Fun Fact!

Fun fact! Every Thursday, we process checks at the Community Foundation. Some are mundane and simply keep the lights on around here, but most of the checks that are cut each week are pretty exciting for the recipient. This is perhaps the most delightful step in the life cycle of every grant and scholarship for those programs and people we support. Who doesn’t like opening an envelope with some much-needed money enclosed?

On a typical Thursday, the stack of checks I sign might amount to a dozen or so. The large community grant cycle in the fall leads to around 50 checks during the first or second Thursday in January. During the holidays, some of our active donor advised funds create a nice, thick pile amounting to 60 or more.

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But there is one Thursday each year that eclipses the rest with a stack of checks so high it can be measured in inches. I make sure to have a new pen, fill container of water, and turn on a podcast or playlist, because I know I’m going to be signing my name for quite a while.

That day was today. It is always toward the end of July that we process that majority of our scholarship payments. And I love it!

Each check is made payable to the institution where the recipient is studying and lists their name on the attached check stub. As I flip through the massive pile, I see the names of brand new winners, like Tallulah heading off to Yale in the fall to start her college career. Or, I am reminded of past winners now in their second, third, or fourth years like Kyle at Duke or Taylor at Stony Brook. They are scattered all over the country and Canada.

Some folks, like Rebecca who is studying at the Arnot Ogden School of Nursing, are much closer to home. These are the people we are lucky enough to bump into as they tend to drop off their tuition bills and report cards in person each semester.

No matter the size of the award or the distance between the school and my desk, I pause with each signature to reflect on the life impacted by this little piece of paper. College is expensive, and without scholarships, it would be out-of-reach for many of these students. This stack of checks represents a generation of teachers, engineers, and nurses preparing to care for our community. It’s likely that over the years, I’ve signed checks that helped a member of Congress that won’t be elected until 2042 or an award-winner filmmaker that hasn’t picked up a camera yet.

At the end of the day, these scholarship checks are incremental down payments on our collective future. I’m so grateful to be the one who gets to sign them. 

 

Summer Interns

‘Tis the season to spot cars with various college and university parking passes appearing in the Wegmans parking lot. On top of great weather and long days, May means we get to see our long-lost college-age community members back in town for the summer.

I love bumping into young adults that were kids starring in high school musicals or running student council meetings a couple of years ago. Yes, please tell me all about your Macroeconomics course or the book you recently read about medical ethics. I am here for your new insights about the makeup of the Supreme Court during desegregation. Tragic freshman roommate story to share? Let me grab an iced tea and find a seat.

When I am very lucky, one of these talented young students makes their way to the Community Foundation to spend the summer learning about philanthropy. We show them the ropes, like how to process donations and acknowledgment letters and the key components of grant evaluations. But once they have a sense of how this foundation runs, we send them out into the community to learn why.

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Our summer intern spends days and weeks conducting site visits to area nonprofits, sometimes with one of us and then, importantly, on their own. There is no better way to become a Community Foundation “insider” than to go see our grant making in action. But as much as this experience is valuable to the intern, it is even more important to us and our future work. 

Interns see the world through fresh eyes. They can spot problems that have faded into the scenery or see possibilities where seasoned professionals might just see headaches. They are still close enough to the programming, such as library story hours, to bring a sense of how it feels to be the one sitting on the carpet square versus the person reading aloud.

Our 2018 intern just completed her orientation and starts officially on Monday, June 4. I can already tell the next ten weeks will fly by as we learn from each other, so I plan to savor the small moments as they occur. I’m so excited for the conversations and revelations to come during the beautiful weather and long days before all those cars are packed and pointed toward campus in August.

Kinky Boots

For those of you that follow the Good Works Podcast, it will come as no surprise that I went to see Kinky Boots last night at the Clemens Center. From the size of the crowd, I’m pretty sure you know plenty of people that attended. There is not much I would rather do than spend an evening at our gorgeous historical theater with a few thousand other community members gathered to take in a show.

Occasionally a show comes a long that speaks to a specific cultural moment. I’d be willing to argue that Dear Evan Hansen is speaking up about loneliness and alienation at the exact right time, and looking back to the late 1990’s when we were all Rent-heads, we were coming to terms with what AIDS meant to Generation X.

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This is not the case with Kinky Boots. It appears to appeal to a narrow audience of drag queen fans/avid shoe collectors, but by the end of the show (that serves up the happiest finale to a musical this side of How to Succeed at Business without Really Trying’s Brotherhood of Man) the entire theater is on their feet, clapping along and wondering if they could dance in those thigh-high stilettos.

How does it manage to transcend? With a universal message of acceptance. No matter what you look like on the outside, or where you live, you want to feel valued by your community. During the final song, Lola (the designer of the kinky boots central to the plot of the show) presents her “Six Step Program” to a life well-lived.

