Grant Impact Stories

In 2023, Community Foundation awarded 824 grants totaling $2.7 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.

Urgently Needed Support for 211 ALICE Program

Urgently Needed Support for 211 ALICE Program

United Way’s 211 ALICE Program, in partnership with the Human Services Coalition, has recently received critical funding thanks to collaboration with Community Foundation.

As community needs have increased this year, funding for programs providing households with support to address rent arrears, utility shutoffs, car repairs, and insurance cancellations has been exhausted. United Way of Tompkins County funds the program which addresses immediate needs to retain safe housing and continue to work or learn for Tompkins County households living under a sustainable income when other resources are unavailable. However, with this year’s economic impact, the funding budgeted through June 30 was nearly expended and the program faced interruption until United Way moved through its budget process for funding programs as of July 1, 2024.

United Way made this need known as part of regular bi-monthly conversations with the Tompkins County Funders Group. This resulted in grants totaling $42,500 to United Way from Community Foundation’s Lane Family Fund as well as its Tompkins Today and Tomorrow Fund.

The Lane family shares:

“For many in Tompkins County, life has more bills to pay than paychecks to cash. The 2-1-1 ALICE 211 provides needed help for those moments and we are pleased to help provide resources to that program. We urge all in Tompkins County to take the opportunity to run towards helping our fellow citizens.”

The program now has enough funding to remain in place without interruption. Community Foundation CEO George Ferrari said, “When local funders can match community needs with donors’ interests we can together deliver the resources needed so that all can thrive.”

United Way of Tompkins County President & CEO Michael Ramos shares, “We cannot thank enough the funding sources that through our partnership with Community Foundation have been able to assist community members to meet urgent needs and keep the promise of thriving alive in challenging times. Thank you, Community Foundation, for your partnership!”

Learn More about the ALICE Program, Click Here:  Meet ALICE

Expanding Internships - A Gamechanger at GIAC

Expanding Internships - A Gamechanger at GIAC

William (Bill) Maxwell, Cornell Engineering Professor Emeritus, has been a member of the GIAC (Greater Ithaca Activities Center) family for over 15 years. Recently, Mike Zak, a former student of his wanted to honor Professor Maxwell for the impact he had on his life. The result of Mike’s most generous gift is an endowment fund at Community Foundation of Tompkins County to forever support GIAC’s internship program named in honor of Bill Maxwell.

Bill was inspired and has also created a companion fund, the William and Judith Maxwell Internship Fund, to honor his wife Judith, which expands the internship program even further.

GIAC Director, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, spoke about GIAC’s internship program history and how the new funds will extend help to more students. Prior to the program, McBean-Clairborne said the lack of funds made it difficult for the center to provide multiple internships to students at the time.

“I fell on my knees, when I heard of the new funds, and there were tears falling,” McBean-Clairborne said. “We have been rubbing pennies every year to place at least one person somewhere when we have four or five who are asking for an internship. So, it is making the biggest difference already for us.”

Mike Zak said, “I was, perhaps, Bill’s first intern, in a sense. Professor Maxwell took a risk which did a lot for me (a former student) a long time ago. To express my happiness, I am proud to create these Maxwell Internships at GIAC, in the hopes that Tompkins County can take more and more risks on youth. Young men and women who have yet to establish themselves, who perhaps just need a chance to see how the world works, can find a place in it for themselves, can test the waters, and then go on and prosper as citizens who contribute to the greater common good.”

Internships are a proven gateway to jobs. It’s widely acknowledged that paying interns is a critical first step to addressing barriers to access for historically underrepresented students who otherwise could not afford to spend their non-school hours working for free.

Paid internships can build networks and connections. Internships are an important path to a career.

One past recipient, Xavier Bourne (pictured above), held a paid internship at Ithaca International Airport. Xavier’s passion for aviation can be heard when he said the GIAC internship allowed him to “learn airline contracts and airport management which strengthened my interests.” He carried that experience into a career as he is now a Delta Airlines Analytic Specialist keeping people connected to the world.

