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

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

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:


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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😍 🍩 👋

Trust and Leadership

Someone recently asked me this question:

“I’m new to the area, and I have an MBA. I’d like to help things change for the better, but I don’t want to spend time volunteering to stuff envelopes or walking dogs. I want to be a leader.”

I get it. Time is limited, and talented people with specific skill sets bring a lot to the table for struggling non-profits in need of strategic planning, finance, fund development, or marketing assistance. Why would we want to “waste” hours that could be spent tackling thorny management issues?

On the other hand, do you want someone to jump in and start offering you advice if they don’t know you at all? Imagine receiving parenting tips from someone that doesn’t know how old your children are or medical advice from a professional related to a disease you don’t have.

The “getting to know you” phase with a doctor, therapist, or any other kind of service is important. My plumber needs to know how old my house is. I have to explain the boundaries of my property to someone mowing my lawn. My stylist needs to know I look terrible with bangs.

Somewhere along the line, we move on from small talk to the heart of the matter. Once we feel comfortable with a provider, we seek out their advice. But not until we trust them.

The same is true for mission-driven organizations. They want lots of help with their website. They see their rusty old value statement staring at them like a relic from the ‘80s too. They are keenly aware that the traffic flow through their office/food pantry/day care center is cumbersome.

But they want help from trusted friends. They want board members and committee chairs that understand their brand, share their vision, and have spent some time navigating those cluttered hallways. They want to commiserate and laugh with you, rather than feeling scolded or put down.


So, here is my answer to that great question:

It’s okay to deal with some paper cuts or muddy dog prints on your pants. Find a cause that speaks to you, so the volunteer hours feel exciting and effortless. Get to know the people serving and served by the organization. Take your volunteer assignment seriously, which means being on-time and just as engaged with the task as you would be at work. I promise it will not take long for them to recognize your abilities and ask you to get involved in more strategic roles. But there are no shortcuts to leadership. Trust takes time.

Ice Cream!

Throughout 2017, we are celebrating our 45th anniversary here at the Community Foundation. If you are a frequent visitor to this blog, you’ve probably read some of the contributions from local non-profit leaders describing the relationship between their organization and the foundation, or if you follow us on social media you may be aware of our recent 45 Grants in 45 Hours experience.

As we planned the year, which will include a documentary premiere at the Clemens Center in September and a gala dinner on November 14 at the Corning Museum of Glass, we felt confident that our supporters, volunteers, board members, and other collaborators would have several opportunities to participate in the year-long celebration.

But what about the people who will be running the Community Foundation when it celebrates its 90th, 95th, and eventual 100th anniversary?

Realizing that everything we do is intended to make lives better for generations to come, we thought about the best way to celebrate the power of philanthropy with today’s children. It only took a few seconds to decide the answer was FREE ICE CREAM!

That’s why we visited Katy Leary Park last week with an ice cream truck for a full hour of sweet treat philanthropy. As kids lined up, they were stunned to learn that for an entire hour everything they wanted from the truck was free. No strings attached. No limits. Just ice cream and sunshine with the Community Foundation philanthro-crew.

This was a demonstration of cultural philanthropy in action. It isn’t enough just to be alive; as philanthropists we are always looking for ways to create moments of unbridled joy. Swing sets in parks, hiking trails along rivers, and murals on buildings are important signs of a community that is thriving, not simply surviving.

So where does an hour of free ice cream fit into the big picture? After all, it was only one hour. But for one of the kids in the park, this could be the most exciting thing that happens all summer. This could be the story they tell on the first day of school to their new teacher. If they are bullied a year from now and feel like no one cares about them, they might remember the time they had ice cream and someone took their picture as a “sweet treat selfie.” If nothing else, for an entire hour we reminded all of these kids that they matter.

45 years from now, one of those tiny ice cream lovers may be sitting in the office I occupy today telling someone the story of the first time they met the Community Foundation. It was a hot day and an ice cream truck rolled into Katy Leary Park back in 2017.

Take Care of Each Other

If you base your understanding of high school on American movies made in the 1980s, chances are you consider the bathrooms a scary place with bullies lurking in every stall just waiting to antagonize and embarrass smaller, less popular classmates.

Thanks to the students at Horseheads High School, we know those days are long gone in the building a few blocks away from our office. Recently, one thoughtful girl left a sticky note with some kinds words on a bathroom mirror. Soon other Raiders followed, and before long, the mirrors were covered in colorful, life-affirming, spur-of-the-moment collages.

When the news reached our office, we couldn't help but feel the love coming from these students. Philanthropy doesn't stop at writing a check or dropping off food at a pantry. With the root words literally translating to "loving people," philanthropy fills every space around us to offer help, guidance, encouragement, or anything needed to improve someone's life.

