Celebrating Gifford grantees and Kathy Goldfarb-Findling

At the November 13 Kathy Awards we invited three organizations to celebrate their support from the Foundation during the tenure of Kathy Goldfarb-Findling, our late executive director. Representatives from Onondaga Earth Corps, Dance Theatre of Syracuse and Baltimore Woods shared their organizational challenges and successes over the past ten years. Learn More »

On November 13, 2013, in addition to announcing the winners of the Kathy Goldfarb-Findling Leadership Awards, the Foundation invited three nonprofits who worked closely with Kathy to speak. They were introduced by Dirk Sonneborn, Gifford Foundation executive director: “On March 13 we lost Kathy but her spirit lives on in the grants she made and the organizations she supported while at Gifford. … I want to make note that tonight’s event is not meant to be a memorial service. Kathy always said that it was the Gifford Foundation’s resources and innovative board that allowed her to do her work, and vehemently – and I do mean vehemently – resisted accolades for herself. With that in mind, tonight we honor not only the winners of the Kathy Award but also celebrate three organizations who either started, grew or prospered (or all three) through Kathy’s energetic advocacy and grantmaking.”

Comments from Patty Weisse, retired executive director of Baltimore Woods

In the non-profit world it is critical to have a clear understanding of your organization and its mission, coupled with a bold vision and solid plans to move forward. However, day-to-day issues can all too easily bog nonprofits down in the trivial muck. By design, philanthropy should make non-profits stronger. This is a story of how Gifford helped Baltimore Woods move away from the tyranny of the urgent and grow.

My first experience with Gifford came in 1999 after Baltimore Woods submitted a grant request to research “teachable nature opportunities” in Syracuse. We had started our outreach to Syracuse by bringing young children to Baltimore Woods for programs. The programs were successful but we overheard the kids saying it was too bad they couldn’t do the same thing in their own neighborhood and we were concerned. You see, research shows that the kind of experiences that impact children’s understanding of the environment and their role in it the most are not the charismatic, isolated field trips, but frequent, positive experiences in the natural world. We knew that our outreach program’s success was linked to reaching the kids in their own neighborhoods.

Gifford was clearly interested, but also clear that they wouldn’t fund our project unless and until we had documentation of buy in from the Syracuse school district. This was both encouraging and discouraging all at once. We couldn’t create the outreach program to meet the district’s needs without doing our research, and we couldn’t get their commitment until we had a program that had documented positive outcomes on student learning – or so I thought.

When I expressed this concern, Kathy stepped up to the plate, calling the Superintendent’s office and arranging a three way meeting between The Woods, The District, and her. We got the commitment in writing, got the funding for the research and learned that Syracuse has a remarkable wealth of parks and green spaces within walking distance to elementary schools. These are living laboratories for natural science education; and so- Nature in the City was born.

What’s unique about Gifford is their insightful decision to relate to and work with nonprofits AS THEY ARE in an open, reflective manner. Nonprofits are generally under-resourced, and even in the best cases there are skeletons in the closet and warts cleverly disguised. Baltimore Woods was so fortunate to be one of the ADVANS pilots, working with Dr. Susan Kenny Stevens and local consultant Katie Doucette. It took enormous time and courage for a thorough, meaningful self-assessment. It is a bit like disrobing and changing into that gown at the doctor’s office. It doesn’t feel comfortable but you are never going to be able to cure what ails you if you don’t make it visible to the doctor somehow.

ADVANS was a transformative capacity building experience for Baltimore Woods. It gave us a clear understanding of what drives our economic engine and resources to develop nimble plans that strengthened and promoted programs that were our key budget drivers. It catalyzed governance changes such as board term limits, policies and procedures. It strengthened the board, staff and volunteers in anticipation of my successful transition out of the executive director role this past July, with Mary Kate Intaglietta as the new director and the place is going like gangbusters.

Gifford believes a stronger Central New York stands on the shoulders of strong nonprofits, and they are not afraid to “clean out the closets” with the nonprofits to build lasting capacity.

Comments from Carol Charles, executive director of Dance Theatre of Syracuse.

