Grant Impact Stories
Community Foundation awarded 485 grants in the period January 1-December 31, 2019 totaling $2,075,104 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.
Tapan Mitra Preserve established with gift from late Cornell professor
The Finger Lakes Land Trust recently renamed its Cayuga Inlet Conservation Area in Ithaca as the Tapan Mitra Preserve in honor of the late Dr. Tapan Mitra, a leading economic theorist and long-serving Cornell professor.
Dr. Mitra’s professional accomplishments shaped both his discipline and his department. His commitment to colleagues and students rivaled only his concern for the environment. “How a society uses up natural resources currently can have enormous effects on the well-being of future generations of that society, including generations still unborn,” he stated in a 2016 article.
During his life, Dr. Mitra collaborated with the Land Trust to identify key priorities of the organization as a part of his estate planning process. He was inspired by the experience of local math teacher and Land Trust member, Dave Bock, whose family donated what is now the Bock-Harvey Forest Preserve in Enfield. This collaboration led to a $200,000 bequest, which was administered by the Community Foundation of Tompkins County.
“Dr. Mitra’s charitable gift to permanently preserve natural areas is an outstanding example of one of many ways local people choose to use their charitable resources to improve our quality of life in Tompkins County. Community Foundation is honored to uphold his philanthropic intention to the benefit of residents and visitors alike,” said George Ferrari, Community Foundation CEO
The Tapan Mitra Preserve protects one mile of streambank along the Cayuga Lake Inlet and a short but critical section of the Finger Lakes Trail. It borders over 2,000 acres of previously conserved lands, including a Cornell Botanic Gardens natural area and Robert H. Treman State Park, which connects through the Land Trust’s Lick Brook Gorge preserves to Buttermilk Falls State Park. This network is a popular destination for residents and visitors, and is accessible by bus from the Cornell campus.
Protection of the lands around the south end of Cayuga Lake continues to be a top priority for the Land Trust, and is facilitated by generations of conservation-minded Ithacans.
The bequest will be placed in the Land Trust’s “Opportunity Fund,” a revolving, internal loan fund that supports timely acquisitions on projects where interim funding is critical. Two recent projects completed with support from the Opportunity Fund include 12 acres bordering the popular Black Diamond Trail in Ithaca that will be transferred to New York State Parks in the coming year and approximately 200 acres in the Chemung River Valley to be added to the state’s Big Flats Wildlife Management Area.
“The Finger Lakes Land Trust has a distinguished track record of protecting and improving the natural beauty of this region. When he decided to support the Opportunity Fund, my uncle was thrilled to play a small role in permanently expanding the Land Trust’s capacity to further its mission in a region he deeply cared for and called his home for almost forty years,” said Aveek Majumdar, his nephew.
“The Tapan Mitra Preserve is a jewel in the Emerald Necklace, named to honor Dr. Mitra’s thoughtfulness and generosity,” asserted Executive Director, Andy Zepp. “It is our hope that through Dr. Mitra’s bequest, his memory will forever be associated with the natural areas for which Ithaca and the Finger Lakes are renowned. In that way, his legacy will benefit our community long into the future.”
By working cooperatively with landowners and local communities, the organization has protected more than 23,000 acres of the region’s undeveloped lakeshore, rugged gorges, rolling forest, and scenic farmland. The Land Trust owns and manages a network of over 30 nature preserves that are open to the public and holds perpetual conservation easements on 138 properties that remain in private ownership.
The Land Trust focuses on protecting critical habitat for fish and wildlife, conserving lands that are important for water quality, connecting existing conservation lands, and keeping prime farmland in agriculture. The organization also provides programs to educate local governments, landowners, and local residents about conservation and the region’s unique natural resources.
Golden Opportunity Expands Tutoring in Ithaca’s Schools
Golden Opportunity Expands Tutoring in Ithaca’s Schools
It all started when Marty Kaminsky, a retired fourth grade teacher at Cayuga Heights Elementary, decided to tutor four students who were struggling in school.
The students’ families couldn’t afford to hire a tutor, so Kaminsky worked with them at no charge. In 2005, he decided to extend the opportunity to other students in the district and started a nonprofit group, Golden Opportunity, to match tutors with students who were falling behind in reading and math.
This year, as Golden Opportunity celebrates its 15th anniversary, the program has grown to 53 tutors working with students from grades two through eight in all the Ithaca City School District’s elementary and middle schools. During the school year, the students, who must qualify for free and reduced lunch to be eligible, will receive 4,200 academic support hours, each meeting twice a week with their tutor.
“We are an advocate for each child,” said Elizabeth Einstein, who has been a tutor with Golden Opportunity for 10 years. “We’re friends with them. These kids get to trust us after a while and after they get to know us.”
