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Civic Dialogue that Matters to Westchester

Residents of Westchester have limited opportunity to engage in civic dialogue. To address this issue, WCF joins with Jacob Burns Film Center to present Community Matters, a group of documentary films. The films, which feature topics that complement the Foundation's funding initiative in the environment, health, education, housing, youth development, and the arts, are selected to generate discussion and activism in our community.  Each film is followed by a panel discussion and reception where guests are invited to continue the informal discussion.

The next Community Matters film, Every Three Seconds, will be shown Thursday, November 20, 7:30 pm at JBFC. This film is directed at the question: In a society where materialism reigns, what is the real secret to happiness? Filmmaker Daniel Karslake tells the unforgettable stories of five regular folks—a boy, a college student, a thirty-something, and two seniors—whose lives went from ordinary to extraordinary based on one simple decision: to engage. Each chose action over apathy, and in the process, each one has had a significant and lasting impact on two of the most challenging, yet solvable, issues of our time: hunger and extreme poverty.


Following the film, a panel of local experts will discuss meaningful work and volunteerism.  The panel will include Alisa Kesten, Executive Director, Volunteer New York!, as well as Lenny and Lin Crispinelli. The Crispinelli family builds schools in Jamaica to honor their daughter Stephanie's legacy.  Stephanie was lost in the 1020 Haiti earthquake while on a relief mission with Lynn University.  Conversation will continue at a reception following the panel discussion. 

Past films in our Community Matters film series

On Thursday, September 4, 2014 we presented Ivory Tower, a film that questions the purpose of higher education in an era when the price of college has increased more than for any other service in the United States.


 Ivory Tower raised a number of fascinating questions and offered numerous facts on the current, deeply flawed state of the American system of higher education. Is college overrated? For so much of American history, college has been sold as the key to the future. More and more, it’s a key that’s coming with baggage, including thousands of dollars in student loans. Competition for prestige among high-profile universities has led to rampant expansion. More programs means more facilities, means more students, means more attention, and so on. And all of it means more tuition. The cost of an education has increased more quickly in the past few decades than any other good or service. And as federal money has been taken away from our country’s education, the loan movement has begun to resemble the subprime housing crisis, giving people debt that their children will have to repay. Worst of all, no one is sufficiently asking what our increasingly in-debt kids are getting for their high-APR loans. Someone should. Ivory Tower serves as a way to start the conversation about why education is seen as a financial privilege instead of a right for all who need it or are willing to work for it.

Post film panelists included Thomas J. Schwarz, J.D., president of SUNY Purchase College, and Jon Calvert Strauss, Ph.D, acting president, Manhattanville College.  C

On Thursday, June 26, we presented Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory.


 Alive Inside was a joyous exploration into our relationship with music and how it can reawaken our souls to discover the deepest parts of humanity. This documentary followed social worker Dan Cohen as he fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music’s ability to combat memory loss and return a deep sense of self to those suffering from it. The film featured illuminating conversations with experts such as renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks and musician Bobby McFerrin, and astonishing experiences with patients around the country, who have been revitalized by their love of music. Director Michael Rossato-Bennett has truly crafted an inspiring, feel-good cinematic experience that sweeps audiences up in its uplifting and moving story. Winner of the Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, Alive Inside left us humming, clapping, and cheering as music it lifted the audience's and its characters' very souls.

On Thursday, May 15, 2014 the film  GMO OMG was shown.


GMO OMG director and concerned father Jeremy Seifert is in search of answers. How do GMOs affect our children, the health of our planet, and our freedom of choice? And perhaps the ultimate question, which Seifert tests himself: is it even possible to reject the food system currently in place, or have we lost something we can’t gain back? These and other questions take Seifert on a journey from his family’s table to Haiti, Paris, Norway, and the lobby of agra-giant Monsanto, from which he is unceremoniously ejected. Along the way we gain insight into a question that is of growing concern to citizens the world over: what's on your plate? 

"A Whole Lott More" was shown on Thursday, March 13,2014.


In a tough economy, everyone worries about their job, their home and their children’s futures. With so much on our minds, is there even space to think about the 80% of Americans with developmental disabilities who remain unemployed? Those who work often find jobs in ‘workplaces’ – coalitions of businesses and social service agencies that traditionally provide manufacturing jobs. Lott Industries is one such workplace. For decades Lott Industries competed successfully for auto industry contracts,employing 1,200 workers with disabilities. With the collapse of the local auto industry in neighboring Detroit, Lott has struggled to keep its doors open.

The post-film panel included Lisa Tarricone, Director of Systems Advocacy for Westchester Independent Living Center (WILC) and co-chair of the Westchester Disability Advocacy Partnership. Ms. Tarricone works to promote, through systemic change, the full integration of individuals with disabilities in every aspect of community life. Her work includes coordinating legislative communications and forums, promoting media coverage of WILC’s advocacy activities, writing op-ed articles and testimonials regarding political and social issues that impact persons with disabilities, establishing partnerships with affiliate community organizations and grassroots networks. Joining her on the panel was Richard P. Swierat, who has been Executive Director, ARC Westchester, for the past 30 years. He frequently speaks on such topics as guardianship, quality metrics, corporate compliance, person-centered planning in residential and vocational services,board training, family advocacy, public marketing and the development and management of direct service worker career systems. In 2008, he received the Executive Excellence Award from NCE for his contributions to supporting the efforts of self advocacy among people with developmental disabilities.

