Young Leaders Provide Glimpse Into Our Community’s Future

Rande Richardson

“It wasn’t until I got into Youth Philanthropy Council that I saw the community is as a whole and what the needs are. It opened my eyes not only in Jefferson County and Watertown, but to Lewis County and St. Lawrence County. I think it taught me great life skills and the lessons that I’ve learned will be with me for a long time to come. Those values that YPC has instilled in me will carry on.” — Marcus Lavarnway, Youth Philanthropy Council alumnus 


Studies show that involvement as a youth is a significant factor influencing how adult volunteers and donors behave. This follows an approach of moving away from viewing youths as problems to be solved to seeing young people as resources to engage in community development. In this way, they can contribute more meaningfully to their own growth as leaders and to society in general. Students benefit from exploring community issues, the work of the region’s nonprofit organizations, and opportunities available for volunteering. They gain knowledge that is not as easily offered in the traditional school setting. This includes interpersonal problem solving, consensus building, diplomacy, confident, productive and respectful disagreement and higher-level communication and networking skills. 

    The Youth Philanthropy Council (YPC) became a pilot project of the Community Foundation in 2010. In nine years, high school students have been entrusted with grantmaking resources and empowered with the responsibility of properly stewarding gifts from generous annual donors combined with matching gifts from major sponsors Watertown Savings Bank and the Renzi Foodservice Charitable Foundation. Their work also led to engagement of middle school students through the Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge. The results are proving the wisdom of asking our youth for their input. 

    Former YPC members recently reflected upon their experiences as they related to their time in college and as they advance their careers and personal lives. Each alumnus cited YPC as their most transformative high school experience. Others said the program helped them “find their place” in the community and become connected with adults and organizations in meaningful ways. They all agreed that it caused them to seek out opportunities to serve. They now see community service as a fundamental part of a fulfilling life. (To hear their full comments, visit www.nnycpodcast.com). 

    This year’s YPC is preparing to make its $20,000 in grant recommendations. Nonprofit organizations should take note of some emerging trends of this generation:  

  • They take very seriously the responsibility of being entrusted with other people’s money.  
  • They prefer to provide support for the heart of a program, project or initiative. 
  • They are not inclined to offer help unless they are confident in the organization’s ability to do what they say they will do. They expect accountability and good stewardship. 
  • They don’t allow geographic “boundaries” to get in the way of supporting something worthwhile.
  • Despite “youth” in its name, YPC members see their mission and responsibility as transcending programs that exclusively benefit young people. 
  • They understand the balance between supporting basic human needs with enriching the quality of life. 
  • They demonstrate an ability to remain assertive while respecting, valuing and appreciating opposing points of view.
  • They do not want to be underestimated or marginalized.

Youth philanthropy is, at the broadest level, passionate involvement of young adults giving of their time, talent and treasure in support of the common good, just as philanthropy is itself. The added ingredient we can all provide is the energy, excitement and spark that will continue to nurture the types of communities where all of our lives will be enriched. This helps us all to better answer the question: “What do I care about?” 

    More importantly, we affirm that we must have a desire, commitment and will to integrate caring more deliberately into our daily lives. There should be no doubt that we all benefit from a community and a world where authentic caring, respect and stewardship is valued, expected, affirmed, and non-negotiable. By learning from each other, we help ensure that the leadership of the past is linked to the leadership of the future. 

Best Stories Of the North Country Are Its Human Ones

Rande Richardson

“I am bound to them, though I cannot look into their eyes or hear their voices. I honor their history. I cherish their lives. I will tell their story. I will remember them.” — Author unknown

Funeral directors don’t deal well with mortality. Staring daily into the face of death has many effects, including a continual awareness of the fragility and transitory nature of life. At the same time, it has a way of helping sort through the things that matter, creating urgency around living your life with purpose and meaning.

    Last month, one of my funeral director mentors died at the age of 80. There were feelings of regret for not having had that last conversation, that last opportunity to say “thank-you” for the way he shaped my life. I learned so much from him and his son. In many ways, his funeral service served to provide the bridge to the next step in accepting a world without him in it. In that moment, too, as I witnessed the memorializing of someone who had always been on the other side of serving families in need, the importance of remembering became even more fundamental. In so doing, we remind ourselves that each of us, in our own time, is responsible for carrying on, just as those who have come before us.

