Foundation Honors Community Members and Nonprofits

The Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties hosted its annual Celebration of Philanthropy on Thursday, May 12, at Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica. More than 200 community members attended to honor the organization’s partners in philanthropy and celebrate award winners.

“Our community is incredibly generous and dedicated to helping others succeed. The Celebration of Philanthropy is a time to recognize unsung heroes – each and every person who invests in our community and believes in the future of our region,” said Alicia Dicks, president/CEO of The Foundation.

In recognition of their outstanding community contributions, David T. and Janet Griffith were presented the Rosamond Childs Award for Community Philanthropy. The award is given to individuals who exhibit the spirt of giving and a profound commitment to the community as exemplified by Rosamond G. Childs, The Foundation’s first major donor. Recipients are known for their selflessness, leadership, compassion and generosity.

“My parents have always been generous with their time,” recalls Megan Griffith, one of the couple’s three children. “For as long as I can remember, our family has gone to the First Presbyterian Church on Thanksgiving Day to deliver meals with the Utica Rotary Club to those who are unable to prepare one or travel. The look on some folks’ faces when we deliver a hot turkey dinner is something that I will never forget and something that I look forward to each year. On those car rides, my parents would always remind us that we should never take anything for granted and to always appreciate what we have.”

Throughout the years, the Griffiths have been involved with many organizations, among them the Rotary Club, Sagamore Institute of the Adirondacks, Faxton St. Luke’s Healthcare, Abraham House, Junior League of Greater Utica and Hope House. As lifelong patrons of the Adirondacks and art, the Griffiths are also enthusiastic supporters of the View, a multi-arts center in Old Forge.

Through his board work, David was instrumental in the merger of BlueCross BlueShield of Utica-Watertown with Excellus, which included the BlueCross BlueShield Plans in Central New York and Rochester. He also currently serves as a Trustee of Boston College, his alma mater, and is president and CEO of M. Griffith Investment Services in New Hartford.

Both David and Janet credit their parents with encouraging them to give to others, whether through church or organizations with missions they believe in.

“We have a civic and moral obligation to give back to a community that’s given so much to us,” said David. The Griffiths have established a trust that will benefit the community now and for years to come. “There’s a wonderful sense that Utica is a great place to live and we want to see that continue,” added Janet.

“The Griffiths’ generosity and kindness reach every corner of our community. The Foundation is fortunate to count David and Janet among its most dedicated supporters, and their partnership contributes greatly to the fulfillment of our mission,” said Ronald Cuccaro, chair of The Foundation Board of Trustees.

The Foundation also honored two local organizations with the Community Impact Award, which recognizes excellence in nonprofit programming and services.

Herkimer Area Resource Center

With a mission of empowering individuals to lead enriched and independent lives, the Herkimer Area Resource Center provides services to more 680 individuals with disabilities and their families every year. The critical work this agency provides has primarily been funded through reimbursements from federal programs, but these programs have undergone significant change in recent years.

Aware of the need to diversify its revenue streams as traditional funding decreases, HARC accepted the donation of a 120,000 square foot building on East German Street in Herkimer in 2009. The agency transformed the former industrial facility, creating in-demand commercial space to lease. Today, the HARC Business Park is home to 17 tenants that employ nearly 50 individuals, which generates significant income through lease agreements. HARC is also transforming the industrial side of the facility to accommodate the future relocation of the agency’s industrial work center that will employ over 100 individuals, most of whom have disabilities. Additionally, the agency has reserved 10,000 square feet in partnership with Herkimer College as a START-UP NY site.

In 2014, Burrstone Road Associates, LLC, donated the Ilion Mall to HARC, which plans to operate the facility under a similar business model. HARC has already filled vacant offices with business tenants and operates its own business enterprises at the location.

“The Community Impact Award pays tribute to the Herkimer Area Resource Center’s foresight to proactively respond to changes in their industry and embrace partnerships that have led to the development of creative and meaningful sources of revenue,” said Jan Squadrito, senior community investment manager at The Foundation.

SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s FIRST LEGO League

In 2008, The Foundation awarded a $10,000 grant to start a FIRST LEGO League project at SUNY Institute of Technology (now SUNY Polytechnic Institute) in Utica. FIRST LEGO League is an international program that engages children in fun, meaningful and experiential learning. Using LEGO robotics kits, teams of children ranging in age from 9 to 14, design, build and program robots to maneuver a field of timed missions.

“Students are having so much fun that they don’t even realize the valuable skills they’re developing in terms of critical thinking and team building. They also are being exposed to STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – and are hopefully inspired to pursue a career in one of these fields,” said Squadrito.

SUNY Poly’s program has grown significantly and now includes 60 teams with an average of seven to eight students per team. SUNY Poly offers the full portfolio of FIRST robotics programs, including the Junior FIRST LEGO League for children ages 6 to 9, FIRST Tech Challenge for students in grades seven to 12 and FIRST Robotics Competition for students in grades nine to 12.

Many local teams have advanced to state, regional and international competitions since the program launched in 2008.

The Celebration of Philanthropy is made possible through the generous support of The Foundation’s Corporate Partners: Adjusters International; Bank of America; Bank of Utica; Birnie Bus Service, Inc.; Carbone Auto Group; Casa Imports; Charles A. Gaetano Construction Corp.; Clifford Fuel Co., Inc.; Coughlin Giambrone, LLC; Excellus BlueCross BlueShield; Fastrac Markets; First Source Federal Credit Union; M. Griffith Investment Services, Inc.; Mohawk Valley EDGE; NBT Bank; Pacemaker Steel & Piping Company, Inc.; “Save of the Day” Foundation; Strategic Financial Services, LLC; The Fountainhead Group, Inc.; The Observer-Dispatch; Upstate Venture Connect; WIBX 950; and WKTV NewsChannel 2.