The tutors meet with their students’ teachers at the beginning of the year to set goals and are in contact with their parents to keep them appraised of their progress. The tutors, who are primarily retired teachers, also bring snacks and learning materials, and often take their students to cultural events in the community.
“The tutors are opening doors for them,” said Marne Honigbaum, who became the third executive director of Golden Opportunity in July. “The children are discovering things they might not otherwise be exposed to.”
All the children in the program, for example, will attend the African Cirque Spectacular, an acrobatic show at the State Theatre on Sept. 29, thanks to a donation of 70 tickets from the theatre.
One of Honigbaum’s goals this year is to increase the number of students who are tutored from 70 to 80. She would also like to expand the program into the outlying districts in Tompkins County.
“I would love to do that, but not right away,” she said. “It’s an idea that I’m hoping to develop with the board.”
Another key goal is to strengthen and broaden the organization’s donor base. About 70 percent of the group’s budget is used to pay the tutors an hourly stipend which only covers the two, one-hour sessions they have with students each week, Honigbaum said. The stipend compensates the tutors for their experience and helps assure a longer term relationship with a student.
Community Foundation of Tompkins County has been a longstanding supporter of Golden Opportunity, and over the past two years has provided $7,000 in grants to the organization from its spring grant cycle.
“All of the money that we have received from donors within Community Foundation is huge,” Honigbaum said. “The Community Foundation has a wide reach with its donor base.”
Janet Cotraccia, chief impact officer at Community Foundation, said Golden Opportunity provides much more than tutoring, including mentoring and strengthening family engagement. “Many of the benefits of this tutoring program are in the long-term relationships formed between tutors and students,” she said. “These relationships beautifully match experienced teachers with the curious minds of children, launching them into a lifelong love of learning.”
Fresh Snack Program Expands to Northeast Elementary
Students at Northeast Elementary School have an assortment of locally produced fruits and vegetables to snack on during the school day this fall.
The Fresh Snack Program, which distributes produce to schools in the Ithaca City School District, began delivering fruits and vegetables to Northeast Elementary for the first time this fall. Northeast is the sixth elementary school in the district participating in the program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
“The mission of the Fresh Snack Program has been to expand into schools with the lowest incomes,” said Katie Church, administrator of the Youth Farm Project, which oversee the Fresh Snack Program. “Northeast, because of the sheer number of students, means that we are serving about 180 students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch.”
An estimated 38 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch at Northeast, which enrolls 470 students and is the largest elementary school in the district. The goal is to add the remaining two elementary schools — Fall Creek and South Hill — to the Fresh Snack Program next fall.
“It’s important for us to reach the entire district as there are pockets of students who don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the district, not just at specific schools,” said Christa Nunez, manager of the Fresh Snack Program.
Expansion into the two elementary schools will require the program to raise $23,000 to sustain the delivery of fresh produce for a three-year period, Nunez said. Most of the funding for the Fresh Snack Program comes from foundations, such as Community Foundation of Tompkins County, which has provided $7,400 in grants to the program over the past two years.
“The Fresh Snack Program teaches meaningful skills to our youth about healthy and socially just food systems, while it fosters good eating habits, providing both short- and long-term impact for our local children,” said Janet Cotraccia, chief impact officer of Community Foundation.
The Fresh Snack Program was launched at Beverly J. Martin Elementary School in 2009, and expanded to its second school, Enfield Elementary, in 2014. Over the past three years, it has moved into the Belle Sherman, Caroline and Cayuga Heights schools.
This fall, the program is providing about 4,500 fresh snacks, ranging from strawberries to cauliflower, to the six elementary schools two or three times a week. Besides distributing food, the program also offers nutritional educational to classes at the schools at no charge.
Nunez said she was surprised how receptive the students have been to eating produce, especially foods they’ve never tried before.
“We’ve received rave reviews from the kids, some of whom have never even tasted an apple before,” she said. “The kids really love being able to hold an apple and eat the whole thing. And when some go out on break and are away for a few weeks, they miss it.”
After the program moves into the Fall Creek and South Hill elementary schools next year, organizers hope to expand into Boynton and DeWitt Middle Schools and Ithaca High School. The next goal would be to add schools in other districts in Tompkins County.
The Fresh Snack Program purchases produce from Headwater Food Hub, a distributor in Ontario, Wayne County, which works with local farmers and contracts with GreenStar Natural Food Markets to process the food. Another source of vegetables is the Youth Farm Project, the program’s parent organization, which is focused on farm-based social justice education and food access.
The Youth Farm Project and Fresh Snack Program will celebrate their tenth anniversary with a harvest festival from 1 – 8 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 6, at the farm at 23 Nelson Road in Danby. The event will feature farm activities, educational workshops, live music, and wood-fired pizzas topped with harvested vegetables.