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GRE accepting applications for Economic Gardening program

Greater Rochester Enterprise Inc. is accepting applications for its expanded Economic Gardening program. The program is designed to accelerate business growth across the Greater Rochester region.

Nearly 200 companies have participated in the program to date, creating 1,625 new jobs and revenue growth of more than $340 million.


“We know that small businesses are the backbone of our economy, accounting for 15 percent of the companies and 40 percent of the job growth,” GRE President and CEO Matt Hurlbutt said in a statement. “GRE’s Economic Gardening program connects participating business leaders with the resources they need to generate increased revenue, create new jobs and thrive.”

The program serves private companies throughout the nine-county region and is the only one of its kind in New York state. It is designed to provide local companies with sophisticated, tailor-made technical assistance focused on improving sales and marketing efforts to drive revenue growth.

The program is offered at no charge to participating companies. All program costs are supported by ESL Charitable Foundation, GRE, Monroe County Industrial Development Corp., Rochester Area Community Foundation and the William and Sheila Konar Foundation.

“The GRE team has a long record of success bringing this national program to businesses in our region,” said Howard Konar, a trustee of the Konar Foundation. “The Economic Gardening program helps local businesses get the assistance they need to grow and we are pleased to support it.”

Participating companies must be for-profit and privately held, headquartered and operating in the Greater Rochester region, with between $1 million and $50 million in annual revenue. Companies must employ 10-99 people, demonstrate growth in employment and/or revenue for at least two of the past five years and provide products or services to markets outside of Rochester. Minority and women-owned business enterprises are encouraged to apply.

“We have doubled our investment in this program to ensure that entrepreneurial minority- and women-owned businesses can benefit from all that it offers to help them grow, create new jobs, and use all forms of marketing and social media more effectively,” said Simeon Banister, vice president of Community Programs at RACF.

Participating companies will work with a strategic research team to develop a plan to accelerate their success. Research teams are provided by the National Center for Economic Gardening, a national organization dedicated to supporting entrepreneurship.

“GRE runs one of the premier programs in the country, building Rochester’s economic future, one local company at a time,” said Chris Gibbons, the founder of the National Center for Economic Gardening.

Research teams will perform focused research to help companies:

• Identify qualified sales leads and tap into new and growing markets
• Leverage social media to connect with customers
• Improve online marketing efforts with search engine optimization and website analysis
• Analyze employee temperament to build strong management teams

“The Economic Gardening program is an innovative and highly effective tool that helps emerging businesses grow in Greater Rochester at no charge to them,” said MCIDC Executive Director Ana Liss. “The Monroe County Industrial Development Corp. is pleased to support this important business retention and expansion platform.”

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Nearly $3 million raised in three weeks of Community Crisis Fund

In the nearly three weeks since United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. and Rochester Area Community Foundation formed Rochester’s Community Crisis Fund, nearly $2.7 million has been raised to help area nonprofits and those in need, including a $1 million grant from ESL Charitable Foundation.

More than 250 individuals have donated more than $46,000 online at the fund’s website, officials said Friday.

Grants during Phase 1 of funding have been made to 32 agencies, including 18 last week. Grants were made to ARC of Wayne, Heritage Christian Services, Salvation Army, Veteran’s Outreach Center and more. Previous grants were received by Ibero-American Action League, Meals on Wheels, Trillium Health, Volunteers of America Upstate New York and others.

During the week preceding the Community Crisis Fund, local foundations came together to pool and disburse an initial $260,000 to help Foodlink Inc. address the immediate food insecurity that resulted from school closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the United Way and RACF, community partners include ESL Charitable Foundation, Farash Foundation, Konar Foundation, Bank of America, Wegmans Food Markets Inc., Greater Rochester Health Foundation, MVP Health, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, J.P. Morgan, Waldron Rise Foundation, National Grid and HUNT Charitable Foundation.

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Rochester community bands together during pandemic

The Rochester community is known for giving back and this week there is more proof of that.

As of Tuesday, when the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. and the Rochester Area Community Foundation began coordinating support for those in need through a Community Crisis Fund, nearly $2 million had been raised, including $1 million from the ESL Charitable Foundation.

