Author: Katrina Crocker

Hon. Frank H. Hiscock

Photo: Jeanine Anderson turned to Hiscock Legal Aid during a particularly difficult period in her life — after recovering from addiction. Her lawyer helped her gain more visitations with her daughter. “I have my family and I never take  them for granted any more. I have earned my way back to my little girl.”

Judge Frank Harris Hiscock devoted much of his life to practicing law and philanthropy. He had a powerful desire to assist the less fortunate and improve the quality of life in Syracuse and its surrounding areas. His legacy continues to make an impact through the work of Hiscock Legal Aid Society, an organization established by a gift from his will.

In 1855, his father, L. Harris Hiscock — a Surrogate Court judge and state assemblyman — and his uncle, Frank Hiscock — a United States senator — partnered to establish the law firm now known as Barclay Damon, one of the oldest and largest firms in Syracuse.

The younger Frank joined the law firm in 1877. He later served as chief justice of the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. Throughout his career he was an active participant and supporter of his community, including serving as one of the Community Foundation’s founders when it was established in 1927.

He made a provision in his will to donate his home on James Street in Syracuse to the Community Foundation. This well-known property was sold to the Corinthian Club after his death and the proceeds were used to establish the Hiscock Legal Aid Society. The organization opened its offices on South Warren Street in 1949 to provide quality legal assistance free of charge to Onondaga County residents who could not afford to hire private legal counsel.

The organization now serves as a legal advocate for domestic violence victims and offers services to address immigration, family court, civil, appeals, parole revocation and extradition matters. Its 60 attorneys and staff members work tirelessly to provide underserved individuals and families with access to high quality legal counsel. In 2016, the organization handled nearly 4,000 cases.

Thanks to Judge Hiscock’s generosity, the organization continues to enrich the community today, nearly 70 years since his vision was turned into a reality.

“In making the bequest that enabled the creation of the Legal Aid Society, Judge Hiscock put into action the belief that no person should be denied access to justice because of a lack of means,” said Society president & CEO, Linda Gehron.

“I imagine he would be pleased that people like him continue to support our mission to uphold the fundamental human rights that are basic to any democracy.”

Through his thoughtfulness, Judge Hiscock’s commitment to social justice has helped generations of Central New York residents find their voices through the support of legal counsel.


Ruth & Martha Blumberg

Martha Blumberg accomplished great things in her short life — gaining recognition as a promising young artist when she was just 12 years old. She graduated from Jamesville-Dewitt High School in 1979 and attended Yale University for two years. She was an honor student, artist and musician, but she was constrained by a disease that forced her to undergo several organ transplants.

Martha died at the young age of 23, while waiting for what would have been her third kidney transplant. Her death in 1985 was devastating to her parents, Ruth and Sydney Blumberg. Ruth’s life was forever changed by the loss of her only child. Through her grief, Ruth persevered and carried on with her lifelong commitment to many volunteer activities. Ruth wanted something good to happen in the community to honor Martha’s short life.

When she passed away decades later, her will directed a portion of her estate to the Community Foundation to form The Martha Fund. The fund is designed to perpetually support local children’s programs in her daughter’s name. Ruth lived a life of giving back, and her charitable spirit will live on through her bequest to the Community Foundation in memory of Martha.

The Martha Fund honors Martha’s zest for life, and her legacy will be honored through the many programs it will support. Since 2013, the fund has awarded nearly $300,000 in grants to support children’s art programs, health services and learning activities in Central New York. Countless young people in our region will continue to benefit from the generous commitment Ruth made to ensure that her daughter’s memory would not be forgotten.

John F. Marsellus

Photo: Patients of Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital take part in a craft activity with Maggie Zick, child life specialist. In 2004, the Community Foundation awarded the largest community grant in its history at the time, in part from the John F. Marsellus Fund, toward the Upstate Foundation’s capital campaign for the hospital’s construction.

