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February 2018

Is this our eleventh hour?

MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS was an environmental advocate and writer whose novel,The Everglades: River of Grass, lifted the public image of the Everglades from being a swamp and a dumping ground to an ecosystem that is worthy of our protection.

We know Marjory Stoneman Douglas today in an entirely different context. Her name hangs on the high school in Florida where, on Feb. 14, 17 people were killed, 14 of them students. Sixteen people were injured. The shooter, a 19-year-old former student, used an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle.

In the last chapter of her book, titled “The Eleventh Hour,” Douglas creates an urgency for action on saving the Everglades, with vivid descriptions of the effects of man-made fires there.  When she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor, the highest honor given to a civilian, she was recognized for her “passionate commitment” to her cause.

The students at Stoneman Douglas high school are feeling that same passionate commitment to their cause now, rallying for changes in gun laws. Are we in the “eleventh hour” on the issue of gun violence? These students think so, and in the best tradition of civic activism, they are holding their elected representatives accountable on their basic duty to keep the people safe and protected. And they are targeting the pro-gun lobby, calling out repeated efforts to prevent expanded background checks, restrictions bump-stocks, age limits on rifle purchases, and bans on assault weapons. And, they are reminding their representatives that when they turn 18, they will vote.

It feels like an inflection point in the nation’s long history with guns. The website gunviolencearchive.org provides a chilling reminder of the toll gun violence takes with daily updates on gun incidents, deaths, and injuries. The website provides charts, maps, ages of those killed categorized by state, legislative district, and type of incident, including mass shootings. To date this year 399 teens have been killed or injured from gun violence, 34 of them in mass shootings.

 

Statistics tell a story, but they don’t capture the raw energy and outrage of the Parkland survivors. These future voters are taking their pain and holding their elected representatives answerable in their quest that Parkland will be the last mass shooting in America.

We can all learn from their passionate commitment. Support causes that move you, that speak to you, that make a difference. That’s how we change the world.

January 2018

Charitable Giving Will Matter More In the Year Ahead

THE YEAR HAS ENDED with as much turbulence as it began. It remains to be seen how severely government rollbacks on healthcare, social safety-net programs, and environmental protections will affect our communities. For some, not only will our pocketbooks be affected, but also our safety and well-being.

The new tax bill is estimated to have a negative effect on charitable giving for middle-income donors, leading to concerns that philanthropy will be a pursuit of the very wealthy. Leaders in philanthropy are cautioning against the side effect of wealth inequality – fewer and larger gifts will be made to large institutions – museums, hospitals, universities. There’s a concern that charitable giving from middle-class donors, who typically support smaller, local nonprofits, will continue to decrease at an accelerated rate, creating an increasing wealth gap amongst nonprofits too.

What does all this mean for Westchester? Our county is home to some of the highest income households in the nation. It’s also a place of great need where families are burdened by the high cost of living and segregated communities of haves and have-nots. We have a troubling persistence of poverty, with too many going to bed hungry or homeless.  Local nonprofits working to alleviate poverty and improve the quality of life here are continually competing for charitable dollar because poverty is often hidden in Westchester. We need the support of donors at all levels.

At the Westchester Community Foundation we support high-quality local nonprofits and are the primary philanthropic investor in capacity building of local nonprofits. We continually bring together leaders so that they can learn from one another to amplify their efforts.  We can do this because our funds are a permanent source of income for philanthropic investments in Westchester.

We encourage donors of all income levels to continue to contribute to these efforts. Please also consider making a legacy gift to a permanent fund at the Westchester Community Foundation so that we can continue to support our community forever.

November 2017

Make giving a family affair this holiday

THIS IS SUCH A UNIQUE and special time of year, when different generations and far-flung families get to spend time with one another. As you gather with family this holiday season, we hope you take time to

reflect on the things that matter the most—your family values, your purpose in your communities, and giving. Here are two fun activities about giving that the entire family can participate in:

Family Blessings: Each family member writes a note to every other member of the family highlighting what they are grateful for about that person. Notes can be as simple as “I’m grateful that you let me play with your Legos,” or as complex as “Thank you for being patient with me during this difficult time,” and can reflect gratitude for a deed, routine, or general attitude toward someone. When the family gathers, each person reads the notes that were written to them. After all family members are done, discuss the many blessings in your family and talk about the authentic ways that your family can celebrate those blessings by giving to your community.

Receive One, Give One: This simple practice is that for each gift received over the holidays, the recipient gives a gift to someone else. The gift can be to anyone—a friend, family member, organization, temple, church, stranger, or even pet. It can also be anything, as simple as a compliment, your time, compassion, love, a note, or a physical gift. The goal is to deliberately think about giving, embrace the joy of giving, as well as to encourage family members to be thoughtful about how they can make a difference in their community or bring a smile to someone’s face.

We hope that by celebrating giving within your family and your community, you reflect upon how we are all linked together. The Westchester Community Foundation is proud to connect those interested in giving to their community to the causes they care about. We’d love to hear your family giving stories this holiday season!

