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ON THE SCENE: Celebrating generosity in the Adirondacks

Cali Brooks (Photo provided)

Are you having frustrations communicating via online platforms lately? If so, you’re not the only one. The Adirondack Foundation heavily promoted its scheduled Toast the Adirondacks, an online celebration of the generosity of Adirondackers over the past five months of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 300 tuned in Friday evening, Aug. 14, but the interactive video never made it to people’s computers. After multiple attempts, the foundation threw in the towel and sent out a message that the video would be available the next day.

Even so, their gratitude is no less heartfelt, and the applause for people’s generosity is much deserved. The video was hosted by Cali Brooks, Adirondack Foundation president and CEO, and Rich Kroes, chairman of the foundation’s Board of Trustees. In the video, they appear standing before two small round cocktail tables with the Great Range’s stunning vista behind them. Then Brooks and Kroes, holding up their cocktails, toasted the generosity of Adirondack contributors.

“Thank you for joining us virtually today as we adjust to the new reality,” said Kroes. “Normally, we’d be in the beautiful field to our left celebrating together. But we still wanted to give a toast to the Adirondacks in recognition of all the great things that have been happening this summer despite the horrible situation that we’ve been in.”

Then they cut to the video, “We Rise,” a heartfelt message celebrating what’s unique about our region. The video recommends that the best way to show our appreciation for this place and the people is through giving back; that we all rise together.

“Your philanthropy has allowed the Adirondack Foundation to accomplish so much this year,” said Brooks. “You stepped up when your Adirondack neighbors needed you. This event is a thank you for the incredible impact your generosity has had on our community. We share all of this with you. Our thanks to you, our partners, nonprofits, and community organizers who have made a huge difference this year.”

Brooks then used slides to illustrate how the foundation evolved from, in effect, a philanthropic bank that provides services to investors to becoming an intentional investor in specific causes in a quiet, unsung way. Now, it’s proud to be a civic leader and catalyst for addressing critical issues.

Examples of how the foundation helps the region respond quickly include addressing the devastation of Tropical Storm Sandy and currently the many tragic circumstances caused by COVID-19.

Other examples include the foundation’s leadership in helping children get a positive educational, emotional and physical start through its Birth to Three Alliance.

At the same time, the foundation is assisting area nonprofits strengthen all-aspects of their management, from raising money to strengthening their board leadership. For several years, the foundation been hosting an annual retreat for their board and staff leadership and online seminars through the Adirondack Nonprofit Network. The foundation also uses nonprofit leaders as a sounding board and scouts to identify future trends and opportunities. As a person who has been an active participant over the last six or more years, I have learned a great deal and met many who have become valued colleagues.

Brooks praised those who have supported such initiatives and the growing number of people who are providing unrestricted funds enabling the foundation to give out grants. A significant benefit to philanthropists, community leaders and people from all walks of life is that the foundation staff have a deep understanding of what’s happening throughout the region.

“Since 1997, we’ve been building charitable assets and strengthening Adirondack communities,” said Brooks. “Back in 1997, we had less than one million dollars in assets. Today we have 67 million. In that time, we’ve distributed over 42 million in grants and scholarships to the community. We aspire to lead our community into a brighter and better future.”

Kroes shared examples of how the foundation stepped up to meet the challenge of COVID-19, beginning with support to the Salvation Army in Plattsburgh. They used a foundation grant to deliver over 9,000 food packages to 2,000 households, 400 of whom hadn’t used the Salvation Army services before. Also, the Foundation helped the Salvation Army increase its rent assistance enabling people to stay in their homes.

COVID-19 has highlighted the growing challenge of food insecurity throughout the Adirondack Park. Already of concern, the foundation has been exploring methods of connecting the produce coming out of the organic farm community to people in need. As the epidemic caused New York state to close restaurants and schools as part of an effort to control the spread of the disease, the farmers lost a significant income source. To address this emerging twin problem, the foundation teamed up with ADKAction and Hub on the Hill of Essex.

Making these and other efforts possible was the record $9 million in gifts the foundation has received this year. People’s generosity enabled the foundation to thus far award $5.4 million in grants and scholarships. In all, 31% of the grants were given out to address basic needs, 21% for community and economic vitality, 24% to support education, 14% to support the hard-hit arts and culture community, and 10% toward the environment.

“Due to the generous support of the Adirondack Foundation, we’ve been able to deliver tens of thousands of meals to local families in need,” said Katie Wilson on behalf of Hub on the Hill. “We also have been able to put over one hundred thousand dollars into the pockets of local farmers.”

Similar words of thanks were shared by over a dozen people representing a diverse array of organizations from throughout the region.

Looking ahead, Brooks and Kroes said they expect the impact of COVID-19 to get far worse before because of the probably deep decline in state and federal funding. For example, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said that if no federal support is forthcoming, the state is looking at cuts around 20% across the board.

As a result, the foundation is already reviewing what steps they took worked best, and what they could have done better. They plan to continue working closely with the education and nonprofit sectors, agencies they feel are on the frontline of addressing the crisis. A big focus will be addressing the long-term systemic challenges that COLVID-19 has highlighted.

“It’s about building resilience,” said Kroes. People are invited to go to the foundation’s website to review this and other videos, find opportunities for engagement, and to connect with others. The foundation’s message is we are facing a monumental challenge that calls on all of us to set aside any differences we may have and work together. It takes a region.