Mike Zak shared, “This gift acknowledges a long-time champion for the youth of greater Ithaca, William Maxwell, who has changed the lives of many, including mine, and I am excited about how these internships may change the lives of young men and women in greater Ithaca.”

Take a chance – there are big benefits to taking time to facilitate these connections:  Data suggests that both young and people of color are particularly likely to report feeling lonely in the workplace. Informal relationship-building will not solve all of this, but it can bolster employee engagement. Interns just testing the waters in the world of work may not share this understanding of how to build or mobilize networks. And according to research from America’s Promise Alliance, young people of color and from low-income families believe connections and social capital are essential for navigating their career journeys but report struggling to build them.

Inspiring the voices of future generations:  Internships operate as engines that promote inclusion rather than inequality in the labor market, compensating interns with both financial and social capital matters.

Who wouldn’t want to help shape a childhood? We expect to hear more often what Xavier stated, “My internship was one of the greatest experiences of my life, and many of the connections I made at the Ithaca Airport are friends of mine today.”

A win for us all. Que the applause and cheers!  Read More, Click Here:   Ithaca Voice  and  Tompkins Weekly

Leaving a Legacy: Collaborative Exchanges

Leaving a Legacy: Collaborative Exchanges

A $500,000 grant was made to the Department of Economics in the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S)  in support of conferences and other activities centered around economic theory.  In honor of the late Tapan Mitra, longtime professor of economics at Cornell and two-time chair of the department, this funding continues his passion for top-level collaboration in economic theory and his legacy of generosity.

“Dr. Mitra has passed on his dedication to our department, said Seth Sanders, the Ronald G. Ehrenberg Professor of Economics and chair of the economics department (A&S).  “We are deeply appreciative, and it makes us understand the work that earlier generations of faculty did to establish economics at Cornell and motivates us to carry forward that legacy.”

Future conferences will bring scholars together to exchange ideas and disseminate research findings in areas including microeconomic theory, macroeconomic theory, and econometric theory.

“These are the core of what economics is about and form the core of our teaching of graduate students,” Sanders said. “In the long run, these funds will be used to convene meetings on the evolving frontiers in these areas. It will be a way for our faculty and graduate students to bring together world experts in a frontier issue, to understand cutting edge methods and results and to share the work being done in the department at Cornell.” The first conference, planned for spring 2025, will honor Professor Mitra and bring world class scholars and former students to campus.

The grant continues a family tradition in economics. Mitra’s cousin, Dr. Mukul Majumdar, was a professor of economic theory at Cornell for roughly 50 years. His nephew, Aveek Majumdar ’05, majored in economics at Cornell.  “My uncle was a constructive and supportive mentor for many, including myself,” Aveek Majumdar said. “These conferences will hopefully be a benefit for the field and for Cornell, an institution he cared deeply about.”

“Dr. Mitra’s passion for the community and for education drove him to make significant philanthropic gifts, both during and after his life,” said George Ferrari, CEO of the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, where Mitra established three funds in 2016: for education, cancer research and future generations. “Community Foundation is honored to uphold his philanthropic intentions to the benefit of residents and Cornell students and faculty alike.”

Mitra taught at Cornell from 1981 until his death in 2019 and served as chair of Cornell’s Department of Economics from 1993–98 and from 1999–2002. His research themes included analysis of the economic decision-making of “forward-looking agents” – individual and societal agents who consciously plan today’s actions knowing they will affect their future opportunities as well as future welfare.

Mitra made pioneering contributions to issues that have become central to macroeconomic theory, Sanders said, and he understood the reach of theory into economics broadly.  Mitra was dedicated to the exchange of ideas and to excellence at Cornell, believing that collaboration produced the best work, Sanders said: “This funding will encourage collaboration and will focus on areas on which the entire discipline is built just as Dr. Mitra did throughout his career.”

Excerpt from Kate Blackwood, A&S Communications.  READ: the full story on Cornell University Arts and Sciences College website 

You Keep It Rolling!       Meals on Wheels

You Keep It Rolling! Meals on Wheels

Recently, Community Foundation made over $72,000 in grants to Foodnet Meals on Wheels from 7 different funds.