    I am often asked where I work, what I do. In many ways, what I do is very similar to what I did as a funeral director. I am the temporary custodian of something preciously valued. I am honored with the duty of care in honoring the memory of our community’s people. Ultimately, the stories of the north country are its human ones; people who, during their lifetimes, lived, loved and cared in a way that affected others.

    I prefer to answer the question of why I do what I do. I feel a tremendous obligation to tell our community’s stories honorably in a way that helps ensure that those who have come before us are lovingly remembered. Perhaps more lasting, though, is how their lives provided an example of a continuum of care for where they spent their lives — the teacher who left an imprint on thousands, the doctor or nurse who was there to comfort and heal, the person from any walk of life who simply chose to make a difference. Not only is it right to honor these legacies, it is how others are inspired to continue that tradition.

    After a decade at the Community Foundation, I’ve been there long enough to carry out the wishes of those whom I had previous conversations regarding how they intended their support of important causes to endure when they were gone. Because of their thoughtful planning, they continue to support the people, places and organizations of the region with consistent, thoughtful, lasting care.

    At the end of the day, the things that make our community more than average are made possible by the work and mission of our region’s charitable organizations, through the support of donors of time, talent and treasure. Many caring citizens have partnered with nonprofit organizations as a tangible expression of their interests and values. These range from education, health care, a wide scope of human services, animal welfare, arts and culture, history and recreation.

    The early citizens who made gifts to build the Community Foundation did so long before many of today’s needs were clearly apparent. A donor in 1929 likely would not have anticipated the desire to offer hospice services in the region 50 years later. They would be pleased to know that the stewardship of their desire for a better community could impact lives in meaningful ways far into the future. It is hard to separate honoring one’s memory and telling the story of the forever effect of their existence. Just as matter is neither created nor destroyed, kindness, caring and generosity has an extended half-life. One way or another, each of us is forever part of our community’s story.

    In a recent CBS “On The Road” feature, Steve Hartman remembered his dad, stating “His death makes me an orphan. I can tell you this is a unique kind of emptiness. When there is no one left on earth to love you quite so unconditionally.” Sooner or later, we all can relate. “Although losing such a parent can feel like kryptonite, remembering them in all their glory can make your heart fly.”

We are at the intersection of today and tomorrow. Remember that our own lives will continue to ripple throughout our communities for a long time to come. Be ever aware of the story you were born to tell. Focus not only what you leave behind but what you made possible. Not so much for the gifts you give, but the love behind them. Do so with purpose so that others will want to remember you in ways that causes many more hearts to fly and the goodness in our communities and its organizations to endure across the generations.               

 

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.

Charitable Contributions A ‘Non-Factor’ to Determine Domicile

Rande Richardson

Approximately one-third of all annual giving occurs in December. Supporters of local charitable organizations are generous throughout the year; however, nonprofit organizations rely heavily on year-end giving to fulfill their work and mission for all 12 months. At the Community Foundation, in addition to annual giving, many donors turn their thoughts to ways to perpetuate their support of causes through lifetime giving and legacy planning. At the same time, many take advantage of utilizing the benefit of the unique tool of a Community Foundation donor-advised fund to help ensure they reach a level that allows all of their yearly charitable giving to surpass standard deduction levels to ensure their deductibility.

Meanwhile, more Northern New Yorkers have become residents of other states (predominantly Florida). For local nonprofits, this is a trend that may be a cause for concern. An unintended consequence of a change of domicile is that now-seasonal New Yorkers inevitably become attached to charitable organizations and churches where they spend the winter. This is understandable.

What is less understandable, however, is some former residents are wrongly led to believe that their choice to change their residence limits, or even prohibits, their ability to make charitable contributions in New York. I occasionally have conversations with donors who have spent their lives, raised their families and earned their living in the North Country who fear that their domicile status may be jeopardized by their expression of charity. Not only is this notion hurtful to our area, it is simply not true. There are checklists of “do’s and don’ts” where domicile is concerned, however, published tax audit guidelines make clear the intent of the law is not to interfere in any way with personal giving, either within New York or anywhere else.

