“Vassar College nests in a dynamic city,” said the founder of non-profit organization Mid Hudson Aquatics Galen Franchek in an email correspondence. Despite the vibrancy of its surrounding city, Vassar—and the individuals populating its campus—tend to remain unaware of the happenings in the greater Poughkeepsie area: of both its plenitudes and needs. Community Works, Vassar’s annual giving campaign, attempts to correct this imbalance, encouraging the Vassar community to foster a connection with and give back to the local community.
The Community Works campaign offers grants to 501(c)(3) nonprofits in the Hudson Valley through donations from Vassar students, alumnae/i and employees. According to its website, “Community Works has provided over $1 million in grants to over 50 different groups since its inception in 2001” (Vassar College, “Community Works”).
This year’s grant recipients include Arts Mid-Hudson, Exodus Transitional Community, Hudson River Housing’s Liberty Station, Hudson Valley Animal Rescue and Sanctuary, Mid Hudson Aquatics, Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, People’s Place, R.E.A.L Skills Network, Inc., Ulster Literacy Association and Victim Services of Family Services, Inc. (Vassar College).
According to Committee Chair and Vassar Head of Library User Services Tracy Sutherland, Vassar community members— including students, faculty, administrators, alumnae/i, emeriti and staff—nominate organizations for grant reception. The Community Works committee then selects 10 organizations with differing impacts to ensure their grants support a variety of goals. Sutherland affirmed that the nomination process encourages the Vassar community to interact with the organizations in question in order to make its selections.
Sutherland also indicated that the fundraising Community Works undertakes fosters interaction beyond pure monetary donation and among those outside Vassar. She explained her hopes to involve local businesses in the fundraising process: “I’m going to solicit businesses to give [by] having raffles … It seems like people would be more willing [to donate] if there’s a reward.”
This year’s campaign launched on Thursday, Nov. 1, at the Benefits Fair held by Human Resources in the Villard Room. At the fair, representatives of nominated organizations tabled to discuss their work with Vassar employees and students present at the fair and other potential donors.
One such organization is Arts Mid-Hudson, which brings creative offerings to artists and arts enthusiasts and funds artists, schools, community groups and arts organizations in the local area (“About Us,” Arts Mid-Hudson, 2017). Grants and Programs Manager Lilia Pérez tabled at the fair and indicated some of the organization’s goals for the year. Pérez said, “If we could spread the word and be able to reach more underserved populations and make them aware that they’re able to access this funding, that’s our main goal. I think support from this program is going to allow us to.”
Another organization represented at the fair, Mid Hudson Aquatics, provides affordable swim lessons to Dutchess County residents with a focus on underrepresented populations. Franchek tabled at the fair and explained her goals for the year in an email interview: “Our goals this year are to increase…inclusive swim programming beyond the volume of children that we already serve … We would like to [provide] scholarships. We also plan to provide swim lessons to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Poughkeepsie over the Winter.”
In addition, Franchek expressed that her organization benefits the community beyond individual clients. “[Swimming] is also a vehicle of inclusion,” she wrote. “The vision of swimming as…only for those that can pay creates the gap between this wonderful gift and including everyone.”
Pérez described how Arts Mid-Hudson’s impact similarly ripples throughout the community: “Our grants reach all corners of Dutchess and Ulster county, and they give artists…the opportunity to jumpstart something with longevity … It’s planting seeds around our community so [recipients] can reach sustainability on their own.”
These organizations’ far-reaching and continuous influence reflects the value in and impact of giving, a sentiment that resonates with Sutherland’s involvement in Community Works. “One thing that’s stuck with me my whole life … is having this human connection, and letting people know that they are cared for,” she said. “It’s why I’m involved in [Community Works].”
Reflecting on the importance of giving, Franchek concluded, “The exchange of one’s time and caring is what makes our community thrive.”