Quality of Life

Every five years we embark on an exciting strategic planning journey. Though we have a clear sense of our ultimate goal – to create a permanent charitable endowment flexible enough to meet the needs of the community now and forever – it is important to pause and talk about the best ways to reach that goal in the five-years immediately ahead of us.

QoL Elements Graphic.jpeg

 During our 2015 planning process, we realized something was missing from the conversation: all of you! Even with a volunteer board of directors and skilled staff working to represent the various groups that make up our community, we had never asked the people of the Finger Lakes directly what they want and need to have a great life.

That was how the Community Foundation Quality of Life research project was born. From day one, it was guided entirely by community voices. Focus groups touching every corner of our area identified the categories that became the framework for the larger research activities. Then nearly 1,000 community members responded to our survey! Thanks to you and your neighbors, we now have a clear sense of what is important to the people that call Elmira, Corning, and the Finger Lakes home.

We will now use all of this information as we build the 2020-2025 strategic plan. A few key themes jumped out right away, especially around child care and transportation. But we will also be digging in deeply to these findings to make sure we are on the right track in all of our activities.

 The full report is available here on our website:

We can’t wait to see what we learn in 2025 when we replicate this research. Let’s work together to ensure this great place to live only gets better.

Their Challenges Are Also Our Challenges

travel.JPG

We’re still reeling from our CFxChange trip to the beautiful state of Montana. It was an amazing professional development opportunity to dig in and work with communities that are literally 2,236 miles away from home. This was so different from any conference or workshop that we’ve attended. Not knowing what we’d actually be doing until we got there was a little unnerving, especially for an organizer like me. 

There was no conference brochure, line-up of keynotes, or hour by hour itinerary. Instead, we had the freedom to think about the kinds of questions we wanted to ask, and what information we wanted to learn. It was like a choose-your-own-adventure book!

When we arrived, we were prepared to ask the hard questions: What does poverty look like in Montana? What’s the housing stock? Are there enough childcare slots, and is it affordable? How about public transportation?

We received answers to all of these questions, and more. Poverty is surely an issue, and people are indeed food insecure – 1 in 5 people in Kalispell are hungry. Housing is incredibly expensive, the median income is somewhere around $50,000 with the average home price being over $250,000!  Local government and developers are working hard to find affordable options.

There is quite a large number of homeless youth in the region so they’ve set-up shelters and programming. Youth run away from home for a variety of reasons, but a large percentage in the Flathead Valley are leaving due to their parent’s drug addiction. Organizations like Sparrow’s Nest are working hard to provide supportive housing and resources for the homeless youth.  

Finding affordable and quality childcare is a struggle, especially for middle-income families. There have been incidences of sex-trafficking nearby. Any of this sound familiar?  The unforgiving climate (It snowed in June!) and its cloud of depression can often cast a shadow over this beautiful, wild and free landscape.

We found ourselves nodding our heads in agreement and saying things like, “yep, those are some of the same issues in our communities.” Aside from the challenges, and there are some pretty heavy ones…we saw first-hand the impact of colonization on Native Americans in nearby Browning, Montana.

We also saw people who were very emotionally tied to their home town. The love and respect that Montanans have for the environment is incredible. There’s the sense that everyone shares a similar responsibility in taking care of their piece of the planet. This is a state with two National Parks, mountains galore, wildlife, lakes and valleys…the landscape is indescribable, and it’s been maintained in large part by community members.  

Hyalite Reservoir - Bozeman

Hyalite Reservoir - Bozeman

The biggest take away for me were the conversations we had with every day peeple.  For instance, Charlie Abell, a volunteer for the Stumptown Historical Society and a *native of Whitefish, MT, tells the story of how year after year he’s refused to sell his land to former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt. He tells the story with a snicker. Or, while volunteering for the Farm Hands booth at the Farmer’s Market we chatted with kids who attended a school program facilitated by the educators. The kids were given a coin to buy fruit, vegetables or a vegetable plant. They proudly came back to the booth to show us what they had chosen.

Maria & Sara - Glacier National Park

Maria & Sara - Glacier National Park

I can’t forget my cousin Maria Butts who is the Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Whitefish. Maria helped put us in touch with several key contacts in Montana prior to our trip.  After having not seen her for nearly 12 years, it was so interesting to see the full scope of what she does for the city, and the opportunities her department provides for youth. One special program is encouraging youth to volunteer in exchange for ski passes to Big Mountain, because not all families can afford season passes, but all kids should have an opportunity to ski. This mountain literally stares you in the face every day. Something that seemed so out of reach for these kids has now been made possible, and they’re learning about philanthropy at the same time!

