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.

Training Brings Wisdom to Complex Problems

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

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.”


Two Ithaca Schools Offering Free Meals to All Students This Fall

Two Ithaca Schools Offering Free Meals to All Students This Fall

All students attending Beverly J. Martin Elementary and Enfield Elementary are entitled to free breakfasts and lunches this fall after the schools qualified for a federal program that pays for the meals.

Offering universal free school meals has been a goal of the Childhood Nutrition Collaborative, a coalition of nonprofit, school, university and government staff working to improve childhood nutrition in Tompkins County. Over the past year, members of the collaborative had been talking with the Ithaca City School District about ways to increase participation in the school breakfast program.

The Childhood Nutrition Collaborative was launched in 2016 with funding from Community Foundation of Tompkins County, which has provided $40,000 in grants to the group. The collaborative is one of Tompkins County’s “collective impact” initiatives, which have built a framework for social change that involves participants across sectors to solve complex problems together.

“One of the successes of our long-term commitment to collective impact is substantial improvement in access to nutritious food in our schools,” said Janet Cotraccia, program officer at Community Foundation. “The Childhood Nutrition Collaborative has catalyzed this work, and the provision of universal lunches and breakfasts at Enfield and Beverly J. Martin are an excellent example of this.”

The Ithaca City School District applied last spring to have the two schools enrolled in a program that allows them to provide free meals to children without requiring parents to submit school meal applications. The program is available to schools in which at least 40 percent of students are certified to receive free meals, based on family income, without an application.

Beverly J. Martin and Enfield have the highest percentages of students entitled to free and reduced breakfasts and lunches in the district. At Beverly J. Martin, 79 percent of students are eligible for free and reduced meals, and at Enfield, 76 percent are eligible.

“If free lunch and breakfast is extended to all students, you erase the stigma,” said Holly Payne, executive director of GreenStar Community Projects, which coordinates the Childhood Nutrition Collaborative. “Kids sometimes don’t want to take it because they feel they’re being labeled as poor.”

Another benefit of expanding free meals in schools is that research shows that children who eat a nutritious breakfast are more likely to perform better academically. “More kids need to eat a good breakfast, and if it’s happening in school, it’s happening closer to the time when students are doing work and taking tests,” said Lara Parrilla, nutrition and community development issue leader for Cornell Cooperative Extension who is a member of the Childhood Nutrition Collaborative.

The program also reduces administrative work for the district because officials will no longer have to collect and verify school meal income applications at the schools, said Beth Krause, child nutrition director of the Ithaca City School District.

“Hopefully it will increase participation because students can eat at no charge,” Krause said. “It also improves efficiency because we won’t have to worry about dealing with any money in the lines.”

Krause added that the school district has also dramatically improved the quality of school meals by offering salad bars in all buildings, changing the breakfast menu at the elementary level and using products from local farms and food businesses.

quote Maya Angelou

Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.