proposal outline — before you identify a funding source or even a request for proposal or application. I can hear the questions now: “Why write a proposal if you aren’t sure there will even be a funding source to submit the proposal to?” [Read more…]

Now is best time to plan for future

What if someone said to you, “Here’s $20,000 of someone else’s money. Give it away and do it well.” Sounds like fun, right? Certainly giving away money can be fun, but such a privilege can also be a burdensome responsibility balancing unlimited needs with limited resources. [Read more…]

Hyde-Stone Mechanical Contractors establishes charitable foundation

Hyde-Stone Mechanical Contractors owner Jay F. Stone, left, his wife, Dawn, and their two sons, Christopher and Thom, who all are leaders in the company. Photo courtesy of the Northern New York Community Foundation.

With a $100,000 gift, Hyde-Stone Mechanical Contractors has established the first corporate charitable foundation within the Northern New York Community Foundation.

Hyde-Stone, which has offices in Watertown, Potsdam and Plattsburgh, has shifted from awarding grants through the company to using a more formalized, nonprofit structure that will help fund projects and programs in Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Clinton counties. [Read more…]

Sieze the chance for a full glass

Enacted in 1917, the charitable deduction was one of the first tax deductions allowed under law, advanced largely to counter higher taxes imposed during World War I and to encourage private support of charitable efforts at home. When talk of establishing a standard deduction arose during World War II, there was concern among nonprofits, including churches, that it would adversely affect donations. A similar scenario occurred during tax reform legislation in the 1980s. During the months and weeks leading up to the recent “fiscal cliff” discussions, there was much conversation and hand-wringing among nonprofit advocacy groups regarding a potential end to the charitable deduction. [Read more…]