Grant Impact Stories
Community Foundation awarded 477 grants in the period January 1-December 31, 2018 totaling $1,873,617 in support of the arts & culture, environment, education, health & human services, and other means of community growth. From grantee reports and site visits and community conversations with donors and grantees we learn about what has worked, what has fallen short, and how we can dedicate our grant making to constantly improving impact.
Learn more about grant successes and ways we have partnered with donors to help solve specific problems in our community.
Community Foundation Grant Spurs Change in Tompkins County Government
A grant from Community Foundation of Tompkins County has led to a change in the way the county government assesses the effectiveness of its services and programs in departments ranging from mental health to the division of motor vehicles.
In 2014, the Tompkins County Department of Youth Services received a $5,900 grant from Community Foundation to hire a consultant to train the staff on implementing a new system of measuring program outcomes, known as results-based accountability.
Three years later, the measurement system was so successful in improving outcomes for youth services programs that county officials decided to adopt it in all of its 30 departments, divisions and offices. The county will implement the system in the last group of 14 departments this year.
“It really allows you to be accountable to the public in a way that everyone understands,” said Kate Shanks-Booth, director of the county’s youth services department. “It also can track particular programs to make sure that we’re getting the most bang for our buck.”
The youth services department used the Community Foundation grant to hire Results Leadership Group, now called Clear Impact, a company based in Rockville, Md. that specializes in developing performance management software for government agencies, nonprofits, communities and foundations.
After the county adopted the results-based accountability system in youth services, department staff could assess not only the number of people being served by various programs, but also how better off they were after participating.
In one example, the Open Doors Program, which serves runaway and homeless youth, county officials were developing a scorecard of outcomes when they noticed an annual dip in participation rates during the third quarters of 2016 and 2017. Since that falls during the summer when youth are not in school, Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca, which runs the program, launched an effort to reach youth through social media, texting or physically locating the teens on the Commons.
“They were the ones who addressed what their action plan should be to move the curve,” said David Sanders, the county’s criminal justice coordinator who leads the performance measurement initiative. “They went where the kids were and they really spoke to them about how important it was to meet with their caseworkers.”
Sanders says the measurement system will help county government make budgeting decisions that are not only based on anecdotal success stories, but also on data on the outcomes of services and programs.
“If there’s a shortfall, at least we have data as well as stories so people can make tough decisions to the best of their ability,” Sanders said. “And that is what I think it’s all about.”
Shanks-Booth noted that the county would not have been able to implement the measurement system if it hadn’t been for the original grant from Community Foundation. “The funding the Community Foundation put in had this ripple effect, and I think this is pretty incredible,” she said.
Janet Cotraccia, chief impact officer of Community Foundation, said she was pleased the grant has led to a significant change in how county government assesses its programs. “This is a great example of how small grants, strategically placed, can lead to larger impact over time,” she said.
Training Brings Wisdom to Complex Problems
Why do women of color have worse prenatal outcomes than white women in Tompkins County and across the country?
This question arose as a small group of five representatives of nonprofit organizations worked together to discuss the strategies the county health department might use to improve the health of residents in Tompkins County.
The discussion was part of a three-day training program completed this month, called the Art of Participatory Leadership (AoPL), which engaged community leaders. The training was offered in Ithaca and included leaders from a four county region. Initiated by the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, the program teaches community leaders how to harness the collective wisdom of a wide range of community groups.
Other issues that were discussed in the training sessions included community resiliency, systemic racism, and methods of confronting violence without violence.
The training emphasizes strategies for engaging many voices in solving complex social problems.
“The Art of Participatory Leadership offers methods and techniques for tapping into the existing wisdom of groups.” Says, Jennifer Bertron, Community Impact Manager for Food Bank of the Southern Tier, “For me, this was the missing link for moving forward with Collective Impact initiatives that rely on collaboration across government, business, philanthropy, non-profit organizations and citizens to achieve significant and lasting social change”.
With grant support from the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, Food Bank leaders, among others, were trained in the method of collective impact in 2014. The approach fosters a community of organizations working together, engaging in mutually reinforcing activities toward a common goal. Additional grant support from Community Foundation helped bring this training to Ithaca, building on the community’s capacity to address complex issues.
Since then, Food Bank of the Southern Tie has expanded its thinking and work around attaining nutritional security for all in the region by looking more deeply at the systems that contribute to food insecurity.
“We know that hunger is a symptom of poverty and if we are really serious about solving hunger, we need to work together with other stakeholders to address the complexity of poverty”, says Natasha Thompson, Food Bank of the Southern Tier Executive Director. “Historically, people with lived experience of hunger and poverty have not always been included in those conversations and we believe their perspectives are critical to our ability to develop sustainable solutions. We’ve found AoPL to be a valuable tool in those efforts.”
