Probably no other undertaking at the Community Foundation in all its 70-year history will touch as many lives in our two counties as the $10 million, 10-year commitment to Community Equity approved by the Board of Trustees in 2020.
Given the events of the last year, and the continuing national conversation surrounding race, the starting emphasis of our “equity” initiative is clearly racial equity and social justice—but this commitment will grow and expand beyond race alone, since ours is a community of great diversity. As the Community Foundation vision says, we are working toward a “vibrant region with opportunity for all,” so our equity efforts must include all residents, especially the historically oppressed, underserved and most vulnerable.
On that note, to ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to the underserved in our community, the Community Foundation has partnered with a coalition of local nonprofit
organizations, led by The Center to embark on a Community Navigator Program. Through door-to-door efforts and outreach events, these “navigators” will reach our most diverse neighborhoods, providing them with information regarding the vaccine. This effort was supported financially by the Ronald & Sheila Cuccaro Family Fund and the Mohawk Valley COVID-19 Response Fund.
Some municipalities, some neighborhoods, are more diverse than others. But this initiative is not just for Utica, or Utica and Rome. Because advancing equity holds promise and opportunity for everyone in our two counties.
To begin with racial equity, we have already engaged with individuals and organizations eager to take part in this work. Several of them have volunteered their time to form an advisory group, so that diverse community voices are heard in the coming discussions concerning equity investments in the community.
The group is led by Jawwaad Rasheed, the recently retired Oneida County Family Court Magistrate and, as of June, Chair of the Community Foundation Board of Trustees. He has been actively involved in the nonprofit community for many years, volunteering with the Mohawk Valley Frontiers and Junior Frontiers.
Initially, the group will provide valuable perspective as the Community Foundation channels equity related investments to nonprofit organizations that can achieve short- and long-term results; programs and services that will improve the quality of life for those in need, lift barriers to success for the struggling, and advance opportunity for all who live and work here.
“Given the Community Foundation’s multiyear commitment, the advisory group’s longer-term work will likely see it change and evolve,” said Alicia Dicks, president/CEO. “It could, for example, determine equity work would best be advanced by either a new or some existing nonprofit organization—and then work to form that new group, or support an organization already in existence, one ready to take on the community’s continuing equity commitment.”
In addition to its volunteer members, the advisory group’s work for much of this year will be supported by Olivia Paul, hired by the Community Foundation to serve as an engagement specialist.
Building on our commitment to equity, the Community Foundation launched the Mohawk
Valley Equity Pledge to get community residents and organizations to demonstrate their
support for the advancement of racial equity and social justice. Together, we will encourage
diversity, challenge injustice and help build opportunity for all. Taking the MV Equity Pledge
is a great first step to becoming part of this important community effort. Join us today by
Lead-Free Mohawk Valley
Equity is our newest initiative, and it will overlap with and complement our longest standing—five years and counting— commitment to combat childhood lead poisoning. The Lead-Free Mohawk Valley coalition headquartered at Utica’s HomeOwnershipCenter continues to make more residential properties—especially in targeted neighborhoods—lead-safe. The Community Foundation’s work with the coalition was instrumental in the City of Utica securing federal funding to ramp up and enhance a truly multi-partner effort. Despite pandemic-caused delays, that funding and other leveraged investments are helping to
address the continuing public health challenge.
Downtown Utica Partnership
Like Lead-Free MV, our other initiatives share certain objectives with equity efforts. Although each was started for a separate purpose, all contribute to and benefit from the equity-focused “opportunity for all” vision. The Downtown Utica Partnership, for example, grew from our work with the City of Utica to secure state revitalization funding and
develop a strategic vision, and our early and substantial support for a new medical center campus. These components plus an equity focus inform our continuing effort to build a public-private collaboration that will support and enhance Downtown’s future.
Herkimer County Community Development
Also in the government partnership category, but with broader geographic goals, the Herkimer County Community Development initiative brought together many willing local government partners—county, town and village—to develop a focused, purposeful Herkimer County strategy for continued economic and quality of life enhancement. With Community Foundation support, in partnership with Herkimer County government and virtually every town and village in the county, this united effort is the first venture of its kind. The overarching goal is to enhance future success from the county’s full range of cultural, economic and recreational resources that current residents and visitors know and enjoy.
When our Board of Trustees approved the equity initiative, members recognized the importance of investing in “impact centers,” multi-partner, multi-service locations to serve neighborhoods of need throughout the two counties. The Community Foundation now calls this initiative, simply, Neighborhood Revitalization—because that term speaks to the longer-term goal of multiple impact centers. Lead-Free MV’s engagement and services in Utica’s first such impact center, the HomeOwnershipCenter’s “Empowerment Center” on James Street, shows once again how our initiative work brings individual parts together to create a mosaic of impact. Expanding and enhancing the Empowerment Center’s capabilities is a priority this year. In the Town of Webb school in Old Forge, the impact center model is meeting neighborhood needs identified by residents there—child care, after-school and other programs, showing that this concept can work in practically every part of our larger community.
From the smallest startup café to the largest newcomer—like Cree— Workforce Development‘s importance can hardly be overstated. That’s why the Community Foundation continues to partner with Mohawk Valley Economic Development Growth Enterprises (MV EDGE), supporting effective emerging and existing workforce recruitment and retention programs, tools and strategies. And, yes, this initiative is just one more example of how our work is increasingly integrated; career opportunities for newly minted area graduates, jobs for those seeking advancement and life improvement—all these and other opportunities come together under a commitment that, again, finds common ground with equity and our other initiatives.