“Art is not simply works of art; it is the spirit that knows Beauty, that has music in its soul and the color of sunsets in its head kerchiefs; that can dance on a flaming world and make the world dance, too…“

This is my favorite quote by W. E. B. Du Bois and it symbolizes for me the essence of what I personally seek to do at Dance Theater of Syracuse… I felt it appropriate tonight because, I know that the Gifford foundation uses its resources to make the world dance too.

The Dance Theater of Syracuse is a community dedicated to the artistic development of young artists. Our dancers are the best of the best and they’ve gotten there through the dedication of our outstanding faculty, a handful of really good people and Charitable Organizations like the Gifford Foundation who believe in the power of the arts to change lives for good

From the earliest days in our existence Gifford was there, investing in our young artists – sponsoring their participation in summer intensive programs, supporting our efforts to relocate when eminent domain claimed our home and providing the flooring and mirrors at our new home at One Village Dance center –a gift that keeps giving; so that young people like Tevin Johnson can discover their bliss.

It is with much gratitude and truly our esteemed honor to be here tonight with the spirit that knows beauty…

Comments from Eli MacDonald, Amy Samuels and Greg Michel from Onondaga Earth Corps.

Eli MacDonald: In the beginning
Good evening. It is an honor to be here this evening in the company of so many true community builders. As introduced my name is Eli MacDonald. I am the founder of the Eli MacDonald Green Team, what is now known as the Onondaga Earth Corps.

Our program grew out of the efforts of the Gifford Foundation’s targeted neighborhood initiatives in 2004. The folks at the Gifford Foundation and partners in the Southside Neighborhood believed in a vision of youth development and employment as a catalyst for change in the neighborhood. They believed in me … to get this program off the ground and with a start-up grant we hired 14 youth ages 14-18 to start the important work of beautifying the South Side.

That first summer we quickly saw the power and impact of employing youth. Youth worked on projects cleaning up vacant lots and helping elderly and disabled residents’ yards. Projects that taught a good work ethic, showed immediate results, improved the neighborhood, connected youth to the community and put money in their pockets seemed to be working.

Amy Samuels: Expanding the mission
In 2005 the Gifford Foundation helped take OEC to the next level. In collaboration with Eli, Cornell Cooperative Extension and the Syracuse Neighborhood Action Group, the program changed its name from the Eli MacDonald Green Team to Onondaga Earth Corps to reflect a new and broader collaboration for the green team that tapped in to the best practices of youth conservation corps programs from around the country.

In addition to the service work done during the first year, educational components were added to the program that focused on job readiness, financial literacy, civic engagement, youth leadership and technical skills in urban forestry and green infrastructure.

Each year, the program grew from being a summer program to then summer and fall, to summer fall and spring and in 2009 we worked closely with the Gifford Foundation to expand our neighborhood focus to include the west side.

Greg Michel: Today
In 2010 the Onondaga Earth Corps faced unprecedented challenges. Similar to many other County funded youth programs, OEC lost a significant chunk of its funding. Longtime partner organization Cornell Cooperative Extension was also no longer in a position to lead the collaboration and the program could have very easily come to an end at that point.

I remember receiving a phone call from Kathy at the time. “We’ve got to do something. There’s got to be a way to make this work.” And we did. We worked on a strategic plan and identified a strategic fiscal sponsor partner in Onondaga Environmental Institute. Kathy and the entire Foundation’s “can do attitude” and sense of urgency, kept this organization afloat.

Today, because of the Gifford Foundation’s start-up funds, and their roll-your-sleeves-up involvement and commitment – we continue to grow. We have built invaluable partnerships (that no single grant could create or sustain). And we are now working with Gifford and in conversations with the Community Foundation as well to build our board and organizational capacity.

Our organization now runs a three season youth program for 15-18 yr olds and two young adult crews that specialize in green infrastructure and tree planting. We have been recognized nationally and locally for our efforts to create green jobs in collaboration with local government and other not for profits. We have piloted a community based youth workforce program for Onondaga County’s Save the Rain green infrastructure maintenance program . There are more youth, young adults and staff being employed to do this work and at a higher level than ever before.

We are so grateful for our ongoing relationship with the Gifford Foundation and with all of our partners and hopefully future partners in the room today. Thank you.

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