Grant Impact Stories

In 2020, Community Foundation awarded more than 570 grants totaling over $2.3 million in support of people in need in five sectors: arts & culture, environment, education, health & human services, and other means of community growth.

Learn more about grant impact and ways donors help solve specific problems in our community by giving through the Community Foundation.

Below is a sampling of recent grants delivered because of donors. Follow the links in each story to learn more. Contact us at to ask questions or to offer your help.

Reimagine Access to Higher Education, Theatre and Public Life

Reimagine Access to Higher Education, Theatre and Public Life

College Initiative Upstate (CIU) and Civic Ensemble’s work is rooted in reimagining access to higher education, theatre and public life in response to social inequities in America’s systems of punishment and higher education.  The current pandemic and the movement for racial justice have highlighted these inequities, catalyzed increased demands to address their root causes, and reaffirmed the urgency and relevance of this work.  Every day working across boundaries of race, socio-economic difference, and other perceived divides to reclaim our common humanity.

Voices That Must Be Heard is a program for justice-impacted people whose life experiences, leadership initiatives, and vision for becoming agents of progressive change, are the heartbeat is this collaborative work.

SCROLL DOWN to hear three of these compelling interviews.

Multi-year grants totaling $25,717 from the Community Foundation’s Susan Christopherson Community Planning Fund provided critical funding bringing this material into our larger community where people are struggling with the questions and solutions to pressing issues around equity, policing, incarceration, and so much more.  During 2020, the Oral History Project explored complex human stories of people with incarceration experience.  In 2021, the Voices Theatre Project will bring participants together to devise an original play rooted in their owns stories and experiences and in collaboration with theatre professionals; culminating in a production of a final play.

Voices That Must Be Heard

College Initiative Upstate’s original Voices That Must Be Heard project brought together a cohort of emerging CIU student leaders to develop individual projects supporting progressive change around issues that directly impacted them.  This group of student leaders traveled to Columbia University to give a workshop at the national conference, Beyond the Bars: Strategies for Challenging a Carceral Society (March 5-8, 2020). Because of pandemic restrictions, CIU went on a three-month hiatus during the summer of 2020.  This gave the opportunity to re-envision a dynamic way to move forward with a revised plan and the new Oral History project began.


Oral History Project

CIU’s revised “Voices” initiative The Oral History Project, is a collaboration between CIU and Civic Ensemble’s ReEntry Theater.  The Oral History Project continues to work with court-involved and formerly incarcerated people.  The Oral History Project is a semester-long peer training, using oral history as a method to explore personal narrative.

Civic Ensemble ReEntry Theatre is governed by a Peer Council where participants are paid staff members and recruit, mentor, and provide leadership in programming with new members.  The Council members are respected as key stakeholders in the local reentry landscape.  Members are often invited to speak at conferences about topics such as reentry, mental health, and incarceration, and several members sit on local advisory boards and panels.  The Oral History Project was an excellent opportunity to see the ReEntry Peer Council actively taking the lead, engaging and encouraging CIU students to become narrators and drivers of their own stories.

As trained interviewers, College Initiative Upstate students gain interviewing experience and also move into our larger community in a visible leadership capacity.  Peers will support and learn from each other and in the process, build the support and confidence needed to move into the larger community with strong and effective voices.

Listen to three of these compelling interviews

Oral History Clip … There Is Hope

Oral History Clip … I Didn’t Want To Feel

Oral History Clip … Making Music


College Initiative Upstate: Redefining Possible Through Higher Education

You are Invited! CIU’s  2020 Graduation Celebration  Premiere on YouTube

Friday, February 26, 2021 at 7:00 PM

Link: College Initiative Upstate 2020 Virtual Graduation

Meet CIU’s 10 Magnificent 2020 College Graduates. Tune in and be inspired by the power of higher education to rewrite stories and transform our community.