Friends and family of John F. Marsellus remember him as a civic leader who truly loved Central New York. His passion for the community was evident through his continuous involvement in many organizations including being a board member of the Community Foundation, Manufacturers Association of CNY, Everson Museum of Art, Ducks Unlimited, YMCA and a founding member of the Metropolitan Development Association (now CenterState CEO).

Marsellus was the third generation of his family to manage the Marsellus Casket Company in Syracuse. The company, founded by his grandfather in 1872, enjoyed a world-wide reputation for being the leading manufacturer of fine hardwood caskets.

In 1973 he established a donor-advised fund, which for nearly 30 years administered his charitable giving. At the time of his death in 2000, his estate plan included naming the Community Foundation in his will as a major beneficiary. He knew this act of generosity would carry on his charitable giving in perpetuity while, at the same time, increase the funding we could distribute to worthy nonprofit organizations.

Specifically, the John F. Marsellus Fund supports projects that promote education, the arts, centers of learning, recreation, environmental conservation, local children and health care accessibility. Over the past 15 years, it has supported nearly 1,000 local charitable programs.

Additionally, the fund supports and promotes several of our community initiatives including the Marsellus Executive Development Program, which provides leadership enhancement opportunities for nonprofit staff executives.

Marsellus once said, “For the future, I have complete faith in the Foundation’s investment stewardship and that my fund will continue to grow and provide support for important community organizations.”

Just as he did in his daily life, his legacy will continue to enrich the lives of generations of area residents because of his thoughtful planning and commitment to Central New York.

Child Care Project

When an application for the Ford Foundation and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Leadership Challenge Grant crossed Peggy Ogden’s desk in 1987, she knew the award could provide an amazing opportunity for the Community Foundation to broaden its role in the community. At the time, Ogden was serving as the Community Foundation’s vice president for finance and administration and was the soon-to-be-successor to President and CEO John Dietz.

She had a vision for taking our organization to the next level —both in growing our unrestricted funds and establishing us as a community leader. When we were chosen as one of 10 community foundations nationwide to receive the $500,000 challenge grant, Ogden was tasked with raising $1 million towards our permanent unrestricted endowment. While she and our board members had five years to achieve that ambitious goal, it took just over one year due to the tremendous generosity of our local community members.

“We expressed to our supporters that we don’t know what the needs of the community are going to be 50 years from now,” said Ogden. “But we do know that there’s going to be a thoughtful group of people around the board table that will make the best decisions in the interest of the community.”

With $500,000 now in hand available to address an immediate local need, the board decided to focus on the availability of high-quality, affordable child care, a cross-cutting issue that affects working parents, employers and those living in poverty. Instead of passing the money on to child care organizations to disperse, we formed an Advisory Board comprised of more than 80 people from many different disciplines and points of view. Collective planning and problem-solving brought the large group together towards a shared vision, forming strategies that made the vision a reality.

Thirty-five grants were awarded through the five-year Child Care Project to increase awareness of local child care issues, expand resources for providers and increase the capacity of area agencies. Funded programs included such things as a library reading program for language development, home-based training for family care providers, infant and child first aid classes and the establishment of a family child care association.

Upon the project’s completion, a data collection project resulted in a report to the community on the trends and challenges of local child care that was distributed to legislators, organizations and providers. The Community Foundation was honored for its efforts with the 1992 Decade of the Child Award for outstanding contributions to New York children.

Successfully garnering the Leadership Challenge Grant and implementing the Child Care Project set the stage for what would become a long history of the Community Foundation tapping the powers of collective philanthropic capital and thoughtful collaboration to make significant community change.

Good Life Youth Foundation

While growing up in the Edenwald Projects in the Bronx, Hasan Stephens’ life lessons came earlier than expected. His neighborhood was home to several street gangs, persistent violence and poverty. And while the option to sell drugs or steal for money often tempted Stephens, his mentors and family members made sure that he stayed the course and remained true to himself.

