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!


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.

Trauma in the News

When the news feels like one horrific story after another, it can be tempting to turn it all off. Especially when the nights are cool, and you have a good book handy.

But sometimes the news is more than overwhelming, exhausting, or simply annoying. Sometimes it is traumatic. Occasionally, the stories don’t just hit close to home; they hold up a mirror to reflect a memory that feels exactly like what is being reported.

If the current news cycle is bringing you pain, please don’t suffer alone. There are trained counselors in our community waiting to help – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and at no cost.

You can reach the Sexual Assault Resource Center – or SARC for short – by calling 888-810-0093.

From short-term counseling, to crisis intervention and support groups, this caring group of staff and well-trained volunteers is ready to help you and your loved ones deal with the aftermath of sexual assault. It doesn’t matter if the memory is from a few days or decades ago.

You are important to us. Our community needs you and your empathetic, resilient presence to continue to thrive. If trauma is getting in your way, please reach out.

If you aren’t feeling the impact of trauma personally yet still feel deeply impacted by the prevalence of sexual assault in our society, please don’t allow exhaustion to win. Rather than changing the channel, work to change the news. SARC also provides educational programming on a variety of topics including bystander intervention and rape culture. You can invite them to present at your workplace, school, or church.

It will take all of us to make the world a safer place, and once we do, the news will be much more enjoyable.


Community Foundation staff members have a shared and heartwarming hobby. We like to drive around the region and point out – to ourselves or our patient passengers – all the places we have funded. Signage at a museum, a roof on a residential program, or a shiny Bookmobile parked near a youth center will catch our eye and remind us of a grant we made years ago.

We have grown accustomed to seeing the name of the foundation in lobbies and on giving walls, though we always pause to smile and think about the donors that made the giving to that particular campaign possible.

Since we are a funder dedicated to this specific geographic area, our hobby isn’t one we typically take with us when we travel. Sure, I will ALWAYS point out that Alice Tully was born in Corning when I’m near Lincoln Center in NYC, but otherwise “spot the grant” is only a game we play in the Finger Lakes region.


That is until I received this text over the weekend from Sara Palmer during her trip to Baltimore for a baseball game with her son.

She was visiting the National Aquarium, and there it was in black and white between Comcast and Curtis Engine & Equipment, Inc.: Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes.

For several years, educators from the National Aquarium have traveled to Horseheads to work with elementary students to plant specific species locally that are helpful to the Chesapeake Bay clean-up efforts. Our location in the watershed is important to the health of all the flora and fauna downstream. We fund these efforts so that young learners here gain hands-on experience literally “in the weeds” while developing an appreciation for the interconnectedness of all the earth’s fresh water. 


Though the grant is made to the National Aquarium, it truly benefits local students. You can imagine Sara’s (and my) surprise when our name was spotted in Baltimore! 

This was a great reminder that more than just the fresh water here is important to the rest of the world. Our community’s generous nature also flows downstream.

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.


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.


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.


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.