“In this time of great uncertainty and great need, our community is doing what it does best—coming together and working together to ensure the needs of families across our community are being met,” said Monroe County Executive Adam Bello at a news conference yesterday. “I am proud to lead a community with this much compassion and willingness to help and with incredible organizations and foundations that are stepping up in the face of this challenge.”

Last week, local foundations came together to pool and disburse an initial $260,000 to help Foodlink Inc. address the immediate food insecurity that resulted from school closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The distribution comprises funding from Rochester Area Community Foundation, the United Way, Wegmans Food Markets Inc., ESL Charitable Foundation, the Greater Rochester Health Foundation and the Farash Foundation.

“The giving nature of Greater Rochester’s people truly shines in moments such as these,” said ESL Federal Credit Union President and CEO Faheem Masood. “At ESL, we were exploring ways in which we could help the community during these unfamiliar times, and the creation of the Community Crisis Fund became the ideal opportunity to ensure our donation would best be distributed among those who need it most.”

In the last several days, additional support from MVP Health and the United Way has been committed to the fund. The grants enable regular fund distributions on a rolling basis and help make it possible to move resources quickly and adapt to evolving needs, officials said.

Separately, other businesses and organizations are pitching in to help. TES Staffing beginning March 20 will provide free lunches to community members in need. The organization will have roughly 100 meals in to-go containers being cooked on the spot and available for pick up at its University Avenue offices.

Each meal will consist of a hot dog on a bun and a bag of chips or a cookie. TES Staffing plans to provide the lunches each Friday for a month, but also is looking for businesses and individuals to donate or help in the endeavor, with the goal of turning it into a daily event.

“The closure of businesses and the abrupt decline in the local economy has slowed down our business activities tremendously and has shaken this community and its workers, with no notice,” said TES Staffing President Brian Harding. “As a local staffing agency that relies on this community’s businesses, but also our community members, we feel it is our responsibility to use this time to support the community and its members in need.”

DiBella’s Subs also is planning to help the community through an initiative that will cut prices in half for first responders, health care workers and active military; donate 50 percent of all regular sales including catering orders to community food banks; and waive delivery fees for all orders of $15 or more placed through

“Our primary goals are to do all that we can right now for our communities, for our employees, and those who need us the most who are working hard to keep us all safe,” said DiBella’s President Peter Fox in a statement. “We have to band together and take care of each other. We may not have profitable sales with these initiatives, but it will help us to continue to do as much as we can to employ our team so they can come to work every day and also have the satisfaction of helping others.”

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ESL to fund two United Way programs with $5 million grant

For many of us, a flat tire may be an inconvenience; it may make us late to work or a doctor’s appointment, but likely it will have no long-term repercussions. For individuals living in poverty, that flat tire may mean job loss or food insecurity.

Jaime Saunders (Jeff Witherow)
Jaime Saunders

The ESL Charitable Foundation is teaming with United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. to help address those emergency issues through a $5 million grant.

“ESL and United Way are deeply committed to long-term solutions. That’s why we support collective impact like RMAPI, ROC the Future and other long-term efforts. We are on that journey,” said Jaime Saunders, president and CEO of United Way. “But we also know there are immediate needs of today. So this innovative grant opportunity and this partnership is really to help address immediate needs. It is to infuse resources into the community in a short period of time through two projects.”

The two projects include a $1 million Housing Stability Initiative and a $4 million Project Uplift program. The Housing Stability Initiative was piloted successfully this last year, Saunders said. The program is designed to help support individuals who are seeking a security deposit, moving costs or other things that might create barriers to stable housing and prevent foreclosure.

The program is available to individuals in the six-county Rochester metropolitan area.

The larger of the two programs, Project Uplift, will be piloted in 2020.

“What’s unique about this is the goal is to give individuals living in poverty the ability to prioritize their own needs,” Saunders explained. “So the dollars will be discretionary dollars that will be deployed through the United Way network.”

United Way has some 75 programs in its funding network; each will be able to apply for a portion of the $4 million grant, although some may not be applicable to the grant’s purpose, Saunders said.

“Those who say they want to participate will work with United Way in the next two months so that we can co-create a program that is effective and efficient and meets their needs,” she said. “By January the funds will be able to be disbursed.”

