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.


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

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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.