Community Works pinpoints local non-profits

Brian Riddell is the Director of Dutchess Outreach, which feeds over 1,000 people in Poughkeepsie every month. Dutchess Outreach is one of numerous non-profit organizations Vassar Community Works aids with continuous grants each year. Photo By: Vassar College
Brian Riddell is the Director of Dutchess Outreach, which feeds over 1,000 people in Poughkeepsie every month. Dutchess Outreach is one of numerous non-profit organizations Vassar Community Works aids with continuous grants each year. Photo By: Vassar College
Brian Riddell is the Director of Dutchess Outreach, which feeds over 1,000 people in Poughkeepsie every month. Dutchess
Outreach is one of numerous non-profit organizations Vassar Community Works aids with continuous grants each year. Photo By: Vassar College

On Sunday, October 6, the 2014 Vassar Community Works Campaign recipients were announced. The campaign works to provide financial assistance to non-profit groups in the Poughkeepsie area.

Many former beneficiaries will continue to receive Community Works grants: Hudson River Housing; REAL Skills; Domestic Violence Services Program at Family Services; Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN); Dutchess Outreach; Poughkeepsie Farm Project; Dutchess County SPCA; Celebrating Community—John Flowers; and Children’s Media Project.

A new non-profit to receive aid in 2014 will be Community Family Development. According to Community Works Chair and Associate Professor of Computer Science Tom Ellman, “The organization is primarily a day care service for low-income people who are not low enough income to qualify for state support, but still low enough so that it’s hard for them to afford day care.”

Ellman continued,“The Community Family Development has a tremendous amount of demand, but not enough money to let serve everybody.”

Ellman, a member of Community Works for the past two years and its new chair, explained how the program functions. “The president’s office sent out a letter to the whole community, students, staff, faculty, administration—basically asking for nominations for organizations in the Hudson Valley who do various kinds of philanthropic work, so people were invited to send us recommendations,” he said.

He continued, “In the letter that I sent out, I tried to emphasize the fact that, although the main focus of Community Works is to raise money that we can give to directly help people in the community on things like hunger relief and homelessness, domestic violence, environmental protection, preventing animal abuse, the arts, things like that, also LGBTQ rights as well. We tried to mention a bunch of target areas we’d like to cover so that we can do a broad range of things.”

Ellman went on to say, “I tried to emphasize that our primary goal is to contribute money directly to these organizations so that they can do good work, but at the same time I tried to make it clear that we get a lot back from this process.”

According to Ellman, the Community Works Committee started with between 15 and 20 nominations that the committee then assessed for eligibility and other factors before narrowing the list down to the select number of organizations.

Grants to the non-profits are in the range of $7,000 to $9,000. “One good thing is that 100 percent of the money raised goes to the agencies,” Ellman confirmed.

All levels of the Vassar campus are involved in raising money for Community Works. “There’s various kinds of fundraising going on, by far the biggest is the faculty, staff and administration who set up an automated deduction from their salary each month which the college facilitates,” Ellman said.

As for student participation, Ellman noted, “In the past, students have done different things like auctions and stuff like that. This year, I met with the Vassar Student Association (VSA) Council a few weeks ago, explaining that I hoped every house would have some kind of fundraising event.”

One student contributor to fundraising is Josselyn House President, Iyana Shelby ’16. She explained, “Basically the way that Community Works works is that the organizations raise money for it and it goes to Community Works; Community Works takes that money and they divide among whatever non-profits that they’re funding.”

She said, “Last year what we did [for fundraising] was we had an auction [in Josselyn House]. People were selling things like, ‘Oh, for this much money I’ll make you a sweater, and for this much money I’ll play tic-tac-toe with you.’”

Shelby already has a house team fundraising plan. She noted, “This year our plan was to try and do some auction or gala, something high-class like you would see in a movie. We’re going to try to get the Aula and we thought we’d have an auction there with food and music. Hopefully it’ll go well this year.”

She continued, “Community Works and the auction really go hand in hand and I really see Josselyn working its hardest to put some money in to that so that more stuff can be done in the Poughkeepsie community.”

One such project benefiting from Community Works is the Poughkeepsie Farm Project. The Interim Executive Director of the project Russ Moore explained its mission. “The Poughkeepsie Farm Project includes a community-supported agriculture membership of over 400 people; they are able to gain access to fresh, healthy produce and also participate in the farm through shares,” he said.

Moore further noted, “The focus of our activities [is] a sustainable farm that’s committed to increasing food access to the people of Poughkeepsie.”

Vassar also has a relationship with the Poughkeepsie Farm Project beyond Community Works grants, according to Moore. Students have been a part of their farmer apprenticeship program, and they have served as volunteers.

“Those donations are very much appreciated as part of our overall fundraising. On behalf of our volunteers and staff, I’d like to convey a real appreciation to Community Works program and hope to work with them in the future,” Moore said.

Another organization with a multifaceted relationship with Vassar is Dutchess Outreach, which provides assistance for those in need and strives to prevent eviction and homelessness in the Poughkeepsie area. Like the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, Vassar students have been involved with Dutchess Outreach as interns and volunteers.

Dutchess Outreach Executive Director Brian Riddell said of the grants, “The Vassar Community Works funds are unrestricted, which means we can use them where we need them the most. In the past we have used these funds to make up for government funding shortfall for emergency assistance grants.”

Shelby said on Community Works’ place at Vassar, “I think it’s well-needed. I feel like—and maybe I don’t know much about it—but I feel like Vassar has a lot of money and there’s this big distinction between Vassar and the rest of the Poughkeepsie community, especially in the mindset of the students.”

“There’s a lot of money in this school and I wish that sometimes Vassar would reach out more into the Poughkeepsie community, so I really admire that Community Works attempts to do that,” she added.

Ellman agreed on the importance of Community Works, saying, “Even though I live in Poughkeepsie, it wasn’t until I was on Community Works that I knew about what these philanthropic organizations are. So, I really try to emphasize that it’s a two-way street, we’re getting and we’re giving.”

Those who wish to volunteer for the Poughkeepsie Farm Project are encouraged to visit farmproject.org. Those who wish to get involved with Dutchess Outreach should contact the volunteer coordinator Carol Beck or visit dutchessoutreach.org.

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