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

Nonprofits Not Place for Political Gamesmanship

MEME PROVIDED BY BOB GORMAN Watertown City Council candidate created this meme in his opposition to ACR Health’s syringe exchange office. In it he also falsely accused City Councilman Steve Jennings of selecting the location.

[Read more…]

World of Working Poor Misunderstood

Bob Gorman

The late Art Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a millionaire many times over, lived in the same house on the north side of Pittsburgh from the 1930s until his death in 1988.
     That seemingly insignificant fact is actually an example of a very significant point made in the book “Our Kids, The American Dream in Crisis” by Robert Putnam.
     Children in America today don’t experience the same variety of life—and views—as children did decades ago because they no longer live around families of different economic standing. Anybody living today in the same economic stratosphere Rooney conquered years ago would never live in the same neighborhood for 50 years, surrounded by an increasing number of unknown neighbors who can only afford to live where property values are declining.
     Through voices and statistics, Putnam shows how we have become a nation of economically segregated communities. The world of the impoverished and the working poor is all around, but it is misunderstood and misinterpreted by those well off because often our only interactions – if there are any at all – are through the service industry. We only speak when you take my dinner order or when you show me in which aisle I can find light bulbs.
     If asked, we can give myriad examples of how the world has changed dramatically over the last 30 years because of the digital revolution. We get our money out of an ATM, our music out of a phone, our weather forecast out of an app. Communication isn’t the same; sports aren’t the same; medicine isn’t the same, education is not the same.
     But with poverty, many of us are guilty of thinking the same things we thought 30 years ago. Such as, poverty can be ended overnight, if only: 1) People would stop being lazy and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and 2) Government would stop giving away so much welfare.
     Except there is this: The economic decline of the U.S. since the 1980s has ensured that more people do not have the wherewithal to be self-sufficient. The ability for thousands of north country citizens to create sufficient wealth—such as that produced on assembly lines at Air Brake, General Motors and a myriad other businesses in the north country— has disappeared.
     With the loss of stable, 40-hour-a-week jobs that included health insurance and pensions, thousands of people under the age of 40 have entered a job market that bears no relationship to the world their parents entered. Meanwhile, the ability to hand down financial support from one generation to the next is eroding as well.
     And that trend will continue, as outlined in the book “Humans Need Not Apply” by Jerry Kaplan, who has been at the epicenter of the creation of “artificial intelligence” for the last 40 years.
     While government crows loudest when employment is highest, business is most profitable when it employs the fewest people possible. And artificial intelligence – from the airline and concert tickets you buy online today to the driverless vehicle you will buy/rent in a few years – is eliminating one job after another, particularly those that the working poor are most able to do.
     (Just to be fair, Kaplan points out that artificial intelligence will eventually be providing the majority of initial medical diagnoses and routine legal work, knocking off a lot of jobs in medicine and law too.)
     This is producing one massive conundrum: Government is trying to move those in poverty and the working poor toward jobs that are being eliminated by artificial intelligence.
     Right now around 100 citizens in Watertown are taking part in a program that is trying to find local answers to that very issue. The Watertown/Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) is one of 16 such studies going on in New York that are giving communities an opportunity to receive state funds if they can develop a plan to make more people self-sufficient.
     Locally the program is being administered by the United Way of NNY and directed by former YMCA
     Executive Director Peter Schmitt. Dozens of meetings are being held to discuss four primary areas: housing, transportation, education and workforce development.
     With continued progress, a road map for Watertown will be submitted to the state this summer and programs will be funded and begin soon after.
     There is no guarantee that anything can be done to reduce poverty in Watertown. But as Putnam and Kaplan show us, doing nothing will allow the problem to become worse.

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.

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.

[Read more…]

October 2015: Nonprofits Today

Transparent nonprofits build trust

Bob Gorman

Bob Gorman

An employee of the Jefferson Rehabilitation Center was recently arrested for allegedly stealing $45,000 from the bank accounts of JRC clients.