Tompkins County COVID-19 Food Task Force Addresses Pandemic and Winter Food Gaps

Tompkins County COVID-19 Food Task Force Addresses Pandemic and Winter Food Gaps

By the third week of every month, nearly 80% of even the thriftiest people using food stamps (SNAP) have run out of food. Before COVID (2018), Feeding America estimated that 10% of all Tompkins County residents (10,400 people), and 17% of all children were food insecure. This year (2020), food insecurity is projected to impact around 14% of all residents and 22% of all children. Many people began the pandemic already facing chronic health crises (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, obesity) induced by a chronic lack of nourishing food. Community Foundation of Tompkins County has supported the Food Task Force to address further food gaps anticipated during the upcoming holiday break and through winter.

With a generous continuation grant from Community Foundation, the TC COVID-19 Food Task Force (FTF), operating since March, will plunge into winter to continue the collaborative process of food relief with its 70+ local member agencies. “Community Foundation has been able to provide this level of funding because of generous donors to our COVID-19 Response Fund,” reports Chief Impact Officer, Janet Cotraccia. Every two weeks, FTF gathers partners to share latest COVID numbers, survey results, updates on food sources, and to work on reaching Tompkins County’s hungry residents. FTF partners identify new food shortage ‘hot spots,’ addressing them through cross-collaboration, information campaigns, supplementing school food during breaks when childhood nutrition programs are suspended, coordinating volunteer deliveries, and developing ways to reach vulnerable populations. They also support the steady network of neighbors-helping-neighbors who fill outdoor “blue food cabinets,” organized on Facebook via Mutual Aid Tompkins, open to all, 24/7.

A Facebook post written by one community member shows what it takes to navigate the monthly food gap left by insufficient food stamp benefits:

“From a friend who lives in west village [housing] – There have been more blue boxes [food cabinets] here that’s good…there was food in bags by the laundry room I got more bread and potatoes so with that and what I picked up today I should have food enough to get me through til snaps [SNAP = Federal food stamp program] kicks back in…it’s this end of the month that’s always tough… “I am utterly grateful for those boxes and the food stuffs… ..I got food now so I’m not worried…I love Ithaca and the people that love people…nowhere else have I lived where they care for the fellow folks so much…I am utterly grateful…beyond belief…”

During winter, many families are headed for another rough patch when school food is suspended during breaks, and fresh produce is in short supply. In addition to continuation funding for the Food Task Force, the Community Foundation also awarded continuation funding to a key partner, Nourish Tompkins, which will provide 260 boxes of local produce, by request, to school families. Nourish Tompkins will extend its reach over the winter by providing more than 4,300 pounds of fresh produce from local farms to hunger relief partners for distribution to struggling households. Local & regional ingredients (vegetables, legumes, whole grains) will be prepared by volunteer chefs into 1,950 hot meals for distribution to hungry families, and individuals living unsheltered throughout the county.

There are many things that are uncertain during these pandemic times. The people most affected by food insecurity and by food-induced health problems, are low income, and/or people of color, and/or rural. The story of food in our county is precarious, uplifting, and unfinished. There are many ways to participate (see below).

Increase COVID-19 Response Fund Grants 

Increase Tompkins Hunger Relief Efforts

– Join a free Food Task Force Zoom Meeting Email Holly Payne 

– Drop non-perishable food at a blue food cabinet visit Mutual Aid Tompkins’ Facebook page

– Obtain free food or prepared meals LINK to 211 Human Services Coalition

The Food Task Force and Nourish Tompkins, housed at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County an employer and educator recognized for valuing AA/EEO, Protected Veterans, and Individuals with Disabilities and provides equal program and employment opportunities.






Technology Grants from the COVID-19 Response Fund Address Health Needs

Technology Grants from the COVID-19 Response Fund Address Health Needs

As a result of your support, grants are being made to assure continued and changing services for residents health needs:

  • $10,000 grant to Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services for Telehealth Equipment for bring remote addiction treatment to individuals in recovery.
  • $6,225 grant to Advocacy Center supports enhanced hotline services due to increased call volume and additional technology to provide secure mobile services that assure confidentiality protocols.
  • $10,000 grant to Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca for staff technology to assure mental health services virtually. This grant is in response to the changing mental health needs of local residents.

Community Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund grants are providing support in a wide range of areas.  Learn about other grants here.


Need COVID Funding?  Find our updated application here.

quote Dwight D. Eisenhower

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didnt do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.