Grant Impact Stories
Community Foundation awarded 418 grants in the period January 1-December 31, 2017 totaling $1,555,217 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.
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
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.
Parenting Skills Program Expands to Serve Tompkins County Jail Inmates and Family Members
A pilot program that has offered parenting workshops for inmates in the Tompkins County Jail is expanding its curriculum and developing a cohort of classes for community members affected by incarceration.
Last year, the Parents Apart Program enrolled 38 inmates in six hours of classes facilitated by an experienced parenting educator from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County. Beginning this month, the program was restructured into 12 modules that address specific issues related to inmates who are parents.
Community Foundation of Tompkins County funded the pilot program in the jail, along with several other organizations, and has offered Parents Apart a second grant to help develop a series of classes geared toward spouses of inmates and other caregivers in the community.
“The quality of parenting skills in our community impacts all of us,” said Janet Cotraccia, program officer for Community Foundation. “Children are deeply impacted when they have an incarcerated parent, and this programming is another way we can support access to a higher quality of life for all of our children.”
A report prepared by students in the Cornell University Department of Policy Analysis and Management found that jail participants found the program helpful and that they had attempted to implement what they learned in the workshops. The study was based on a survey of inmates and community residents who have taken the course, which has been offered in Tompkins County since the 1990s.
The workshops in the jail are designed to provide inmates with the resources necessary to continue their relationships with their children while incarcerated and to co-parent them successfully after their release. Topics covered include effective parenting skills, effects of separation and divorce on children, and conflict resolution strategies.
“We felt it was very important to offer this to incarcerated individuals because even if they’re not going through a divorce, they are separated from their children, and their children are impacted by their incarceration,” said Jennifer Gray, a community educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension, which developed the program.
The next phase of the program will focus on developing a series of workshops that will be offered to community members impacted by incarceration. With a second grant from Community Foundation, program organizers are conducting a focus group with residents to determine what type of parenting skills class should be offered and what type of supports are needed.
“One thing that can be done to help people while they’re in the jail is for trained professionals to work with their family members and other caregivers to build on and strengthen their existing parenting and communication skills,” said Chris Kai-Jones, the Student and Community Coordinator at Cornell Cooperative Extension. “The premise of this work is that parents and caregivers impacted by incarceration, like all parents, can benefit from having some shared tools to help their children thrive despite life’s challenges.”