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 Jamie.Cox@unitedway-nny.org.

The Value of the Unrestricted (Broadly Specific) Gift

Rande Richardson

“The great use of a life is to spend it for something that outlives it.” — William James, American philosopher 

I’m often asked what I see in trends in charitable giving. It has become evident over the past decade that the interest in unrestricted giving has been trending downward. Donors have been expressing their interest in being more directed in their support of their communities. 

    When the Community Foundation was incorporated 90 years ago it was done with the premise that making communities better belongs to everyone and that a donor in 1929 could not possibly fully anticipate the needs of the community nearly a century later. Their founding gifts were made with only one restriction —geography. Because of the foresight of these donors, their support has enabled: 

    ▪ Start-up grants to help establish Hospice of Jefferson County, North Country Children’s Clinic, Watertown Teen Center, Thousand Islands Performing Arts Fund (Clayton Opera House), Volunteer Transportation Center, and the North Country Children’s Museum.  

    ▪ Transformational grants to advance the work of Watertown Family YMCA, Samaritan Medical Center, Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library, Thompson Park Conservancy, Lewis County General Hospital, Carthage Area Hospital, River Hospital, Gouverneur Hospital, Clifton-Fine Hospital, Traditional Arts in Upstate New York, Thousand Islands Land Trust, Children’s Home of Jefferson County, Disabled Persons Action Organization, and Jefferson Rehabilitation Center. 

    ▪ Ongoing support of organizations such as the Orchestra of Northern New York, Jefferson Community College, Jefferson County Historical Society, Frederic Remington Art Museum, Thousand Islands Arts Center, SPCA of Jefferson County, and WPBS. Support is provided each year to food pantries, soup kitchens and school programs across the three counties. 

    Many of the grants have come at pivotal points in the evolution of these organizations when there might not have been other resources available. They would not have been possible without the trust of an unrestricted gift. They were enabled by the willingness of community-minded donors who saw an avenue to focus their generosity in the broadest way with the highest degree of impact. Unrestricted giving remains the cornerstone of the ability to respond with flexibility to emerging needs at times when they are most needed. 

    This type of giving requires a deeper level of trust between the donor and the organization. While it is easy to resist the notion of leaving a gift at the discretion of an organization’s board, unrestricted giving is critical to almost every nonprofit organization. Even if a donor is supporting a specific program, those programs cannot thrive without the underlying health and supporting structure unrestricted giving provides. Full commitment to an organization helps ensure its health so the things donors care about most can be ably implemented. 

    For those unable to overcome the thought of a totally unrestricted gift, some Community Foundation donors have taken a hybrid approach. “Broadly specific” giving has seen the number of donor-directed funds at the Foundation grow substantially. Many of these funds support certain fields-of-interest (education, health care, environment, children and youth, history, arts and culture, animal welfare). There has also been a trend toward geographic-specific giving. A donor can restrict the use of the gift to a certain city, town or village, or county. Recently, six separate charitable funds have been established at the Community Foundation to benefit St. Lawrence County, including specific provisions for Gouverneur, Canton, Massena, Potsdam and the CliftonFine region. These join other funds that focus on specific communities such as Lowville, Boonville, Constableville and Westernville, Clayton, Cape Vincent, Alexandria Bay and the Six Towns of Southern Jefferson County. Some of those geographic-specific funds also have directives within them for certain focus areas. 

    Many donors have created endowments to benefit multiple nonprofit organizations in perpetuity in the spirit of an unrestricted gift with the accountability of a directed gift. These funds also contain field of interest language in the event a specific organization ceases operation. This certainly proves the point and has helped provide middle ground. 

    Whether it is unrestricted giving or broadly specific giving there are mechanisms available to help ensure the gifts are good for both the donor and community and are enduring and relevant far into the future. 

    While causes may come and go, we need strong charitable organizations to be nimble enough to meet the changing needs of a region bolstered with undesignated gifts. They provide both the fuel for growth and the proper execution of specific programs, projects and endeavors. Knowing the variety of options to support the work of nonprofits and affect change ultimately helps ensure that whatever way you choose to see your values and interests perpetuated, there are a variety of options to better guarantee lasting energy and actions with stewardship both broadly and specifically. In this way, every gift goes further.