1.    Pursue the truth
2.    Learn something new
3.    Accept yourself and accept others too
4.    Let love shine
5.    Let pride be your guide
6.    You change the world when you change your mind

This is the kind of advice that never goes out of style. I can imagine myself playing this song for generations to come when I’m the retired octogenarian bopping around town like some of my favorite people of today. Even though I can’t quite envision the specific challenges we will be facing in 2058, if we follow these steps, I know we will be a lot closer to finding a solution.
 

Some days the news is hard to watch.

Today is one of those days. 17 students were killed yesterday in a school shooting in Parkland FL. By now you have seen details about the shooter, the weapon, and the community. You’ve heard about heroic teachers who didn’t make it out alive and listened to recordings of frantic 911 calls.

But something different happened yesterday. During the period of active shooting while teens were hiding in closets and barricaded classrooms, some turned to Twitter to communicate with their families. (This makes sense, since there are times when tweets can travel faster than texts.)

Soon the world was watching, and survivors of similar school shootings replied with advice and comfort.

To recap: during an active shooting teens from across the country were communicating with each other about how to survive and stay calm. After a few clicks, I found a report estimating that 150,000 American youth have survived a school shooting. That tragic club grew by 3,000 yesterday.

Rather than diving into the partisan debate over next steps, which would be inappropriate as a nonprofit leader in my official capacity, I simply want to call attention to that number.

As of February 15, 2018 over 150,000 young people in the United States have experienced a school shooting first hand.

That’s over 150,000 gut-wrenching drives to crime scenes to pick up children dropped off by parents hours earlier on perfectly normal mornings. That’s over 150,000 sleepless nights as kids replay what happened afterward. That’s over 150,000 “first days back in school” once authorities re-open buildings after patching bullet holes and painting over blood splatter.

I don’t have a way to measure trauma, but if I did that would mean over 150,000 units of trauma being carried on small shoulders into the future. Even if I had a magic wand and could put a permanent end to this tidal wave of violence in our schools, we still have 150,000 young survivors coping with memories usually reserved for combat veterans.

This post doesn’t come together with a tidy bow at the end. I don’t have advice to share or a solution to propose. I’m just going to hug my daughter a little longer tonight…

Guest Blog: Carly Nichols, CareFirst

“Hospice“.  If we were to do a word association, terms like illness, time, death, and grief may come to the surface.  And you wouldn’t be wrong.  Those are all parts of hospice care. 

However, those of us who work for CareFirst and are lucky enough to serve our community in such a meaningful way, Hospice also means life. Yes, life. And, other words come to mind too.  Words like love, laughter, quality, and time. There it is again. Time. You see, hospice is more than end of life. It’s about helping patients be comfortable, free of pain, and emotionally and spiritually secure, so that they can truly enjoy what is most important to them. Time, then, is not so much about what is left, but how meaningful it can be.

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CareFirst is a team of nurses, social workers, grief counselors, volunteers, chaplains, and administrative staff who make it our mission every day to support our patients and their families. We are grateful and honored to be welcomed into the homes and lives of so many at such a vulnerable time. We are blessed enough to serve so many amazing families. One of them is a couple in their early 70’s, who have openly embraced our staff and support offered, and have continued to inspire us from day one.

The patient, often described as “brilliant” by his loving wife and those who know him best, came onto hospice services in December of 2016 as a result of heart disease. As you can imagine, this was a difficult and scary time for both he and his wife. Through the support of our team, and their courage, his pain management was improved, open and honest conversations about end of life were initiated, and his wife sought anticipatory grief counseling to address her own emotional needs. 

Week by week, and month by month, this man has continued to surpass his “expiration date” as he likes to call it; evidence of he and his wife’s ability to find humor in even the most difficult of situations. They have worked together to make the most of their gift of time. His wife will be the first to admit that her strength is not in the kitchen. So, they have begun “cooking classes”, where he teaches her step by step how to prepare their favorite meals. They have reviewed all of their financial responsibilities together, so that she is comfortable taking over when the time comes. She has faithfully come to grief counseling to individually tackle the emotional difficultly related to walking beside someone with a serious, life limiting illness. They have spent more quality time together, watching TV in bed, and enjoying each other’s company.  Not only has he had the opportunity to reclaim time with his wife, his emotional journey has taken him to a place which has allowed him to open up with his children and grandchildren, preparing them all for what lies ahead. 

Through all of this, they have remained overwhelmingly grateful for the support they have received from our team. Just a few weeks ago, we received a donation and heartfelt letter which in part read, “This Christmas I’m filled with joy that he is still with me, that life has gone on and that I have learned to make the most of every day we continue to share”. With words like these, we are reminded yet again that we are the ones who are truly grateful. Grateful to both of them for opening their home and their hearts. Grateful for their continued kindness and generosity. Grateful that they chose their hospice experience to be one filled with love, honesty, happiness, laughter, and yes, life.

