Category: Organizational & Leadership Development

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.