On a given day, someone might need bright notes offering anonymous friendship in a high school bathroom to get through an especially hard time. This kind of philanthropy can reach beyond the scope of even the highest-quality grant-funded anti-bullying program.

One staff member in our office was particularly touched by this group act of kindness. Penny Lane, Chief Philanthro-Paw Officer, sprang to action and asked Katie McConville, our youth philanthropy and scholarship manager, to send some special treats (fortunately not mice or catnip) over to Horseheads High School. On Friday, May 26, every student will receive a little something special in the cafeteria with their lunch.

Horseheads Blue Raiders... we are proud of you. Thanks for taking care of each other. It is great practice for the day when you are in charge of taking care of all of us.

Can philanthropy solve one of its biggest problems with...philanthropy?

The US is in a bit of an employment conundrum that continues to be a drag on GDP growth and, by extension, investment returns. Statistically, we are at the point economists call “full employment” and in numerous job markets (including the one right here in the Southern Tier), employers have unfiled openings due to a lack of qualified applicants.

Meanwhile, we all know people that are un/under-employed. Seriously, what is the deal? We hear about all these jobs, yet we see poverty rates stay stubbornly flat (or worse, increase) over time.

Researchers at Goldman Sachs[1] have suggested that the drag on our labor force can be attributed to three dimensions unique to the United States: higher rates of painkiller/opioid abuse and the corresponding middle-aged mortality rate, the Unites States’ high rate of incarceration compared to other countries and the employability-challenges that creates for former inmates, and sluggish retraining systems for people left without the necessary skills for new work when their job goes away due to globalization or automation.

Philanthropy typically talks about these problems as they relate to our grantmaking. We nibble around the edges with grants aimed at tackling these issues on a community-level. We might fund a new roof at a drug treatment facility or half-way house for people leaving prison. When a community college asks for equipment to improve instruction in a nursing program, we are happy to help.

But do we ever really address the massive issues propping up the clearly broken systems? No, we don’t. We admit that.

But what would happen if we really, truly solved these problems? What if a bunch of foundations and other philanthropists focused our energy for a decade or so on the disconnect between skills required by job-creators and the skills missing from job-seekers? What if we eradicated the school-to-prison pipeline and put an end to opioid addiction and gave our community colleges the resources they need to train people in advanced manufacturing and other 21st (or even 22nd!) century jobs?

It is highly likely that these actions would nudge those GDP growth figures up above 3% - maybe all the way into the 4% or 4.5% range. And guess what would grow along with the economy? Our endowments.

With those enhanced returns, we would have more money available to grant. By solving a few key social problems, we would end up creating a climate that would produce the investment returns we need to support all the other essential programs in the arts, environment, education, health care we care about… you name it, we could fund it.

Farewell social problems. Hello economic growth.

[1] If you would like to receive a PDF of the original study, “The Decline of US Participation Rate in Global Perspective” please send me an email at

Sometimes, we can do it all.

Lately a lot of chatter on social media has focused on distraction. (Which is pretty ironic considering how distracting social media is to most of us!)

People are saying don't pay attention to that issue, the real problem is over here. Or, while people were busy reacting to that news, this much more important thing happened. For years, we have grown accustomed to the concept that social capital is a finite resource, so if too much is spent in one area, there will not be enough left over for other needs.

What if this way of thinking is just... wrong? 

Sure, there is no unlimited supply of money in the world. Like the really big bag of holiday M&Ms, eventually we can reach the bottom of the treasury.

But it takes more to solve problems than money. It takes ideas. It takes conversations. It takes a bunch of different people considering the problem from every possible point of view. (And, when I'm deep in problem-solving mode, it takes M&Ms.)

Those resources are far more abundant, and with new faces joining the dialogue either on-line or in real-life spaces, our social capital reserves grow deeper by the minute.

What will sap those resources faster than we can replenish them, though, is a constant state of scolding. When someone is new to the community-building world, we risk losing them forever if the first message they hear is "your thing isn't the Really Important Thing, but you can sit over there and wait for us to tell you what matters." 

First of all, what if we never knew about "their thing" because the folks most impacted never had a chance to get involved? What if "their thing" really IS the Really Important Thing? We have to be aware of our blind spots and fallibility, even after years at the table.

What's more likely, though, is that there is never going to be one Really Important Thing. Do you want to live in a society with a working economy, safe neighborhoods, high quality schools, clean water, and robust arts offerings filled with healthy, loved citizens leading dignified lives from cradle to grave? Then get to work on your Really Important Thing and support (in every way you reasonably can) the people around you working on theirs.

(Don't forget to bring the M&Ms. To me. Please.)