“Having people guide me in the right direction allowed me to escape that life when many of my friends weren’t able to,” Stephens said.

Nowadays, Stephens is reaping the benefits of his decisions. He laughs when he says his Google Calendar is his best friend. It really is, though, navigating him through his days serving as founder and executive director of the Good Life Youth Foundation (Good Life), as an adjunct instructor at SUNY Cortland, and as a co-facilitator of the Community Foundation’s The Leadership Classroom (TLC) — a job that has been eye-opening for the social entrepreneur.

In 1989, the Community Foundation launched TLC, once known as the Neighborhood Leadership Program, to teach practical skills to grassroots organizations working to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods. Monthly interactive classes help participants hone their leadership skills, find neighborhood resources and gather community support. Over the past nearly 30 years, more than 360 individuals have graduated from the training program and more than $245,000 in grants have been awarded towards the graduates’ community projects.

Before Stephens partnered with InterFaith Works’ Beth Broadway as a co-facilitator, he was a TLC participant himself. He felt like a sponge, absorbing its extensive program outline and building skills that would further advance his organization.

“The biggest thing I love about TLC is the union of organizations that normally would not have even known about each other,” Stephens said. “It bridges communities and organizations that are often doing the same type of work.”

Stephens takes the lessons he has learned in TLC and applies them to his organization. Good Life, founded in 2009, encourages successful and productive careers and life strategies among at-risk Syracuse youth ages 13-24.

Curtez McLauren was a young man who came to Good Life during a very difficult time in his life. For him, the organization
has opened many doors that seemed closed to him when he was incarcerated.

“I thought I wasn’t going to make it to college,” McLauren said. “Good Life keeps me active.”

Stephens beams like a proud father when he talks about the young adults who have come through his organization. McLauren is thriving and excelling in the Good Life curriculum. He is doing well in school and no longer getting into fights.

“His growth is so tremendous since the time that we’ve come in contact with him,” Stephens said. “We want to applaud those types of successes because that’s going to lead to even larger ones.”

Stephens is looking to the future and the endless possibilities TLC can unearth down the road… and, of course, the culture-infused tastes from around Central New York that manifest themselves in the meals that TLC members share during their sessions together.

“In addition to the food,” Stephens said with a smile, “The most satisfying thing about TLC is watching the other organizations grow.”

Westcott Community Center

When Joan Royle became executive director of the Westcott Community Center in 2015, the organization did not have a robust database or software system and much of the center itself was in disrepair.

Since then, she has expanded the center’s programming, fast-tracked facility repairs and established comprehensive operating systems. This year, she led the center in publishing its first annual report.

Royle credits her participation in the professional development opportunities available through the Community Foundation for sharpening her leadership and development skills. Two years ago, she joined the very first cohort of the Marsellus Executive Development Program.

The six-month program offers individual coaching and consultant-led peer learning sessions for executive directors of nonprofit organizations within Onondaga and Madison counties. Topics covered include leading in dynamic times and enabling others to act.

Facilitated by The Leading Element, the program is a spin-off of the John F. Marsellus Sabbatical, a 15-year initiative of the Community Foundation that was created in memory of John F. Marsellus to honor his desire to enhance the leadership capacity of local nonprofit organizations.

Royle recalled impactful guest speaker sessions with staff from the Redhouse Arts Center and the Salvation Army.

“We had so many incredible speakers who spoke to topics that were of strong interest to us,” she said. “And when it was a somber topic, it was validating, because you knew some other director or agency was going through the same thing.”

Royle left the development program with lasting friendships and a network of professionals that grows every year with new alumni. She recalls how the experience reshaped her view of her leadership capabilities.

“It made you think about your own strengths and weaknesses and about things you could mold differently to work better for you,” Royle said. “Some of my weaknesses are also my strengths, and I’ve learned to take the best parts and utilize them to do my job.”


One morning in 2011, Doug Paul struggled to speak. His wife, Leesa, thought he was joking before reality hit. Leesa called 911 and their lives changed forever.