-Jennifer Hu Corriggio

October 2017

Shining a light through dialogue

IT'S HARD TO WATCH THE NEWS these days, and getting harder. Hot spots flare up seemingly every other week, people are threatened and running for cover, and there are no easy answers in sight. And we’re not even talking about the rest of the world – it’s all happening here, at home.

 

The restlessness comes from a sense perhaps that, at least in the eyes of a few, all men and women are not created equal, and that all the good work that has gone before has gone up in smoke. There’s a feeling of helplessness, and, sadly, hopelessness.

 

But there are ways to combat that hopelessness, and to bring light to the creeping darkness. At the Foundation, we are supporting events that open up dialogues, create relationships and bring people with good ideas together with those who care, and who can make a difference.

 

At The Picture House in Pelham recently, Laura Rossi moderated a stellar panel of experts after a screening of the documentary “13th,” hosted by the Youth Shelter of Westchester. The Youth Shelter offers an alternative to jail for young men who have been caught up in the criminal justice system in the county. (And if you haven’t seen the film, you should. It’s a powerful tracing of blacks in America from slavery to the mass incarceration of today.)

 

The panel—Glenn E. Martin of JustLeadershipUSA, the Hon. Kathie Davidson, Chief Administrative Judge of the 9th Circuit (and a former Family Court Judge), New Rochelle City Councilman Jared Rice, who also leads the My Brother’s Keeper effort in that city, and Mayo Bartlett, a civil rights and criminal defense attorney in the county—explored how the recent Raise the Age legislation will change the way we deal with our young people. Instead of charging 16- and 17-year-olds as adults with long prison sentences, we can give youth opportunities and support to redirect their lives and make the changes they need to make. The Youth Shelter program has been doing this—and doing it well—for 40 years. It provides a model for the future.

 

The Foundation is also sponsoring “Community Conversations: Criminal Justice Yesterday and Today.” In six Conversations throughout October, panels of experts, led by Brent Glass, director emeritus of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, explored trends in prison reform, rehabilitation, and the challenges of re-entry, as well as how the iconic Sing Sing prison has impacted the way we perceive crime and punishment now. 

 

Creating a safe space for dialogue is the best way to combat helplessness and hopelessness. The solutions are within our grasp. We can start by treating one another with respect, and having open ears and open hearts.

-Robin Melén

 

Community Conversations opened minds

The Foundation sponsored “Community Conversations: Criminal Justice Yesterday and Today” in partnership with the Westchester Library System throughout the month of October.

In six Conversations, panels of experts explored trends in prison reform, rehabilitation, and the challenges of re-entry, as well as how the iconic Sing Sing prison has impacted the way we perceive crime and punishment now.

In the end, while the numbers of incarcerated men and women are bleak, there are pockets of hope and reform, even right here in Westchester County. Education is a strong indicator of success on re-entry, as the Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison program shows, and the arts are a remarkable tool for transformation behind bars, as Rehabilitation Through the Arts proves.

And in order to get out and stay out, incarcerated people need assistance on the inside, from the EMERGE program at the county jail to the county's Re-Entry Task Force. Agencies outside, such as Hour Children, Osborne Association, and the Urban Resource Institute, work hard to ensure that families and victims get the help they need.

So many issues were raised during these discussions that we could not have covered them all, but the message was clear: There is much work to be done, on all sides, to reform our criminal justice system.

We would like to thank all of those who spoke at our events to bring all these issues to the table, and to thank all of those who attended. We hope you learned something, and maybe even acted on something you heard.

Click here for highlights at the Library System's Conversations webpage.

August 2017

The Decisive Moment

CAPTURING “the decisive moment” is a term of photojournalism that refers to a photograph that aligns subject and composition in a way that provides insight into the nature of life. The great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson introduced the concept in 1952. He used a compact Leica camera, allowing him a certain depth of focus that allowed him to move freely, always in search of the decisive moment.

 

Leica was a company founded by Ernst Leitz, a German, in 1869. It employed a skilled workforce and provided pensions, sick leave, and health insurance. Many of the workers were Jewish, and in 1933, when Hitler was elected, the Leitz family began to “assign” Jewish workers overseas, including in New York. The “Leica Freedom Train” brought groups of Jewish refugees to New York every few weeks in 1938 and early 1939 until Germany closed its borders. Families received stipends and assistance with finding work. They found work in the photographic press, became Americans, and part of the fabric of New York. I have no doubt that the beneficiaries of the Leica Freedom Train appreciated the gift of life and paid it forward by contributing to the fabric of our society and our evolving democracy.

 

The Leitz family’s humanitarian efforts were not fully revealed until after World War II. There are no “decisive moment” photographs depicting those who benefited. Yet the story reveals some truth about life—about the impact of going beyond merely caring for others to taking action and saving lives.  We can recognize moral authority and the instinct to do good in the actions of the Leitz family.

