The Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes has its roots in two organizations that emerged in the Southern Tier more than 40 years ago.
In 1971, several community leaders in Corning created an organization to invest and manage pooled resources and then support worthy causes with the interest. But the Corning Community Foundation really took off after the Flood of ’72, when six Corning-area churches applied for $400,000 in federal aid to repair their buildings. By the time the funds arrived, the churches had already completed the work with funds they raised on their own. So the churches used the money to create the Southeastern Steuben County Human Services Fund and help others.
The Corning Community Foundation held and managed the fund. Thanks to their astute investments, not only did the Foundation repay the government in full from the interest, but it established a substantial permanent endowment to support a variety of community causes.
At about the same time, several prosperous Elmira families started looking for an efficient way to manage their philanthropic responsibilities to the community they loved. The Junior League took on the project, and in 1976 it awarded $5,000 in seed money to form the Community Foundation of the Chemung County Area.
The two groups merged in June 1993, creating the organization we are today.
Ruth Murray, the first executive director of the new Community Foundation, nurtured and grew the tiny, very personal Foundation, leaving it better than she found it. So did her successor, Suzanne H. Lee, who served as executive director and then president from 1994 to 2007. Lee concentrated on improving internal structures—building operating procedures and policies, procuring hardware and software to computerize various systems, establishing key personnel and programs, as well as raising operating dollars to sustain the Foundation into the future. Under her care, the Foundation truly “emerged” as a significant force for community improvement, with assets of $40 million.
Like her predecessors, current president Randi Hewit strives to “keep it close and personal” yet still convey the professionalism of the organization. “If we’re to be positive change agents,” she says, “it’s critical we maintain the trust of our donors and the diverse communities we all serve.”
Today, the Community Foundation connects communities throughout the Central Southern Tier of New York and into the Finger Lakes region as well. Its recent, first-ever million dollar grant to fund Chemung County’s School Readiness Project represents a significant paradigm shift. “We’re no longer simply reactive,” notes Hewit. “The Community Foundation has proven itself as a place that incubates ideas. We can coordinate a community-wide partnership to address a big problem and create a model that can be replicated.”
The Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes is nowhere near the biggest community foundation in the country. It’s the flexibility, vision and enormous level of trust instilled in it by donors that sets it apart. Trust enables the Community Foundation to live and to breath life into the entire region.