Over $48,000 was granted from 3 Donor Advised Funds responding to non-grant cycle requests for kitchen equipment. Fund advisors appreciated learning about these emergent needs as demand for meals increased.

$5,600 from the COVID-19 Response Fund supported Foodnet’s ability to provide meals to families who were food insecure while under quarantine. This need was identified by the Food Task Force Distribution Team which convenes over 15 food serving organizations to fill gaps in services.

Over $17,000 was provided in unrestricted grants, allowing Foodnet to use funding wherever it was needed most during rapidly changing needs.

Delivered! Library Appreciation Project

Delivered! Library Appreciation Project

The cover of Library Journal’s January 2022 issue named all library staff around the country as Librarians of the Year 2022.  Folks in our community were one step ahead; last year, staff in our local libraries received an unexpected surprise from an anonymous benefactor who wanted to say thank you for all the ways libraries serve their communities, especially throughout this pandemic.

Community Foundation of Tompkins County works closely with the Finger Lakes Library System, encouraging the 33 member libraries in a five county service area to apply for their annual Library Grant Cycle inspired by the Bernard Carl and Shirley Rosen Library Fund.  Over the past eleven years, the Rosen fund along with other funds at the Community Foundation, have awarded over $1.5 million to support Summer Reading programs and other activities that foster the love of reading and learning among our community’s youth.

Our libraries, primarily small and rural, provide important childhood literacy services like storytimes, tween and teen book clubs, Summer Reading programs and more.  Throughout the pandemic, libraries creatively met the needs of their communities providing curbside pickups, hosting virtual storytime events, curriculum-based Take and Make kits, Story Walks, and much more.  Many also became involved with food distribution, using it as another opportunity to provide books to families being served.  Often this work was done with few staff members and reduced hours of operation.

Janet Cotraccia, Chief Impact Officer at the Community Foundation reflected, “It was clear during the Library Grant Cycle that libraries were responding in resilient and adaptive ways when faced with rapid change and great need during the pandemic.  We convened a few members of the review team to explore a way we could show our appreciation to the library directors and their staff during this challenging time,”

An anonymous donor stepped up, on behalf of the foundation, to make a grant to the Finger Lakes Library System (totaling over $13,000) underwriting what became the “Library Appreciation Project.” Local businesses were supported by purchasing mugs from local potter, Julia Dean, with the Community Foundation logo and local tea from the Ithaca Coffee Company.  Community Foundation intern, Dawn Badie, assembled gift bags for each of the 33 library directors.  Additionally, Nora Burrows, formerly of the Finger Lakes Library System, coordinated the purchasing of 248 gift cards to be distributed to all library staff in all 33 libraries, including the six libraries in Tompkins County.

Sarah Glogowski, Finger Lakes Library System Executive Director, noted “Our delivery driver, Tom, said he was extremely popular and the libraries were so appreciative to receive the bags and gift cards.”

“I can say my staff truly appreciated it.  Actually, they were pretty blown away by the generosity,” said Sara Knobel, Groton Public Library Director.

Libraries continue to play a vital role in our communities providing educational and recreational opportunities along with vital community resources such as internet access.  Be sure to visit your local library and enjoy all that it has to offer.

It's More Than Books

It's More Than Books

During a laid-back conversation, Aiden, Bradie and Luke, three teens staffers at the Groton Public Library, shared how their library makes a difference in the community.  They share the common experience of getting involved with the library through their school, and other interactions in their community. One high schooler, began volunteering at the library with the Healthy Tuesday program, created in 2013 by his grandmother, Ruth Williams and library director, Sara Knobel. The healthy and yummy food provided through grocer donations, supplements food budgets of families in need. The teen explains this is just one way the library is a community hub improving the community as well as describes the library as “the heart of the community” and keeps the environment ticking and lively. Teen staff also assist with children activities such as “Tails and Tales” along with other summer programs for youth, cooking and nutrition related activities and much more.

