This vision for a “prize patrol” style event began many years ago, at the suggestion of Community Foundation Donor Relations Manager Lindsey Costello.

“I was inspired by other community foundations’ award ceremonies for grant recipients and

thought it would be exciting to incorporate an element of surprise when celebrating our nonprofit partners,” said Costello. “As The Community Foundation has embraced new ways of creating community impact, it seemed like the perfect time to introduce this unique grantmaking contest.”

As envisioned, the community-driven grantmaking contest promised to accomplish many things: to generate greater awareness of the critical work performed by local nonprofits, to educate community members on the grantmaking process and its positive impact on the greater community, and to engage Community Foundation fundholders in new and meaningful ways.

Five contest categories were selected based on The Community Foundation’s investment areas and matched with the charitable interests of five donor-advised fundholders that agreed to sponsor the contest by providing $10,000 awards for the winners of each category. With their support, the inaugural Community Choice Awards received the green light to move forward.

More than 70 nonprofit organizations throughout Herkimer and Oneida counties submitted grant proposals for projects in the categories of Animals, Arts and Culture, Health and Wellness, Human Services, and Youth. Community Foundation staff in consultation with category sponsors selected three finalists in each category and asked the public to help determine the winners.

As a collaborative process, grantmaking decisions are strengthened when those who know the most about an organization or program can share their input—and who knows better about the great work our nonprofit partners do than community members who engage with them each and every day?

“Community members’ first-hand experience and knowledge of these nonprofits provides valuable insight when helping to select the most deserving grant recipients,” said Costello.

The Community Foundation worked closely with finalists to help each nonprofit promote participation, generate interest for their proposed projects and encourage supporters to vote.

Public voting took place online in September 2018 with community members casting nearly 14,000 votes.

“The response that we received from the community in support of these outstanding organizations was overwhelming,” said Alicia Dicks, president/CEO of The Community Foundation. “Our nonprofit partners do work that benefits every member of our community, and the Community Choice Awards provided people the opportunity to show their support for organizations that have made a difference in their lives. Nonprofits strengthen our community through their commitment to improving the lives of those they serve. Community Choice Awards is uniquely positioned to celebrate this important work, engage community members and recognize the generosity of donors that support these local programs and organizations.”

In October, donor-advised fund sponsors took part in celebrating the outcome of their investment, joining Community Foundation staff and Trustees to surprise Community Choice Awards winners “prize patrol” style, delivering five $10,000 ceremonial checks to mark the occasion.

Community Choice Awards category winners represent a diverse group of programs and organizations that work to address a broad spectrum of community needs throughout Herkimer and Oneida counties.

“It was exciting to be a part of the Community Choice Awards,” said Ed Morgan, kitchen director at Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen, Human Services category winner. “We’re incredibly grateful to the community members who voted and the donors who sponsored the contest. This award will allow us to better serve the individuals and families we provide meals to.”

Community Choice Awards winners have some exciting plans for the funding, and the resultant projects and programs will enhance each organization’s community work. Many of the semi-finalists also received funding for their proposed projects from donors who learned of their work through the contest and were inspired to give.

“Many times, the smallest grants have the greatest impact because they mean so much to the organization and the community receiving that grant,” said Larry Bull, Bull Family Fund advisor and sponsor of the Arts and Culture category.

Planning is already underway for the 2019 Community Choice Awards. Stay tuned for more information, as we reveal new award categories, additional prizes and more opportunities to engage!


Spring Farm CARES is an animal and nature sanctuary that focuses on the care of unwanted and abused animals, the spiritual connection between humans and animals, and the spaying and neutering of dogs and cats. Funding will support an ongoing program that helps low-income Oneida County residents have their pets spayed and neutered.

The Animals category was sponsored by the Staffworks Fund, established by Anita A. Vitullo in 2006 to support programs and services related to domestic animal welfare. More than $2.1 million in grants has been awarded to community organizations through the fund since 2009.

ARTS & CULTURE CATEGORY - Rome Capitol Arts Complex

The Rome Capitol Arts Complex provides cultural and educational opportunities for the community through Rome’s historic theater and ancillary spaces including Cinema Capitol. Funding will be used to enhance those spaces and develop classrooms to support two arts education programs, serving more than 1,750 individuals annually. The project is also an integral part of the City of Rome’s downtown revitalization and an essential component of Rome’s West Dominick Street Arts District.

The Arts & Culture category was sponsored by the Bull Family Fund, one of The Community Foundation’s most active donor-advised funds, having awarded nearly $300,000 in grants to nonprofit organizations and programs in Herkimer and Oneida counties. Since 2001, the fund has made 50 grants to benefit a diverse group of programs and organizations that work to address a broad spectrum of community needs in education, healthcare, arts and human services.

HEALTH & WELLNESS CATEGORY - Mid-York Library System

The Mid-York Library System improves and expands library services in Herkimer and Oneida counties. Funding will launch a health and fitness project, providing fitness equipment and other materials for 35 libraries across the two counties to help community members meet health and wellness milestones.

The Health & Wellness category was sponsored by the Mele Family Fund. Since 2009, the Mele Family Fund has awarded nearly $2.6 million in grants to nonprofit organizations that enrich the community in strategic and significant ways. The Mele family is passionate about supporting projects and programs that focus on creating long-term impact in areas of education and health.

HUMAN SERVICES CATEGORY - Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen

Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen is open seven days a week, serving nearly 5,000 meals each month. Funding will be used to open a service window between the kitchen and dining  room to improve access to meals and create the space needed to maintain sanitary conditions. The project will alleviate overcrowding and create a welcoming, safe and healthy environment for visitors.

The Human Services category was sponsored by the Ronald & Sheila Cuccaro Family Fund. Ronald and Sheila Cuccaro established their fund in 2006 and in the years since have granted $135,000 to 30 local nonprofit organizations and programs. Through the fund, the Cuccaro’s focus their grantmaking in support of human service organizations and programs that help individuals struggling to meet basic needs.


The Utica Zoo creates unique experiences and promotes public appreciation of wildlife through community education, conservation and recreation. Funding will support the installation of a glass viewing window for a new outside gibbon exhibit, as well as a primate play program for children, where youth will engage in fun physical activities to instill an appreciation of the movement of primates.

The Youth category was sponsored by the M&T Bank/Partners Trust Bank Charitable Fund. The fund was established in 2007 and has awarded more than 170 grants totaling over $2.5 million to support a variety of programs and organizations throughout Herkimer and Oneida counties. Over the years, many of these grants have focused on projects and programs that empower youth through education.

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