We spoke to all of these people, and so many more, as if they had been friends and colleagues for years, just like we do here at home. Colleagues like Anita Lewis from EOP, or Elaine from Tanglewood and Meghan from the Food Bank. We listen to the great work they’re doing during the day, and laugh with them as they tell the latest story about their kids.  It’s somewhat comforting to know that communities all across the country face similar challenges. It really solidifies that saying “we’re all in this together.” I loved seeing that the nonprofits and foundations we visited have the same relationships we work hard for right here in the Finger Lakes. Those same relationships are what make living here and working here so great. Part of this xChange was also realizing that we love the work we do. No, really…we really love it. And our nonprofits are a HUGE part of the reason why we do.

 
*Interesting use of the word native. In this instance, native simply meant born and raised in Whitefish Mt. but it’s a loaded word for most.

Traveling Philanthropy

Last fall, the Community Foundation helped sponsor TBeX, a travel blogger conference brought to the Finger Lakes. As a sponsor, we hosted a “pre-bex tour” centered around philanthropy: “Voluntourism and finding meaningful giving as you travel. I remember when one of our participants, Michael, from @bemused backpacker, asked me how a typical traveler would find an experience like the one we created for them. I told him, “you simply look up the Community Foundation in the area you are visiting and email them.”

“Not everyone has heard of a Community Foundation,” he told me.

“Oh, that’s right. Hmm...then I don’t know,” was the best response I had for him at that time. After spending time in Montana, I have a much better answer now.

CFxChange was born from the idea of creating our own professional development training. Sara and I would travel to a different community to see how their local issues impact their decision making and how, as a community, they carry out their  own philanthropy. A week-long professional development that we get to plan from scratch? Where we can fill every minute with what we want to learn about and what interests us? Sign us up! It sounded awesome. But also quite overwhelming…

View from Plane.jpg

Soon enough, Sara and I were headed to Montana where we set up a training with our software company and would meet with two Community Foundations. Whitefish then Bozeman were the perfect communities to visit for the first CFxChange! But what else? That was 2.5 days. What do we do with the rest of our time? So we both started with Google.

“Volunteer opportunities in Bozeman, Montana” 

“Volunteering in Bozeman”

“Bozeman volunteers”

Farm Hands.jpg

This led to some great volunteering opportunities; we would spend one morning at the Flathead Food Bank and one afternoon with a local food access program, Farm Hands. But what else is out there? Food insecurity is clearly a national issue, but we know it isn’t the only one. So both of us thought about where we live and the smaller nonprofits in our area that are focused on our localized issues. Nonprofits put on events to showcase local talents, fundraise, and celebrate their accomplishments. Surely, in other areas nonprofits are doing the same. How do we find those events? There are directories of nonprofits in chambers of commerce. Local libraries usually have calendars of events on their websites. We could also look at the street map of where we’re headed and see what offices are around. Our search methods changed and that’s when the floodgates opened.

Give Back Sign.jpg

Here’s what we found. A nonprofit art gallery two blocks from our hotel hosting “Art on the Rocks” where we could make candles and sip on local ciders (um, yes please!) There is a maker space at a Science Center in Montana, too. On Wednesday, there would be a sci-fi trivia night at a brewery that benefits the local library (Katie’s dad would LOVE that.) Downtown Bozeman has an outdoor sculpture park, how cool! Also, there is a “Bike Kitchen” that takes drop in volunteers to help with bike repairs and sort bike parts! But what REALLY got us: Katie found an event to help fundraise for the local land trust and ALL WE HAD TO DO WAS HIKE AND ENJOY THEIR TRAILS. (hiking philanthropy?! SWOON.) Suddenly, we didn’t have enough time in our schedule. Not only that, but these are activities that match our interests and help support things we both care about. Both of us do things like that anyway in our travels, so why wouldn’t we do it while supporting a local nonprofit?!

So, Bemused Backpacker, we have a better answer for your question about meaningful voluntourism. If you’re traveling, make sure to check out the nonprofits there. “Voluntourism” doesn’t always take on the traditional meaning of “volunteering.”  You can give back to the community you visit by going to a museum, appreciating local work, and supporting nonprofits at fundraisers or events. Most of these events aren’t only for locals, but it is always good to check with the nonprofit leaders anyway and lends itself to a great conversation.

Yes, it might seem awkward; both of us sent a few emails that read, “This might sound strange, but we’re out-of-towners , from a small town, thousands of miles from yours, and we found your event online, can we participate?” We weren’t sure what responses we’d get because that IS strange. But, what we found, is that not only are nonprofits extremely welcoming to random people from small towns thousands of miles from theirs, they also LOVE travelers looking to help support their mission.