Doug suffered a stroke that resulted in right side paralysis and aphasia. After unsuccessful therapy efforts elsewhere, they turned to AccessCNY. Doug’s mood and outlook improved. Soon he was writing again, even making an anniversary card for Leesa.

“Doug always held confidence and drive within him, but the AccessCNY therapists brought it out in a healthy, positive, proactive way,” Leesa said.

AccessCNY provides rehabilitation and clinical services to 3,000+ individuals yearly. It formed when Enable and Transitional Living Services merged in 2015.

In 2013, the Community Foundation awarded a Strategic Partnership grant to Enable to support the cost of pre-merger needs assessments. The Strategic Partnership Fund supports collaborations between nonprofits that enhance program and resource development.

Matt Seubert, AccessCNY associate executive director, development and communications, said the larger staff creates more effective patient connections.

“The Strategic Partnership grant helped our organizations conduct assessments to look at ways the new organization could be strengthened through investments in technology, board development, branding, legal and financial consulting, and renovations.”

An additional community grant supported a computer systems upgrade to streamline AccessCNY operations. It’s estimated that the merger resulted in an annual savings between $350,000 and $400,000.

Since 2009, CNYCF has made Strategic Partnership grants to local organizations seeking administrative consolidation, joint programming, regionalization, subsidiary formation or a full-scale merger. CNYCF grants have helped more than 20 local organizations merge or affiliate, fostering sustainability, higher levels of efficiency and better programmatic outcomes.

“Through the support of the Community Foundation, AccessCNY is now a more efficient and diverse agency that can help create even more stories of success like Doug’s,” Seubert said.
Last year Leesa threw Doug a surprise five year “rebirth” party to commemorate the day he survived his stroke. Doug was brought to tears, and AccessCNY staff watched in admiration as the couple turned the worst day of their lives into something to celebrate.

On Point for College

Antwann Kearse, a graduate of Henninger High School, was harboring a secret when he arrived home on winter break during his first year attending Morrisville State College. His family, beaming with pride, chattered about how well he was doing in college. But Kearse knew better — he had just been put on academic probation.

“I did horribly,” Kearse said. “I looked at school as a vacation. I had too much fun.”

It was right there, surrounded by the people he loved most, when a lightbulb went off — his family wouldn’t be the only ones disappointed in him; so would his On Point for College (On Point) mentors, as well as the high school teachers who believed in his potential from the start.

“It was that moment when I realized a lot of people looked up to me to succeed and believed in my success,” Kearse said. “I didn’t want to be in that situation anymore.”

When Kearse was growing up in Syracuse’s Southside neighborhood, his family stuck together despite challenging times. At one point, they lived without a car after his father was in an accident. During that time he recalls having to walk a lot and hearing gunshots ring through his neighborhood — one that is riddled with repeated acts of violence.

Once he returned to college, Kearse was motivated to turn things around. He chose to buckle down and focus on achieving his academic goals. He went on to earn an associate’s degree in marketing from Morrisville before moving on to the University at Buffalo. He graduated with a 3.8 cumulative GPA (summa cum laude) with a bachelor’s degree in operations and supply chain management.

While Kearse’s academic accomplishments are the direct result of his nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic, he credits On Point for making the next step of his education seem possible.

“The staff helped me in many ways,” Kearse said. “They made sure that I got back and forth to school. My advisor also helped me attain an internship that fell in line with my course of study. They are why I consistently stayed in school instead of giving up.”

On Point offers support programs for 17- to 29-year-old students to help them overcome barriers so they can access training, college education and careers that lead to success in life. Since it was established in 1999, On Point has helped more than 7,000 students enroll in college. Between 700-1,000 new students are welcomed each year.