 

Guest Blog: Sarah Blagg, Girls on the Run of the Southern Tier

Of all the volunteerism I do, Girls on the Run of the Southern Tier is the program that brings tears of pride and joy to my eyes when I talk about it. This spring will be my third year coaching – and my sixth year involved in some way with the organization – and every year simply reinforces why I coach.

It’s not the easiest volunteer opportunity but it truly is an incredible opportunity! The 10-week program – set up to be delivered in 20 lessons – requires a lot of preparation. The lesson plans are detailed, and every element is purposeful. The intentionality of this research-based curricula is just one of the many things I love about it. 

By far, my favorite part of being a GotR coach is getting to know the girls. Girls on the Run proper is for girls in grades 3-5, but I coach the middle school version, called Heart & Sole.

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The best part about middle schoolers is their commitment to vulnerability. Not all the girls will get up and dance around like goofballs, but they will – every single one of them – happily answer questions about themselves if you ask them thoughtfully and show that you’re a good listener. A large part of the Heart & Sole curriculum is based on the acronym “GGI” which stands for “Get Girl Input.” Studies show that middle school is the time when girls are most likely to experience decreased self-esteem. When you focus on getting their input, you are reinforcing to them that you value their opinions, thoughts, and ideas. I’ve never had a girl on my team not be interested in sharing what’s on her mind. The girls seem to bask in the fact that practice is a safe place to share how they feel. Knowing that I can nurture their confidence and encourage their willingness to be bold makes me that much more committed to coaching.

GotR and Heart & Sole are not running programs; they are programs that focus on the girl as a whole person, and they just happen to have a running element. Topics like self-awareness, healthy friendships, and goal-setting are just a few of the things we learn as a team. By working toward running a 5K, the girls get to practice the many lessons they learn together. Individuality is valued, and they have stronger connections with one another by the end of the season. Whenever a girl I’ve coached sees me around Corning – at Wegman’s, or a community event – they always wave or come over to say hi, often with a hug.

 Adolescence is hard. If listening to their opinions and cheering them on is all I need to do to make the teen years a bit easier for the girls I know, I am more than happy to do it. I don’t think I realized just how much I’d love being called “Coach Sarah.” 

Guest Blog: Ken Ryan, Food Bank of the Southern Tier

 Ken Ryan, Food Bank of the Southern Tier

Ken Ryan, Food Bank of the Southern Tier

My favorite memory from working at the Food Bank of the Southern Tier was my very first Community Food Distribution (CFD). Getting food ready to be distributed to the people of the community was a big task. When we opened the garage door to start the distribution, I was shocked. I was shocked because of all the people that had a need for the service and the food that we were providing. 

To see people’s faces when we put the food in their vehicles for them just made me feel overwhelmed.  The Food Bank is such a needed necessity in the six-county region that they serve. By providing people in need with the staples to take care of their nutritional needs made me feel that what I do at the Food Bank does make a difference. 

There is still hunger in the communities that we serve but every little bit that we do at the Food Bank will put a dent in ensuring that hunger can be eradicated and help people in need. 

This experience became my most favorite memory because I have been where the people are that come to these CFD's and understand what they are going through. Seeing the joy in people’s faces when they receive the much needed food and personal care items is priceless. It is important to them because then they can use what we distribute to help supplement what they can get with the income or resources that they have available.  

The CFD's allowed me to see that we cannot be judgmental when it comes to distributing to  people in need. I have learned that just because a family has a nice vehicle does not mean that they have enough income to take care of their family's needs. The CFD is a way that we can help families during their time of need.
 

I love you a latte

I don’t drink coffee, but I will never turn down a glass of iced tea. The more ice the better. One of my favorite iced tea stops is Dunkin' Donuts (or DD), especially the locations that only charge $1 for any sized drink.

A friend of mine recently clued me in to the DD app. This handy tool allows you to pre-order,
earn points toward free drinks, and access special discounts. It also comes with emojis! YES!
I was all set and started my Saturday jazzed about the free drink I earned just for setting up my
account.

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I was all set and started my Saturday jazzed about the free drink I earned just for setting up my
account.

Then I got a text. It wasn’t urgent, but it did need a response. I swiped to answer, and instead
of the normal keyboard, I had DD emojis. ONLY Dunkin’ Donut emojis. For a moment, the only
way I could communicate was like this:

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Uh oh.

It didn’t take long to uninstall the emojis (but keep the sweet app) and return to a life of texting normally. 😍

But it did give me a second to pause and ponder unintended consequences. Everything we do,
even the most trivial act, can have an outsized impact on another part of our life or someone
else’s. It is crucial to look for the ripples we create as we dash through life with an XL beverage
in one hand and a smart phone in the other.

Take a minute to check in on someone you care about today. Make sure they are okay. If you
can, stop by your favorite coffee shop and pick up a drink or a treat to share with them.

If nothing else, tell someone…

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😍 🍩 👋