The limited time we spent alongside the employees and other volunteers at the nonprofits were more valuable than anything we could have found in a travel magazine. These are the people who are on the ground doing what we love and were able to give us such a unique perspective on the places we visited. A huge lesson learned from planning this trip is that when we travel, the tourism industry is what makes a place so special for visitors, but it is the work of the nonprofits that make a place sparkle for everyone.

Hospitality

I’ve found my way to a new volunteer gig: hosting the hospitality room at CPPHS home band events. This means I get to set up a lovely spread of food and drinks donated by band families to feed the visiting bands’ staff and bus drivers. Judges tend to drop in, too, for a cookie or two throughout the event.

My official role is to keep an eye on crock pots and tidy up regularly to make sure everything remains appetizing. Occasionally, I’m called on to direct a lost student or parent looking for the real band action or the rest rooms.

bus.png

But I’ve come to realize the hidden joy in my hours in the hospitality room is that I get to spend big blocks of time with bus drivers from all over New York.

These lovely men and woman get up early and stay out late to make sure their marching bands, color guards, and majorettes are transported safely. And in case you were wondering if they like what they do, the answer is almost always yes. They certainly love the kids. That is obvious as they gush over the latest show and keep an eye on the clock to make sure they see their band compete. One time I asked if the ride back would be quiet, and the driver said, “It depends if they win.” She was clearly hoping for a spirited ride home with celebratory kids.

Yet in the many hours I’ve spent talking to the unsung heroes behind the wheel, I’ve learned something important. As much as they love driving and the students, the day-to-day sense of satisfaction in their work hinges on the tone set in the central transportation office.

In some districts, drivers are given a lot of autonomy. Waiting an extra minute for someone dashing to the bus stop or sharing what they learn about the kids with guidance offices is encouraged by these school districts. Drivers are full time employees with full benefits, including summer work detailing the fleet. The level of engagement in these drivers is off-the-charts. They are members of a team and feel like they play a vital role in the school experience for students. The fact they are the first – and last – district employee to interact with the kids every day is something they take seriously.

On the other hand, some districts manage the drivers in a way that makes them feel untrusted, unimportant, and unvalued. That leads to a lack of engagement and satisfaction that even the students can sense. Coupled with contract or seasonal work creating financial instability, these drivers struggle to build relationships with other district members and families. By not including drivers on the team, the directors and students miss out on what those morning and afternoon interactions could be under different conditions.

At the end of the day, transportation costs make up a significant part of any budget. Instead of seeing this as a black hole of time, money, and resources, we (as community members and tax payers) need to see the light. Supporting and rewarding bus drivers might just be one of the best tools we have as we work to make schools safe, inviting, and loving places to learn.

If you’d like to see for yourself, you are welcome to join me in the hospitality room. Just make sure to bring cookies!


Guest Blog Post: Volunteering in Your Home Community

I am very thankful to have the opportunity to give back to the community that I have lived in for 33+ years. Volunteering at Appleridge Senior Living has been such a fulfilling experience. I assist the recreation department with a wide range of activities for residents. I have spent time serving refreshments during “tailgate parties” and social hours, participated in casino and trivia nights, visited with residents and their family members at the annual picnic, enjoyed live music by local musicians and traveled on field trips just to name a few.

47088751_2413402885340598_7162082438250758144_n.jpg

My main goals are to form relationships with the residents and to assist the recreation department with events. I have gotten to know the Appleridge community well and have learned how I can make the best use of my time while I am visiting. Sometimes simply being a friend, a listening ear or serving a resident their favorite snack is appreciated the most! The environment of Appleridge is truly unique and there are many wonderful activities and opportunities offered. I am so thankful to be welcomed to each event, and I look forward to participating in many more to come!

Appleridge Senior Living s a premier independent senior living community, with 112 luxury apartments situated on 22 acres of resort style living.  Nestled against a backdrop of a scenic wooded hillside, the Appleridge community offers privacy and is only minutes from shopping, services and area attractions.  Residents enjoy a selection of apartment styles with numerous floor plans and amenities including full kitchens, dining options, housekeeping, private garages, transportation and cultural events and stimulating activities, surrounded by beautifully landscaped grounds and friendly neighbors. Appleridge provides a respectful quality of life, the safety and security you need in a community you can trust.

Guest Blog Post: Making New Connections

images.jpg

I always try to live by the idea that giving can be so much more rewarding than receiving. Volunteering has become something I genuinely enjoy and get so much out of. Nothing beats feeling like you’ve made a difference in someone’s life.

My experience at a local nursing facility has been so enjoyable. I have not only connected with the residents and their families but even with the staff. It all becomes evident when a resident recognizes you and you see their face light up, or when one of their family members asks about how your job is going and even when a staff member asks if you’ll try and volunteer during their shift next time... you can’t help but feel like you’ve made some small impact on their lives and there’s no better feeling than that.