They shared the new opportunities as a result of the recent renovation. Being built in 1917, the library has a timeless and intricate feel and through the modern addition there is more space for community activities and gathering. As a teen that grew spending time at my local library in Seneca County, Edith B. Ford Memorial Library, libraries play a fundamental role in community development through their wide array of resources such as career planning, young adult literature, development of computer and multimedia skills, making connections in the community, academic assistance, and most importantly a positive environment to gather and study coursework. Library’s offer additional coursework assistance that is beyond beneficial to youth such as educational publications, which I personally hold responsible for my academic achievements.

The teens say what drew them to the Library was the overall sense of positive environment. They describe their summer youth activities as being all about “Helping the community, helping skills, maintaining skills, making everyone happy and keeping everyone busy, and all around just making it a memorable few months for the kids”. A library’s purpose of being a gateway to knowledge and culture wouldn’t be attainable without the devoted staff and volunteers. Along with what they do for the community they also shared how the library has helped them by giving them a sense of belonging, sense of family in the workplace, another avenue to spend time in a constructive way. They said “The library has benefited me in a way of giving me a new perspective, and funny enough a beneficial place mentally because the staff and patrons are just nice and welcoming, we are all about community and even before working here there was this place of family and kinship” and “Every day I look forward to coming in and working here because it doesn’t feel like a job”.

In conclusion, libraries are essential to youth by being open to all, giving them a sense of belonging and family, and providing services to help neighborhoods thrive. From internet access and academic aid, to story-times, and community activities, libraries serve as a staple to one’s community by their admirable ability to connect people, offering vital resources to address community needs, and serve as a place where the community gathers and grows.

Story and interview by Ella Robinson, an Ovid teen, from across the lake, and proud cardholder of the Edith B. Ford Memorial Library.

A Promise To Play

A Promise To Play

Just Play Project (JPP) is one of the most recent recipients of Community Foundation’s “Resilient Communities – COVID-19 Needs” from the COVID-19 Response Fund.  Grants are awarded to organizations seeking to serve despite, and because of, the negative impacts of the pandemic.

The Just Play Project’s mission is to preserve a child’s “Right to Play”. Central to that mission is the development of economically, socially, and environmentally, just models of “free play”. The benefits of free play, according to Sensory Surroundings, a United Kingdom organization, are children having the opportunity to explore their environments with/and different materials. Children develop skills in discovery and exploration, problem-solving, risk-taking, and the importance of, and capacity for, making mistakes. JPP has centered most of its work around young children impacted by the adverse effects of race and class.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented JPP with challenges from which the JPP leadership created opportunities. With school closures came the cessation of school day and afterschool programming. The closure of many afterschool centers also affected JPP programming. Even when schools and centers re-opened; they were often operating at lesser capacities. Worse still, because of the economic impact of Covid-19 these programs were mostly benefiting families with the ability to pay and so negatively impacting children of low-to-moderate-income families.

Proving themselves to be resilient, and adaptable, Just Play Project leaders sought funding and community collaboration. They applied for, and were awarded, the “Resilient Communities” grant and created a new partnership with Unbroken Promise Initiative (UPI). This collaboration and partnership will help answer the challenges presented by the pandemic. UPI, already having a presence in the West End community, will start and oversee the JPP program there (in collaboration and partnership with JPP) and hopes to hire/train its own residents as Adult Playworkers.

JPP is looking to expand and enhance its presence with a twelve-weeks (Spring), eight-weeks (Fall), and six-weeks (Summer) after school programs at Southside Community Center, Titus Flats, and the West Village, and with UPI hire five new positions for (Adult) Playworkers (80% of these positions are expected to be filled by low and moderate income adults.

Unbroken Promise Initiative is a grassroots neighborhood revitalization and racial justice non profit. It’s core mission is to uplift the West End community of Ithaca. In its partnership with Just Play Project; they are, together, uniquely suited to address the needs of the communities they serve during- and post-pandemic. BIPOC communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 (for myriad reasons mostly centered in the need for racial and social justice). This partnership will help strengthen community ties, build broader community relationships between funders, schools, community centers, and it will nurture the innate creativity and brilliance of young minds — through play, adaptability, and resilience. That’s solid preparation for a post-COVID-19 world.

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

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


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