The Utica National Group Foundation Fund at The Community Foundation was created in 2014 with a $1 million gift marking Utica Mutual Insurance Company’s centennial. Grants made through this donor-advised fund supplement ongoing grantmaking from its own foundation held at Utica National.
Bernard Turi, Utica National Insurance Group senior vice president, chairs the fund’s screening committee, a nine-member employee group whose members serve six-year terms and help decide which organizations receive grants.
Turi’s role as chair differs slightly from the role of a committee member. In addition to reviewing grants with the committee, he is responsible for meeting with community members, organizing the committee meetings, discussing funding opportunities and working with The Community Foundation staff to bridge the partnership.
“Utica National Insurance Group takes great pride in the philanthropic work being done for our local community,” said Turi. “The company feels that it’s an obligation as a good corporate citizen to contribute to the community in which we operate to help those who are less fortunate—a way to give back to a place that has given so much to us.”
The Utica National fund focuses its grantmaking efforts on issues relating to poverty, education and helping youth and their families. “Family is of utmost importance—we like to see the family unit kept together; therefore, any services we can support that promote education and embrace the family core, we like to get behind.”
One organization that has been a prominent aspect of Utica National’s journey has been the Johnson Park Center—specifically the Head, Hand & Heart Family Enrichment Program, the fund’s first grant recipient. In 2015, the fund assisted the organization in launching the program whose mission is to give children ages 3 to 5 the opportunity to learn using technology, the ability to interact with other kids and develop skills to become school ready.
“The Head, Hand & Heart Program is special because it’s successful and is impacting youth in a positive way,” said Turi. “The fundamental work being done by the program helps make up for the disadvantages that some kids face educationally.”
Another organization the fund continues to support is Hope House. “Hope House is another example of great change—seeing positive things happen on a grander scale than they have in the past.”
In his experience as chair of the committee, Turi has been faced with difficult decisions since the committee cannot approve all grant proposals that are submitted.
“In a perfect world, we would love to say yes to all of the asks that come in, since they are all well-intentioned causes. We choose the ones that focus on the most important issues in our community, such as poverty, health, education, shelter and safety.”
Utica National has valued its relationship with The Community Foundation over the last five years and looks forward to a continued partnership for years to come. Turi believes that The Community Foundation is well positioned to assist Utica National in putting the money in the right hands, for the right programs.
Looking ahead, the fund is focused on supporting larger programs and projects that address issues relating to youth and their elementary education journey.
“There are many great programs already, but I think it’s key to focus on nutrition, safety and education for the youth population, and the sooner the better,” said Turi. “We are aiming for earlier intervention on a greater scale.”
As an area resident and Utica National employee for more than 30 years, Turi is enthusiastic about the changes that have already happened in our community, along with the changes that are to come.
“I think our society would have far greater issues if these nonprofits weren’t around to address the major challenges—their work is invaluable.”