 

I’m proud that many in Westchester are acting decisively to make Westchester the community we envision: a place where the dignity of every human life is acknowledged. The efforts of the Westchester Refugee Initiative Network, a grassroots welcoming network, is proof that many are creating a just and compassionate community. And the rallies around the county underscore that hate has no home here.

 

Whether you act publicly or anonymously, your efforts are important now more than ever.

June 2017

Pride in serving the whole community

JUNE IS PRIDE MONTH, and we were proud to partner on June 1st with The Loft LGBT Center and the Jacob
Burns Film Center to present “Real Boy,” a documentary film about the transgender experience. Our post-film
discussion explored gender identity, societal acceptance, and access to health care for the transgender community.  Transgender people experience delays in seeking and receiving health care, lack of health insurance or insufficient
coverage, and lack of culturally competent care. Recent studies have demonstrated that more than half of the transgender community report family rejection and/or public harassment.  Discrimination, stigma, and lack of understanding and awareness about the transgender experience result in depression and a heightened risk of self-harm through substance abuse and suicide.

 

What can be done?  Communities can educate themselves about transgender issues and dedicate themselves to creating affirming and inclusive environments for all. The Loft LGBT Center and WJCS’s Center Lane program for young people are reliable local resources for transgender people, their families, and their allies.

The Westchester Community Foundation is dedicated to the wellbeing of our entire community. We were honored to host the “Real Boy” program and to foster an important conversation about this issue. “Real Boy” will premiere on Independent Lens (Channel 13) on June 19, 2017. 

May 2017

Donor generosity on the rise - and they want to see results

AMERICANS HAVE ALWAYS been generous, and the forecast for giving continues to be bright. The vast majority (91 percent) of American high-net-worth households are donating to nonprofit organizations, according to the 2016 U.S. Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, conducted in partnership with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. It’s worth noting that nearly 60 percent of the general population donated to charity as well. Though the report focuses on high-net-worth individuals, the insights about why people give are useful at all levels of philanthropy.

 

Donors give because they believe they can create positive impact in the world.

They give where they have volunteered, because they believe in the mission of the organization, and because they experience personal fulfillment in giving. Not surprisingly, donors report more confidence in nonprofits than in government to solve societal or global problems.

 

Donors want to be involved in the causes they support.

Donors support a range of program categories: basic needs, religious, education, health and the environment. And in welcome news, more of them are giving unrestricted support, which helps the nonprofits be more flexible and responsive to needs.

 

Donors seek guidance to ensure their gifts reflect their values.

While the report notes that donors are inspired by their personal values, it also revealed their interest in hands-on guidance in taking a strategic approach to giving, particularly when it is a family affair. Philanthropic coaching helps donors and their families to articulate shared values and develop traditions for giving.

 

That's why we're here.

At the Westchester Community Foundation, we help donors and their families ensure that charitable dollars go where their passions lie. We make sure the organizations are doing good work. And we help local organizations maximize their impact. Best of all – you don’t have to be a billionaire to receive our services.

 

Ready to begin your philanthropic journey? Contact us today to learn more about our services.

[SEE THE U.S. TRUST STUDY INFOGRAPHIC]

 
February 2017

The Power of Us

One of the most heartening outcomes of the national women’s marches and protests around the country is a renewed focus on action and activism, of citizens saying yes or no to what matters to us as individuals and as a community. It’s been just a little while, and there’s more to come.

We see it here in Westchester too, and while it’s necessary to be engaged on national matters, we think it’s just as important to stay focused on local issues.

True change happens from the grassroots up, from our town boards and city councils to our county administration and on to our state Senate and Assembly. That’s where the work is, and that’s where our voices need to be heard.

What’s important to you? A world class transportation system? Use of the county center? Sufficient housing options to attract our workforce needs? Our county government plays a critical role in overseeing many essential services, in the allocation of resources, and in the thoughtful stewardship of county property – that is, our property.

Citizen involvement is critical to the success of county government. The County Board of Legislators posts Board and Committee meeting calendars and agendas on its website, and meetings are open to the public. Some are even on local TV.  www.westchesterlegislators.com.

Long after the protests are done and the signs are stored away, a strong democracy rests on citizen engagement.

January 2017

Think locally, act locally, get involved

On the eve of a new administration, it’s important to remember what will not change: your actions today will impact our community’s future, so it’s important to be informed and stay involved in local matters. Your local municipality still needs an engaged citizenry; your local nonprofit still needs volunteers and funding support; your local school still needs your help so it can educate children to become thoughtful, informed, engaged participants in society. Today, more than ever, the environment needs cherishing and protecting, and the most vulnerable among us need our care and compassion. Not one of these things can be outsourced.

We work with donors who know that what they give today matters. They are deeply committed to the future of our community. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.” (Of course, if he were alive today he would reference both men and women.)

For those who are involved in our community, we thank you. Please stay committed. For those who are looking to become involved, and to give of your resources, please give us a call. We’re here for you.