The Community Foundation has fostered On Point’s growth over the years, awarding more than $200,000 in grants dating back to its inception. These grants have had a variety of goals, including measuring performance and community impact, advancing the professional development of its staff and expanding its career mentoring program. The one thing all of the grants had in common is this: they all served the greater goal of helping students like Kearse achieve their potential.

Kearse is now working as a Materials Handling Supervisor for General Motors. His vision for himself goes beyond just his amazing career, however. He also hopes to one day establish his own nonprofit organization to mentor kids.

“I don’t know where I may end up,” he said, “I’m just counting my blessings, seeing and taking advantage of every opportunity that comes my way.”

Imagination Library

Every month, more than 1,500 families in Madison County receive a free children’s book in the mail, allowing them to experience the joy of reading together. These families are participants in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL), a program that strives to increase childhood literacy skills by providing children from birth through age five with one book per month at no cost to their families.

Children who enter kindergarten unprepared can struggle, lose confidence and fall behind. But reading with these children can play a critical role in providing them with high quality learning experiences, better preparing them for success later on. This is especially critical in rural Madison County, where only about 20 percent of children are enrolled in early childhood programs.

A study led by Le Moyne College faculty members, including Community Foundation Vice President Frank Ridzi, Ph.D., found that those who consistently took part in DPIL were 30 percent more likely to be prepared to enter kindergarten than their non-participating peers.

“Research shows children in this program are going to have more success in school and higher self-esteem,” said Mike Drahos, former executive director of the Literacy Coalition of Madison County. “In the end, these students are going to grow up to be well-educated community citizens who can help address our local poverty problems.”

Thanks to the diligent work of our local literacy coalitions, DPIL is available county-wide in both Madison and Onondaga counties. The Community Foundation supports the program by providing management, research and funding to both coalitions. Several community organizations partner to enroll children. Many also conduct family programs that correlate with the books they are reading.

“There are pockets of great things happening in the 660 square miles of Madison County, and roping them together is the challenge,” Drahos said. “The Community Foundation has provided us the leadership capacity to achieve our goals, serving as a tremendous partner as we move forward.”

Imagination Library is proving to be an invaluable resource in developing literacy skills in our region’s children. Together, our community is helping foster a love of reading that will last a lifetime.

Say Yes to Education

When Samantha Turnquest moved with her family from New York City to Syracuse, she had big plans for her education. But she was faced with one major roadblock: affordability. Her mother worked full-time to support her and her three brothers and Samantha felt overwhelmed by the daunting responsibility of paying for college alone.

“If you don’t have opportunity, it’s hard to see a vision for yourself,” Turnquest said.

This is a common problem for students in the Syracuse City School District (SCSD), where half of the students live in poverty. Say Yes to Education was introduced in Syracuse eight years ago to help the community come together around a common goal: increasing post-secondary educational attainment for the city’s children.

This community-wide partnership provides SCSD students with a path to college in the form of last-dollar scholarships. Say Yes also provides other supports, from legal and health services to mental health support and after-school programs.

The Community Foundation contributed $2 million to Say Yes and provides ongoing convening support, fiscal management and strategic guidance. We administer the Say Yes Scholarship Endowment Fund, which provides perpetual funding for the scholarships.

Bolstered by community support and substantial grants from SRC, Inc., the City of Syracuse and Central New York Regional Economic Development Council, the fund is now fully endowed at $30 million, creating a path to college for generations of SCSD students to come.

We can already see the impact of this promise. The district has witnessed a 14% jump in its overall high school graduation rate since 2008. And in 2016, 64% of both Caucasian and African-American students graduated from high school, showcasing the elimination of a previous gap between the academic achievement of white and black students.

Say Yes came to Turnquest’s school, the Syracuse Academy of Science Charter School, just in time. She was able to attend the University of Albany, graduating this year with a biology degree. She has plans to pursue physical therapy or public health.

“Say Yes cares about your future beyond the classroom,” she said. “Their support makes you want to go further in your education. No matter what path I pursue, I’m going to make sure I’m always giving back to pay it forward for the help I received.”