NISKAYUNA – Sometimes it takes more than a village, it takes an entire community.
Twenty years ago, a group of Niskayuna residents recognized the needs within their community and formed the Niskayuna Community Fund.
Since then, the fund has delivered time and again, providing 350 grants totaling $550,000 to organizations within the town and Schenectady County.
This year, to celebrate its 20th anniversary, the local charity donated an additional $20,000 to 17 not-for-profits, distributing a total of $47,000 in grants.
NCF co-founders, then Niskayuna School District school superintendent, J. Briggs McAndrews, and longtime resident Cindy Phillippe, saw a need in 1999.
“We wanted to improve activities for students and around that time I read an article in the newspaper about community foundations,” Phillippe said. “They were starting across the country, becoming very big and good ways to support not-for-profits and organizations in your community that benefited it.
“Together with Briggs, with his support, we decided to bring together members of the community to determine ways we could improve life for students.”
McAndrews shared in the spirit of giving to the Niskayuna community, arriving in 1992 with his wife, Isabelle.
“One of the things that both my wife and I always felt was that Niskayuna is kind of a special place,” McAndrews said during a phone interview. “We really liked it, the people were great, it was one of those what can you always do for your community, since the community is doing something for you in providing you an opportunity to work there.”
That initial mission changed as the two founders created a steering committee to establish the local foundation.
“We decided that we just didn’t want to help students, we wanted to improve life for everyone,” Phillippe said. “We carefully researched community foundations and decided to affiliate with the [Community Foundation of the Greater Capital Region]. We also knew that we wanted to begin the 21st Century with a plan to strengthen our community through philanthropy and we signed an agreement with them on Dec. 31, 1999.”
Then, as Phillippe said, the work began.
She reached out to several community leaders, including Walter and Anne Robb, R. Ned, and Barbara Landon along with Barbara Dobbins Stratton and her husband, Roy O. Stratton, Jr.
“We came up with a list of people who really loved their community and were also philanthropic,” Phillippe said. “In that group, three of the couples offered to host a dinner for potential donors to get things started. Almost 100 people attended and almost every individual that attended became a founding member.”
The foundation was well received within the community as more than 1,000 individuals contributed during the first year. They are honored with a plaque that stands inside the Niskayuna Town Hall.
The NCF had reasonable aspirations early on.
“We had a long-term goal of $100 thousand,” Phillippe said. “After we surpassed that in the first five years, we just realized what power a grassroots organization in the community working together could do.”
One of the largest gifts to the foundation came from the estate of Harriet Wall who died March 30, 2014, at the age of 95. As a lifelong resident of Niskayuna, she awarded a $500,000 gift to the organization.
“I think she realized that her gift would help us support projects and programs for the whole community, including those in need and for future generations,” Phillippe said. “She was just a lovely, caring person and that is something that meant a lot to her.”
The foundation continues to receive generous and consistent support.
“We get donations that we get year after year since our inception for $15 from people,” Phillippe said. “Every donation is so meaningful, it’s just very exciting that the organization is growing and thriving as we move forward.”
The NCF board has also remained strong, with four original members serving and recent past president, Mike Breault, serving in that role on two occasions over the past 13 years.
“The members of the board are first-rate, they have their priorities straight in terms of when it comes to grants and scholarships,” Breault said. “It’s extremely important that if you are committed to the foundation that you, yourself as an individual, contribute to that as well.
“I’ve been on a couple foundations over the years where we had board members who really did not step up to the plate in that regard for whatever reason. Everybody here when they join, they are ready and willing to contribute financially, intellectually and emotionally.”
The 2020 grant recipients ranged from $3,750 to Family and Child Services of Schenectady, $3,000 to the Joan Nicole Prince Home, $3,000 to the Jewish Community Center of Schenectady and $4,500 to the Town of Niskayuna for two projects, a new bocce court at the Niskayuna Senior Center and an outdoor movie projector and screen.
When COVID-19 arrived, the NCF again provided locally.
“We had a very specific meeting at one point extending our grants out to a couple of organizations that we felt would really be helpful within the community,” Breault said. “Aside from the regular grant process that we would undertake, this special meeting set out to specifically allocate grants for a couple very important organizations.”
That included emergency funding of $10,000 to the Schenectady Foundation, Rebuilding Families Fund to provide families impacted with food, supplies and direct assistance, $2,000 to Ellis Medicine to provide meals for frontline workers, $2,000 to Things of My Very Own to provide immediate support for children and families in crisis and $1,800 to the Niskayuna High School PTO for custom “Class of 2020” face masks for high school seniors for a safe graduation ceremony.
McAndrews, who retired from the school district in 2002 and now lives in Sackets Harbor, reflected on the 20 years of success the foundation has had.
“Part of it is the people that remain there continue to make this a solid foundation and one that does good things,” McAndrews said. “People say the community foundation, I know what it is, I know what it does and I’m happy to be a part of it.
For Phillippe and its board, the mission is not over.
“NCF is not only an organization for today, but also for tomorrow,” Phillippe said. “I think those founding members understood that.”
For more about the Niskayuna Community Fund, visit www.niskayunacf.org