You should always consult your advisors for accounting and legal advice, and the Community Foundation will soon publish a more in-depth article on this written by a local estate planning attorney. For the purposes of this column, it is simply worth noting in broad terms that New York State auditor’s guidelines specifically state that a taxpayer’s charitable contributions are a “non-factor” and are not to be taken into account in determining domicile. The guidelines go even further to ensure that volunteer service not be used in any way to jeopardize domicile. Taken directly from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance website: “Live out of state? Donating to a NY-based charity doesn’t make you a NYS resident for tax purposes. Making a charitable contribution to a New York State charity does not determine your domicile (your permanent and principal home for tax purposes). We want residents of other states to know that they can contribute to New York State charities with full knowledge that such a contribution isn’t taken into account when determining domicile.”

The North Country relies on gifts of both time and treasure from all for whom this place holds special meaning. We must do everything we can to help ensure that both organizations and the donors who support them are not misled down a path that somehow those relationships need end with a change in domicile.

Charitable giving is a very personal decision. Done properly, it is an extension of the individual and a reflection of one’s interests, passions and values. For many, that includes causes that they have supported for many years, across multiple generations. It is a reflection of their fondness and appreciation for the way the North Country has weaved through their lives. If donors choose to cease their giving and sever their ties to Northern New York charities, it should be for reasons other than mistaken myth and misconception.

Our region has been blessed by a culture of giving that has enhanced the quality of life here. Not only do our regional organizations rely on and value that type of generosity, those donors who desire to be part of that heritage need to be reassured that domicile need not be an obstacle to their personal and individualized expression of their core values in an enduring way.

The Effects of the Opioid Crisis in NNY

Bob Gorman

I have never been addicted to alcohol, drugs or gambling.

    (I have also never been addicted to housekeeping, food preparation or lawn care, but I digress…)

And there you have it: flippancy. It comes easily if you’ve never carried an addiction monkey on your back. You can’t understand what it is like to live every waking moment with an out-of-control desire to find pleasure in something that can kill everything you know: your family relationships, your career and eventually yourself.

    So you can only try to relate to the statistics.

    The cost of the opioid crisis is producing crazy numbers. Last year the U.S. reported 71,568 overdose deaths, around 196 a day. When factoring in the cost of treatment of the addicted and their inability to produce income and pay taxes, the federal Council of Economic Advisers reports that the nation’s economy lost $504 billion in 2015 alone.

    Whether you want the government to spend more money on free tuition or building a border wall, those numbers should be making us all pause together to consider what the United States could be accomplishing today without the scourge of opioids robbing us of so much talent and treasure in the last 10 years.

    In my job at the United Way working with such nonprofits as Credo Community Center and Pivot, I see some of the effects of this crisis, but from a safe vantage point. For instance, last year, I took Ty Stone, then the new president of Jefferson Community College, on a tour of several local nonprofits, including Credo’s recovery house for women with addictions.

    We walked into the room where they hold group discussions and were suddenly looking into the eyes of some 14 women in their 20s. Some were pregnant and all had been exposed to every bad thing that can happen to you when you are addicted to drugs.

    I introduced Dr. Stone and asked her if she would like to say something. And she then said something I could not have anticipated. She said the drug crisis was also personal for her because in 2007 in Dayton, OH., her 19-year-old son, Steven Adrian Smith, while walking home from work, was run over and killed by a car driven by a man under the influence of heroin.

    After she paused for a few moments, she then looked at every woman in the room and said that when they completed their recovery time at Credo, she would welcome them if they chose to attend JCC. They may have thought they were looking at a college president, she noted, but they didn’t know the whole story of how that title came to be. Stone’s education had been interrupted many times over the years, including her recovery period after the death of her son. They should never give up on themselves, she said, and they should know that there are people throughout the community who are always willing to help them at a moment’s notice.

