Young professionals group assists Girls Inc. of the Greater Capital Region

A grass-roots movement that started last spring has turned into a formal group of mostly young profe

A grass-roots movement that started last spring has turned into a formal group of mostly young professionals that continues to gain momentum, focused on improving awareness and fundraising efforts for Girls Inc. of the Greater Capital Region.

The Cornerstone Group began as a handful of volunteers but has blossomed into a group of 30 people with eight officers. Its participation in major events for the nonprofit, including its annual live auction, has netted an increase of more than $12,000 in donated funds to the Girls Inc. chapter, which is based in Schenectady.

Girls Inc. programs focus on six areas: leadership and community action; career and life-planning; sports and adventure; self-reliance and life skills; culture and heritage; and health and sexuality. Last year, the nonprofit reached a total of 36,898 girls ages 5 to 18, 2,852 of whom took part in its comprehensive programs such as after-school, summer camp, in-school and outreach services.

The concept of helping girls become “strong, smart and bold,” as its slogan touts, got Cornerstone Group chairwoman Alyssa Dion excited enough to do more than just give.

“I went on their website and started reading more. Then I went to the first event, and I was absolutely blown away by the scope of what they offer,” the 30-year-old Saratoga Springs resident said.

Dion said it was easy to become passionate about the cause and find enthusiastic volunteers willing to donate their time, creativity and resources to pull the group together.

“Once you meet the girls, it’s unbelievable. They’re incredible and they’re doing great things and have big goals. It’s not hard to want to get behind that,” she said.

The Cornerstone Group supports traditional events held by the local Girls Inc. chapter by “trying to make them less of a burden for the staff,” Dion said. The group’s first independent event, “Diamonds In the Rough,” was held at Vapor Night Club in late January and raised $6,600, well surpassing the group’s $5,000 goal.

This year, the group took over coordination of the Girls Inc. live auction to be held Thursday. Last year, it helped with the fundraiser, which brought in nearly $70,000, a 10 percent increase from the previous year.

The 21st annual auction, the group’s signature event, will be held at the Glen Sanders Mansion in Scotia with the theme “Fly into the Future.”

Girls Inc. of the Greater Capital Region President and CEO Gail Wilson-Giarratano said the Cornerstone Group’s efforts enhance her work.

“Part of my job and role is growing relationships and getting people to see the value of investing in Girls Inc. They bring ideas and concepts and a whole other population that I would not be able to tap into,” she said.

Wilson-Giarratano said the monetary value of the partnership is significant, but the value of the group to longtime donors present at its live auction last year was substantial. “They were so relieved that Girls Inc. was going to be in good hands for many years to come,” she said.

Laura Marx, a liaison to the Cornerstone Group as the development manager for Girls Inc., said events such as the auction can drain a nonprofit’s staff time.

“By having volunteers doing that, we can focus on other fundraising goals,” she said.

The Cornerstone Group is also acting as a way to groom future board members, a task that can also be time-consuming for nonprofit organizations.

Lauren Selchick, a lawyer for Schenectady County, was originally part of the Cornerstone Group before recently joining Girls Inc.’s board of directors, Wilson-Giarratano said.

Third-party fundraising is becoming common, according to Shirley Hartman, president of the Hudson Mohawk chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

From women’s groups who pull together galas and pick a nonprofit to support, to volunteer organizations that coordinate race events that benefit charities, more people are looking for ways to have an impact, she said.

“It’s becoming a fairly popular trend. There’s more of every kind of fundraising going on right now. Groups are being aggressive and th

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