Such news is the last thing any nonprofit wants to hear. But the good news is that JRC did the right thing — it investigated the allegations, called police and is now letting the chips fall where they may. [Read more…]

United Way awards $356,600 to nonprofits in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties

The United Way of Northern New York has awarded $356,600 in grant funding to partner agencies in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties that was raised during its 2013 campaign.

Funding awarded by the agency is down from last year’s $430,000 because of a decrease in pledged donations, Chief Executive Officer Robert D. Gorman said. Even so, the agency was able to fund three agencies that didn’t receive grants last year: Family Counseling Service of Northern New York, the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired of Jefferson County and ACR Health, Canton.

“Last year the United Way didn’t fund organizations for various reasons,” said Mr. Gorman, who succeeded Jayn M. Graves as head of the agency last summer. “But in a year in which our revenue is down, we were able to bring them back into the fold.”

The agency, led by volunteer committees that decide how funding is awarded, was able to provide funding to those three agencies by granting lower requests to others in some cases, Mr. Gorman said. In addition, the Children’s Home of Jefferson County’s board of directors decided not to make a funding request after receiving $20,000 last year.

“Some of our partner agencies actually requested less money this year because they knew our revenues would be down,” Mr. Gorman said.

For the 2013 campaign, the Jefferson County United Way Campaign raised $580,622, down from $598,622 raised in 2012; the St. Lawrence County campaign raised $113,299, down from $133,790, and the Lewis County campaign raised $60,486, up slightly from last year’s $60,055.

Pledged donations in 2013 by state employees through the State Employees Federated Appeal were down from 2012 in Jefferson/Lewis counties and St. Lawrence; funding raised by the Jefferson/Lewis campaign decreased from $79,270 to $68,456, while the St. Lawrence County campaign fell from $58,373 to $49,764.

The decline in financial support from large manufacturers in the region, which has occurred gradually over the last 40 years, has compelled the United Way to recruit more small businesses to become partners, he said.

“Historically, the United Way has depended on major manufacturing businesses for the majority of its funding,” he said. “We could go to a company with 500 to 1,000 employees and go to the employees to make pledges. But with the decline of manufacturing and increase in service jobs, we have to knock on more doors and convince more small businesses to participate in the United Way.”

The agency recently has made strides in recruiting new businesses to become United Way partners, and it will be increasing its outreach efforts this year.

“There were five or six companies in the last couple of months that are doing United Way campaigns,” Mr. Gorman said. “We’re forming committees in all three counties that will help knock on doors to talk with more businesses to become partners.”

Another hurdle for raising funds has been recruiting younger employees to make pledged donations, Mr. Gorman said. He said that many younger adults may not know about the critical role the agency plays.

“They’re not making the decision to invest in the community,” he said. “Nonprofits have been here for about an average of 30 years, and it’s not easy to know that it’s the citizens of the community that are needed for their survival. Every one of our nonprofits will say United Way funding is critical to their survival.”

As an example of the lifesaver role played by the agency, Mr. Gorman cited a $15,000 gift made by the United Way from its endowment fund to Family Counseling Service in December. “That funding helped us get them back in business,” he said.

A list of grants awarded by the United Way of Northern New York is available at

By Ted Booker, Times Staff Writer.

Region’s needs have grown larger

Bob Gorman

Nancy Reagan, John Glenn and Lloyd Bentsen were all born in 1921. And so, too, was the Watertown Community Chest.

The names of those who signed the “Articles of Incorporation” on Sept., 26, 1921, are forever linked to the region’s industrial and banking history: Frank Rhines, George Stebbins and William Pruyn. And 10 of the 15 people who signed that document were women whose names were synonymous with the leadership of Watertown, including Nellie Willmott, Maud Reed, Mary Goodale and Alice Sherman.

Their mission was clearly stated: to raise and disburse money for “charitable, philanthropic, eleemosynary and benevolent purposes.” And their ability to develop a sustainable organization is apparent 92 years later. [Read more…]