    Nationally, the issue of how to help those in recovery is becoming the topic of magazine articles about parents who have exhausted their savings trying to rescue their adult children who keep relapsing time and time again. There are no easy answers, but the subject of what to do with so many addicted people also allows for the flippant suggestion that nothing needs to be done because the opioid crisis will die out once the addicted die out.

    Doreen Slocum is a good example of why working to find a better answer is necessary.

    She began using drugs while a student at Alexandria Central School and by her mid-20s, she had been arrested twice: Once for selling drugs and once for shoplifting so that she could sell the merchandise to buy drugs. She overdosed once at her parents’ home and was saved by members of the Thousands Islands Rescue Squad who arrived in time to administer Narcan.

    (The number of overdose deaths potentially could be tripled if not for first responders using such drugs that bring the addicted back to life).

    Slocum today works at Credo, helping others who are trying to kill the addiction monkey rather than themselves. She is often asked to speak throughout the area about her wild ride that almost ended in her death. And today she smiles often when considering her moments of beautiful irony, such as when she was volunteering at the United Way’s annual food drive last year and was working side by side with Sheriff Colleen O’Neill. It hadn’t been that many years earlier when Slocum was housed in the jail that O’Neill oversees.

                Like a lot of people, I wish we were spending $504 billion a year on something more tangible, like infrastructure. But then again, maybe we are. People are this nation’s true infrastructure. And hearing stories from people as diverse as Ty Stone and Doreen Slocum remind us that working together in a united way to find an answer to our addiction problem is worth our time and treasure.

Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge

Rande Richardson

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.”  –Robert Louis Stevenson

At the Community Foundation, we hold a firm belief that the best way we honor the north country’s history and heritage of commitment to community betterment is to find ways to thoughtfully perpetuate it. Much like in life, you can never start too early to instill positive concepts and lead by example with the help of positive role models. When our youth learn the value and practice of giving and civic and social responsibility, all of our community’s organizations, including schools, benefit.

                Last fall, the Community Spirit Youth Giving Challenge was launched as a mission-centric way to proactively encourage civic engagement among middle school students. Seventh and eighth graders were asked to put into words what “community” meant to them and then identify a local nonprofit organization that they felt helped make their community a better place. Over 60 students from nine school districts expressed consistent themes of neighbors, safety, love, beauty, happiness, betterment, togetherness, kindness, helping, caring, belonging, sharing, and respect. I think we all want to live in a community where these themes run through it. At the same time, it is likely that the process led to conversations between the students, their peers, their teachers and families. All good things.

                A total of 23 students were able to present grants ranging from $500 to $1,000, totaling $10,000. As part of the program, students also visited the organizations that their grant was supporting. This allowed them the opportunity to see the work of their charitable organization up close. There is no doubt that the first Giving Challenge left memorable impressions on these young adults. At the same time, 19 organizations across Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties were provided with additional resources to advance their missions. The students’ interests included arts, culture and education as well as health and human services. Adelyne Jareo, who was awarded the largest grant to Meals on Wheels of Greater Watertown, said “To me, community means living through both good and bad times with people who love and support you. Community is about connection and brightening someone’s day and making it better even in the smallest way possible. Lending a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen, or even a friendly warm smile can make the world a better place. That is what community is all about.”

                While the first year had positive outcomes and good participation, there is now an opportunity to have even more students involved in directly improving the quality of life in their community. From now until Nov. 19, seventh and eighth graders attending school in Jefferson, Lewis or St. Lawrence counties are encouraged to participate. Entry applications are available at www.nnycf.org or at the Philanthropy Center at 131 Washington St., Watertown. We encourage teachers and parents to begin conversations that foster an environment of caring and respect, and inspire student engagement and contribution.

                It is always good to remind ourselves that all of our actions impact more than just ourselves. The more seeds we plant, the better chance we have of developing critical thinkers, leaders and lives that inspire the pursuit of the fulfillment of life-long service and action for the common good. There are four kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, those who wonder what happened and those who don’t know that anything happened. If we continue to plant good seeds, we will reap a bountiful harvest of those who will make things happen.