On November 19, 2013, Community Matters' presented Robert Reich’s controversial film Inequality for All.  In the wake of the 2007-08 financial crisis and the rise of the Occupy movement, the issue of income inequality gained unprecedented public awareness. Over the last 30 years, the U.S. economy itself doubled. But these gains went to a very few: the top 1% of earners now take in more than 20% of all income – three times what they did in 1970. Distortions are even more extreme at the very top. The 400 richest Americans now own more wealth than the bottom 150 million combined. While this level of inequality poses a serious risk to all Americans, regardless of income level, much of the rhetoric on this subject has been fueled by anger and resentment from a frustrated middle class who feel their birthright – the American Dream – has been taken away from them. Robert Reich, author, official in three administrations, narrated the film.

On September 12, 2013, Community Matters presented David Shenk's films from the project Living with Alzheimer's. Mr. Shenk appeared on the post-film panel, along with Bessie Ford, the caregiver featured in the film My Little Friend, one of the four films shown; and Rina Bellamy, LMSW, from My Second Home, a project of Family Services of Westchester.     


Inocente was the eighth film in WCF's film series. Winner of a 2013 Oscar, Inocente was a personal and vibrant film that told the story of a resilient 15-year-old undocumented homeless immigrant. Her father was deported for domestic abuse, leaving Inocente, her mother, and brothers to move from one homeless shelter to the next. She refused to surrender to the bleakness of her surroundings and steadfastly pursued her dream of becoming an artist. Inocente loved to paint, and her art portrayed the reality of her life. She was helped by a nonprofit youth agency, where she began to overcome numerous obstacles and find the courage to pursue her dream of becoming an artist. 

  The film, told entirely in Inocente’s own words, was a powerful portrait of the new face of homelessness in America. In Westchester, there were 2,223 homeless children enrolled in Westchester schools during 2011-12. It is likely that there are many more homeless children under the age of five. Like Inocente, these children dream of a permanent home and a brighter future. We hope that this film helped shed light on current issues of immigration and homelessness in Westchester by putting a human face to those issues.  


In March 2013 WCF presented  A Place at the Table, a film about hunger in the U.S. The Food Bank for Westchester estimates that 200,000 county residents – most of them seniors and children – are hungry or at risk of hunger.  

According to the USDA’s 2011 report, Household Food Security in the United States, 12.4% of New York residents lack consistent access to a nutritious, well-balanced diet. This film examined the rise in hunger through the lens of three families, and showed how hunger poses serious economic, social, and cultural implications. The film makes the case that hunger and poverty could be solved once and for all if the public decides that making healthy food available and affordable is in all of our best interests.

The post-film panel discussion included WhyHunger board member Jennifer Chapin and author Prof. Janet Poppendieck (who appears in the film) an expert on poverty, hunger, and food assistance in the United States. WhyHunger works to end hunger and poverty by connecting people to nutritious, affordable food and by supporting grassroots solutions that inspire self-reliance and community empowerment.

In November 2012, Community Matters presented The Atomic States of America, a film which explored the history of nuclear energy in this country and our collective denial of a potentially looming disaster at aging sites. The film included firsthand narratives from individuals connected to the nuclear industry, as well as Westchester environmentalist Paul Gallay, president at Riverkeeper. After the film, Mr. Gallay provided an update on issues related to the re-licensing of Indian Point Energy Center. 

    After each film, a panel of local experts highlights and discusses the film's main ideas and applies these ideas locally. After the panel presentation, discussion of the film continues at a reception (left) upstairs at the film center.

In September 2012, Community Matters presented a screening of Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare. The film explored the costs of the American healthcare system and profiled leaders working to improve healthcare delivery in the country, particularly for returning veterans. Panelists included Dr. Robert Amler, Dean, School of Health Sciences and Practices, New York Medical College; Lindsay Farrell, CEO, Open Door Family Medical Clinics; and Joshua Gaccione, Director of Veterans Outreach, Family Services of Westchester.

Another film in WCF's Community Matters series, Forks Over Knives centered on the work of famed nutritionists Dr. T. Colin Campbell of Cornell University and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic. It made a compelling (if not controversial) case for the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Local efforts to address chronic illness through better access to fresh food were discussed by panelists Douglass DeCandia, Food Growing Program Coordinator with The Food Bank for Westchester; Cheryl Archbald, M.D., MPH, Deputy Commissioner, Division of Community Health at the Westchester County Department of Health; and Laura Rossi, Program Officer at the Westchester Community Foundation. 

The panel discussion is a key part of Community Matters.  Here, former inmate Mona Graves (center) describes watching her sons grow from toddlers into teenagers during her incarceration. She considers the Children's Center at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility a "sacred place that helped her find purpose in punishment."           


Mothers of Bedford followed the lives of five women incarcerated at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility who were mothering behind bars. The film examined the effect of a long-term prison sentence on the mother-child relationship, and showed how the Children's Center, a pioneering program at the prison, has improved the lives of incarcerated mothers and their children. Mothers of Bedford was presented in November 2011.

Shown in September 2011, Wretches & Jabberers explored the desires of autistic people to be accepted and contributing members of society  The screening was followed by a panel of three local experts on autism: Cindy Alterson, PhD, Director of Programs at Devereau Millwood Learning Center; David, O'Hara, COO at Westchester Institute for Human Development; and Lisa Sandagata, Director of Outreach Services for the Music Conservatory of Westchester's Music Therapy Institute.  Each of these organizations have received grants from Westchester Community Foundation.

Community Matters launched in May 2011 with The Last Mountain, a film that explored the struggle between the need to meet America's energy needs and environmental concerns. The film profiled the impact of mountaintop coal removal on a small mining community in West Virginia. The post-film panelists were producer Bill Haney and Robert Kennedy, Jr.

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