The Leadership Training teaches a variety of methods to create open, productive and meaningful conversations that strive toward constructive action. Working with a range of collaborative methods, participants learned about and then took turns leading various strategies, while simultaneously inviting others to engage in the issues that participants found most moving in their work.
“The Food Bank of the Southern Tier is a great example of an organization that has moved away from solely service provision” says Janet Cotraccia, Chief Impact Officer at the Community Foundation of Tompkins County and both a planner of and participant in the training. “They see themselves as a broader network of influencers and they are tackling the more challenging task of systemic change, of which food insecurity is one challenge of many.”
Inspiring College Success
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Jodi Anderson entered a juvenile detention facility when he was 15 and spent the next decade in state prison for a string of crimes, including stealing a car and burglarizing houses while still a teenager.
This fall, he became a student at Stanford University, studying political science on a full scholarship. His transition from Auburn Correctional Facility to Stanford would never have happened, he says, without the help of Benay Rubenstein, director of College Initiative Upstate, a program that works with court-involved and formerly incarcerated people in Tompkins County.
College Initiative Upstate, founded in 2016, has been supported by a number of local nonprofits, including Community Foundation of Tompkins County, which has awarded the program $9,600 since its inception.
Anderson met Rubenstein while she was working for the Cornell Prison Education Program and he was a student in the program who was within two years of being released from the prison in Auburn. He was a straight-A student in the program, taking four classes a semester and eventually earning his associate’s degree from Cayuga Community College as class valedictorian.
When Benay first encountered Anderson in 2015, she saw something in him that suggested that he might make it to Harvard, Cornell or one of the top schools in the country. “I knew if I worked with Jodi, that we could break a barrier,” she said. “It is very rare when someone who has spent that percentage of his young life on the inside has an opportunity to apply to an Ivy League school. But I just knew that he could do it.”
Anderson, whose mother had mental illness and abandoned him as a child, was released from prison in 2017 at the age of 25. Yet despite his efforts to change his life, he was sent to a homeless shelter in his hometown of Schenectady, where he had initially been drawn into a subculture of gangs and drugs.
Rubenstein immediately began urging the state parole board to allow Anderson to be transferred to Ithaca, away from the environment that had led him into a life of crime. A month after his release, the request was granted, and Anderson moved into the home of a professor in Ithaca who is involved in the prison education program and began auditing classes at Cornell.
He worked nights cleaning offices for Challenge Industries, while applying to 12 colleges with Rubenstein’s assistance. Anderson said he had tried applying to college while in prison but couldn’t complete the applications without the resources and guidance of Rubenstein.
“Once I had committed entirely to the program and dedicated myself to showing up every day and working harder, whatever problem I had, Benay always found a way to rectify it and calm my fears and apprehensions,” Anderson said in an interview from California.
When the acceptances came back last spring, Anderson was admitted to two schools – Cornell and Stanford. He chose Stanford because the photos of the campus looked like nothing he had ever seen before.
“This is a dream,” he said. “Every morning, I wake up, the sun shines through the window and it wakes you up and reminds you that you are definitely real. It’s just been remarkable. It’s just a utopia.”
Rubenstein launched College Initiative Upstate after founding and directing a similar program in New York City, where her work verified that education reduces involvement in crime. While the national recidivism rate within three years of an offender’s release is 66 percent, the rate for students in College Initiative Upstate is 6 percent.
The program now has a total of 50 students enrolled in college prep classes or college this semester, with the majority attending Tompkins Cortland Community College or Empire State College.
“Jodi is an unusually gifted person,” Rubenstein said. “He’s not the typical student. He taught himself Mandarin while he was incarcerated.”
The program, part of Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources of Tompkins County, receives the majority of its funding from county government. Community Foundation has funded the initiative because it provides both financial and emotional support to formerly incarcerated students who want to enter college while offering insights into how recidivism can be reduced, said George Ferrari, chief executive officers of Community Foundation.
“Community Foundation has been extremely supportive of the work we do,” Rubenstein said. “It’s just amazing to me that they get it and understand that oftentimes a person’s outer circumstances do not reflect their inner possibilities for growth and for contributing, instead of taking from our society.”
Anderson, who will graduate in 2020 since he is a transfer student, hopes to work with young people who grew up in similar circumstances as he did. “One of the primary motivations is to provide at least an avenue for people who live in certain areas where their opportunities are dismal,” he said. “If you can start with someone who is younger, you can actually change the world the person is in.”