Strength in Local Journalism

Bob Gorman

Nineteen years ago during my previous career in journalism, an applicant for a reporter’s job at the Watertown Daily Times was in my office, outlining his background.

    He was the son of a former U.S. diplomat. He grew up in Japan and once wrote – in Japanese – a magazine article on Japanese architecture.  Over the previous year he kayaked from the St. Lawrence River through the Great Lakes, down the Illinois & Michigan Canal and Mississippi River to New Orleans because, well, he lived in Vermont at the time and it was something he thought would be interesting.

    He had been a reporter at other newspapers. So I had to ask: Of all the gin joints and newspapers in the world, why Watertown?

     “Because my dad worked here as a reporter for a short time after he got out of college,” he explained. “He once told me about this story he did that caused a lot of commotion. He was on a train from Albany to Watertown and there was a huge delay because of a snow storm. And the mayor of Watertown was on the train as well and started berating the crew because he had to get back to something important in Watertown. He didn’t know my dad was there and so the next day there was a story in the paper about the mayor yelling at everyone on the train.”

    When my interview was over, I took the applicant into the office of the late and great John Johnson, who had been the editor and publisher of the newspaper since 1949. I wanted to see if he would remember the applicant’s father, even though he had only briefly worked at the Watertown Daily Times more than 40 years earlier.

    Johnson eyed the applicant for a few moments and said, “You look like your father.”

    He then started to chuckle and added, “I remember this story he wrote about being on a train in a snowstorm with the mayor of Watertown…”

    Old journalists are like that. They remember the good stories, even the ones they didn’t write.

    For instance:

    In 2007 Alec Johnson was a college-aged intern at the Watertown Daily Times assigned to writing feature stories.  One afternoon I heard a call over the police scanner about a man and his dog missing in Lake Ontario at Wehle State Park. We were short-staffed in the newsroom that day so I sent Alec.

    What would he end up writing about? Who knows? All I ever told reporters was “If you don’t go you won’t know.”

    Johnson arrived on the scene soon after to find a lot of confusion. The woman who called for help was on a cliff looking down, but could not see any evidence of her boyfriend and his dog. The waters were becoming increasingly choppy. Had the man and his dog been crushed on the rocks, pulled under or dragged by the current to another place on shore? Law officers couldn’t tell either.

    An hour later, Johnson called me and said there no evidence of a body. Since it looked like a shear wall of rock down to the water, searchers along the cliff were about to leave the area to go see if the body was someplace else along the shore.

    I told Alec he could head home. He had already worked a full day as a features intern. Since I had a night reporter coming in soon, I told Alec I would have that person follow up with police as the evening wore on.

    “I think I’ll hang out here a little longer,” replied Alec.  “Something might happen.”

    Good call. Within the next hour a rescue boat saw the man and his dog in an indentation in the wall of rock, directly below where his girlfriend was looking. And Alec was there to watch the rescue unfold. The newspaper the next day printed Alec’s pictures of the man and his dog pulled to safety and our story included Alec’s on-the-scene quotes from the very lucky survivor and those who rescued him.

    After completing his undergraduate degree at Dickinson College and then getting a master’s degree at Columbia University, Alec spent eight years as a reporter and editor at the Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American. Now, he has returned to the Watertown Daily Times as managing editor.

    (The Johnson family avoids hiring its own blood right out of college. They prefer the pups make their early career mistakes on someone else’s dime.)

    While the Johnsons made no hiring exception for Alec when he finished college, maybe they should have as he quickly became an award-winning journalist in Connecticut. He once tracked the police records of a drunk driver who had killed another driver. It was the reprobate’s seventh DWI but because his previous crimes occurred just across the borders of New York and Massachusetts – and nobody was sharing police records — he was still driving and killing another driver instead of being in jail.

    For those of us dependent on a free press to tell us about our local businesses, hospitals, schools, nonprofits, etc., we must be willing to acknowledge some cold truths. Johnson works in a world where our President refers to journalists as “the enemy of the people,” a term preferred by totalitarians who are about to round up the opposition for execution. Combine that with a growing population that thinks their Facebook “news feed” is actual journalism and you end up with the sorry mess of news coverage we find ourselves in today.