I always leave with a sense of gratification that is so fulfilling. Not only do I enjoy volunteering at the nursing facility for all the above reasons, but it is also personal for me as my grandmother lived her last few years there before she passed away. I am happy to contribute my time to the facility and community of individuals whom at one time had taken my own family member in and treated her as such. Volunteering has allowed me to make connections within my own community that I may have not otherwise had the opportunity and for that, I am grateful.

Guest Blog Post: The Kindness Krew

Life is made of moments. Moments that take your breath away, bring tears to your eyes, or make you red in the face. Moments that string together to create days, weeks, months, and years. Some days you blink your eyes and it seems ten years has disappeared. Some days can’t go fast enough.

Last Friday I had one of those days. The day that never seems to end, blink after blink, my day continued to get worse. You see, I teach Kindergarten at an Elementary school filled with amazing tiny humans. These tiny humans have moments too. Moments of greatness, triumph, joy, stress, fear, wonder, and amazement. Sometimes their moments don’t align with mine. I can plan, create, and prepare the world’s greatest lesson plan, but children are tiny humans. Like adult humans, sometimes they’re just not in the mood. On those days- I blink my eyes 972,000 times and I haven’t made it to lunch yet. They come a few times a year and I question why I ever decided to teach in the first place. I wonder if I really make a difference. I wonder, how can I possibly change the world when I feel like a barely survived the day?

Kindness Crew.jpg

However, this particular Friday was a little bit different. I sat down to lunch and checked my phone. I had a message from a parent. Not a parent of one of my school students. A parent of one of my 4H kids. It read, “So- my dad drove for the VA last night [He volunteers for the Bath VA driving vets to and from appointments] and there was a veteran on his way home who said, ‘Hey I got a bag of Christmas stuff.’ [While at the appointment]. The vet looked through it and said, ‘Oh look at this great card I got. It is beautiful. It’s signed the Kindness Krew. It’s so pretty, I am going to frame it.”

This was one of those moments. The kind that bring goosebumps to your skin and crows feet to your eyes. A simple message that might not seem like much to most. But to me- that moment was affirming.

I am the leader of the Kindness Krew. I volunteer for the 4H and began a club to help the youth in our community learn leadership, hard work, and dedication. My goal was to get these “tweens” volunteering and making a direct impact on our community. This was not always easy. I felt like I was running into roadblock after roadblock. There were days I felt like I wasn’t getting through, or our volunteer experiences were not the most exciting and inspiring. At the one-year mark, our club considered disbanding and I felt like I had failed. However, we persevered. We found an organization that inspired us to continue our mission and recruit new members. Creating those cards was our first project after we decided to stick together.

I know that card made someone’s day better. That message being shared with me made my horrible day have a moment of brightness. I wish I could say it was so inspiring that my whole day at work turned around and I felt like I changed the world… but this isn’t a movie. That didn’t happen. My kids came back from lunch and continued to drive me insane.

But that moment did something more important. It gave me hope. Hope that there are others opening their cards and feeling joy. Hope that there are others volunteering in their community- making moments. Hope that even on our darkest days- we have made an impact for someone else. I was lucky enough to hear about mine. I cannot wait till our next Kindness Krew meeting because I will share this story with them. They will feel the unquestionable greatness volunteering has.

Pumpkin Spice Philanthropy

A few weeks ago, our kind neighbors surprised the Community Foundation office with two pumpkins for our front entrance. It turns out that they purchase a bin of pumpkins at auction annually to give children and families in Horseheads. They want to make sure no child near them goes without the opportunity to carve a jack o’ lantern every Halloween.

This “pumpkin philanthropy” did more than *literally* brighten our doorstep. It was also a reminder that giving can take every possible form… even produce!

pumpkin.jpg

I like to consider October 31 the official kick-off to the giving season. What is more fun that giving away candy?! But after the sugar rush wears off, something much more important remains. For children, trick or treating leaves indelible memories of smiling neighbors holding giant bowls of goodies who are eager to see them in their costumes. It is that moment of connection, multiplied house by house, year after year, that builds a child’s sense of place and belonging in the community. Sure, they remember the houses that give out the full-sized candy bars well into adulthood, but what really matters is how all those neighbors made them feel: seen, special, and loved.

When you flip the calendar from October to November, try to keep that sense of giving and connection alive. Perhaps offer some of those same kids a chance to make a few dollars raking leaves or keep some hot cocoa packets handy to share on the first snow day of the school year. Ask them how things are going at school and consider attending their winter band or chorus concerts.

Friendly conversations between neighbors, much like a pair of surprise pumpkins, brighten the chilliest days. Turning those conversations into lasting relationships takes the whole experience to the next level, like adding sugar and spices to those same pumpkins to make pumpkin pie.