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Celebrating female Adirondack nonprofit community leaders

Many people who follow Adirondack Foundation’s work are generous and committed to giving back. So, you have likely heard about the remarkable philanthropy of MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos. The impact of her giving, unrestricted and targeted to the people who need it most, deserves all the praise and glory it has received.

A January article in the New York Times entitled “How Women are Changing the Philanthropy Game” speaks about Ms. Scott and an “emerging group of female philanthropists assuming more prominence in public life,” contrasting historic trends where married women often gave in their husbands’ names.

A couple years ago, I recognized many inspirational “Adirondack MacKenzie Scotts” – incredibly generous women who support and sustain work here in this place we love. These women continue to have an impact, especially as our region responds to the COVID pandemic. They do more than give money, they contribute valuable time and their voices to the causes that matter most to them.

This year, in recognition of Women’s History Month, I want to recognize women who lead prominent nonprofits and community organizations in the Adirondacks. These women have positively influenced me and the work we do at Adirondack Foundation.

I am going to start with Melissa Eisinger, the most talented and humble nonprofit leader the Adirondacks has ever seen. Now retired, Mel is a behind-the-scenes leader who has thoughtfully mentored nonprofit professionals and engaged trustees and donors – while always pushing organizational boundaries to achieve more.

Many of our county health departments are led by remarkable women including Linda Beers in Essex, Katie Strack in Franklin, and Erica Mahoney in Hamilton. This past year, they have gone above and beyond to manage the COVID response with grit and grace.

Four experienced women leaders, who also stand out as personal friends, are my go-to when I have a challenge, need a hug, some tough love, or a cocktail: Jessica Rubin, of Hudson Headwaters Health Foundation, Joanne Caswell of Families First, Nathalie Thill of the Adirondack Center for Writing, and Zoe Smith of the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College. Thank you for always being there.

Stephanie Ratcliffe, Hillarie Logan-Dechene, Hannah Hanford, Slyvia Getman, Kate Fish, Tracy Ormsbee, Peg Olsen, Beth Hill, and Kerry Haley all lead prominent nonprofits. The Adirondack region would be bereft without The Wild Center, Adirondack Health and Foundation, Adirondack North Country Association, Adirondack Explorer, The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Chapter, Fort Ticonderoga, and CVPH Medical Center Foundation. These leaders are creative, professional, and strategic. Nicky Hylton-Patterson deserves a special shout-out as the leader of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative. Without blinking an eye and while confronting racism directed at her right here in the Adirondacks, she is rising to meet challenges in our local communities with a sense of purpose and compassion to build “cultural consciousness.”

I also want to recognize the leaders of smaller organizations that have incredible impact at a local level such as Donna Beal, of Mercy Care for the Adirondacks, Amy Catania, of Historic Saranac Lake, newly hired Judith McKinnon, of North Country Ministry, Martha Swan of John Brown Lives! and Alex Roalsvig who leads recreation and tourism for the town of Long Lake.

Many of us stand on the shoulders of Caroline Welsh, who once led the Adirondack Experience, Ellen Rocco, retired from North Country Public Radio, Betsy Lowe who founded The Wild Center, and Chandler Ralph, former CEO of Adirondack Health.

These trailblazing women inspire me, help build my leadership muscle, and are creating pathways for the next generation of women leaders. Dozens more women are stepping up and leaning-in every day to help make the Adirondacks a better, more vibrant place for all of us — and I salute all of them.

(Cali Brooks is the president and CEO of the Adirondack Foundation, based in Lake Placid.)