    Similar to the view he had on the cliff at Wehle State Park many years ago, Alec Johnson now navigates these choppy waters of news gathering. Fortunately, the new managing editor – who now stands on the bridge were his family has stood for more than 100 years — has the patience, fortitude and competence to guide the Times’ newsroom in service to our community.

 

‘Uncertainties’ in Nonprofits Are Uncertain

Rande Richardson

One of the most frequent words used when discussing the future of nonprofit organizations is “uncertainty.” Nearly every week I hear speculation that the next generation won’t choose to support the work of nonprofits in the same way their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did. Others wonder whether the work and mission of some nonprofits will be relevant to those in line to lead them. While I remain optimistic based on what I see through the Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Council, Young Professional’s LEAD Council and Youth Giving Challenge initiative, I believe that “business as usual” for some local charitable organizations may be turning the page on its last chapter.

                It would have been difficult to predict 25 years ago that the Syracuse Symphony would cease to exist after 50 years, but we all know what happened in 2011. While there were likely multiple reasons for this, one of them had to be the changing landscape and the growing disparity between the mission, its sustainability and those willing to support it.

                At the Community Foundation, we continue to look for opportunities to encourage and support the thoughtful consideration of nonprofit reorganization through mergers or other affiliations, as well as sharing of resources. Indeed, there have been successful examples of preservation of mission over entity, including the Teen Center finding sustainability under the auspices of the Children’s Home of Jefferson County or Meals on Wheels finding a natural collaboration with the Watertown Urban Mission. The Philanthropy Center now allows five nonprofits to share space and other resources, with one more expected soon. More of these will happen. Some organizations may even dissolve completely where the mission has become increasingly irrelevant or obsolete or another organization has found a more sustainable way to fulfill that same purpose.

                All is not lost, however. When I meet with charitably-inclined citizens looking to perpetuate their giving for a specific nonprofit, I will usually ask: “Is it the organization you want to support or is it WHAT THEY DO that you want to support?” There is a distinction. In most cases, the donor acknowledges that it is the work and mission they are supporting, not the organization itself. While they may be sentimentally or emotionally attached to the current provider of that work and mission, they recognize that it is the result that they want to see sustained through their gift or bequest.

                While community foundations exist to support diverse aspects of a region’s quality of life, what truly makes them unique is their ability to maintain appropriate flexibility and adaptability through something called “variance power.” In 1976, the Internal Revenue Service issued Treasury Regulations that endorsed and codified the variance power as an essential feature of community foundations.

                Back to the Syracuse Symphony illustration. Many years ago, a committed group of residents teamed up to raise funds to establish an endowment to support Syracuse Symphony performances in the Watertown area. That fund was entrusted to the Community Foundation, and through prudent management, has grown to nearly $700,000. Because of this, when the Syracuse Symphony officially dissolved, the Community Foundation’s governing body was able to deploy those funds to support live orchestral music performed by other groups. The charitable purpose endures as each year the fund supports performances by the Orchestra of Northern New York, among others. Recently, a donor created an endowment to support their church, with provisions for three other nonprofit organizations if the church should someday face an unforeseen end. The might and muscle of this variance power cannot be overstated, both for the purpose and the donor.

                I will always feel strongly that the best gift is an enduring one, and the future of the nonprofit sector will increasingly rely on that long-term support. As organizations shuffle, the sacred trust and stewardship of donors who want to see vibrant, healthy, happy communities must be positioned to do the most good, regardless of the organization doing it. If not for variance power, we run the risk of not only losing the charitable resource, but providing an obstacle for perpetuating legacies that can make a difference, despite the nonprofit landscape of the future.

                Remaining relevant in a world that, inevitably, will change, applies not only to nonprofit organizations, but also to the resources that are used to support them. Part of that relevancy includes providing an approach that balances the desire for specificity and the desire for thoughtful flexibility over time so the larger charitable intent remains intact. The standard for variance action is extremely high, however, when it is needed, its value to the donor, the nonprofit sector and the needs of our ever-changing community landscape is even higher.

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.

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.