The funds can be used to help individuals and families take care of emergency expenses that might not otherwise be covered through existing programs and services. For example, a woman seeking help through Willow Domestic Violence Center who wants to change her locks so that she can safely stay at home. That’s funding that could be immediately available to her through Project Uplift.

“What we know at United Way, listening to our nonprofit partners, is that they will sit with a family or individual and wish that they could help them but they do not have the discretionary dollars to do that one thing that will help them get over a barrier,” Saunders explained. “That could be paying off a small bill. It could be moving costs. It could be helping purchase a school uniform or school supplies or a whole host of challenges that are just that one thing.”

ESL Federal Credit Union President and CEO Faheem Masood said that part of the organization’s purpose is to help the community thrive and prosper, a feat that is accomplished both through the credit union’s financial services and its philanthropy.

“As we defined the available amount we have, we looked in the community at who could be helpful to us in that regard. And that’s why we partnered with United Way, due to their engagement level with community partners, using community resources to identify the needs in our community and having a good, sound process in place by which to grant and track funding to our network of service providers in the community,” Masood said. “We really have relied on United Way to determine where the needs are in the community.”

The $4 million funding for Project Uplift is at this point a one-time grant until the money runs out.

“We anticipate based on what we hear from our partners that the needs will far outweigh” the grant, Saunders said. “But our goal is to not only address these immediate needs but to listen and learn.”

That can be challenging, she acknowledged, because it requires a suspension of judgment.

“By and large you can see that people will pick what’s best for them and will have the greatest return,” she said, and while one individual may choose to receive help with moving expenses, given the same circumstances, another person will choose something completely different.

Although there is no dollar cap on how much an individual or family can receive through Project Uplift, Saunders said it is estimated the average will be $500 to $600, depending on the circumstance.

“What’s new and innovative about these dollars is that they are designed purposely to be discretionary based on the needs that are prioritized by the individual, in partnership with a care manager,” Sauders said.

While ESL has made no promise of future funding for the pilot project, Masood said the hope is that all funders in the community will see the program’s success and that will give impetus to future funding.

Faheem Masood
Faheem Masood

“So it’s not only us, it’s others as well,” Masood said. “We try new things and if something is effective, that draws support. We are extremely proud to be in the position to be able to do that and I think we’re also very deliberate about how we’re going about it so that we enhance the ability of our tremendous network of community service providers without distracting them from their core mission.”

Project Uplift explores a different way in which to help those in poverty, Saunders said. It employs a philosophy seen primarily in developing nations, where the best way to help people in poverty is to give them money via universal income or through discretionary dollars that are prioritized by the individual.

“In the States, because we have a very robust public sector of services and a very robust nonprofit sector, these dollars fill in the cracks. These dollars will fill in those expenses outside of that, which is why it’s a little different from some of the other programs that have existed across the country,” she explained. “I look at it as reducing pain and stress for a period of time for individuals and families and helping them on their journey.

“It’s not the end solution. We’re not ending poverty. We are not ending some of the deeply entrenched challenges, but we are making a difference,” Saunders said.

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Foodlink Career Fellowship graduates first class

Foodlink Inc. on Thursday graduated eight members of its inaugural Career Fellowship.

“This is a proud moment for these eight individuals, and for our entire organization,” Foodlink President and CEO Julia Tedesco said in a statement. “This is one of the most innovative programs we’ve ever launched in our 40-year history, and it truly demonstrates our commitment to addressing the root causes of hunger in our communities. We’re inspired by the dedication and commitment shown by this first graduating class.”

The nonprofit organization started its Career Fellowship as a way to train individuals who have experienced barriers to employment for middle-skills careers in the regional food industry. Fellows were nominated by a community-based organization and went through a rigorous curriculum that includes classroom instruction, on-the-job training in the Foodlink community kitchen and a three-month externship at Wegmans Foods Markets Inc.

The fellowship began last July following two years of preparation by Foodlink’s staff and several community stakeholders. Foodlink wanted to maximize a recent $5 million investment in a new commercial kitchen by training people for living-wage careers, while also helping them avoid dependency on the emergency food system.

“Our fellows made a lot of sacrifices, put in a ton of work and really challenged themselves to explore new growth opportunities for themselves personally and professionally,” said Jes Scannell, Foodlink’s director of career empowerment initiatives. “Today we both celebrate their achievements and recognize that this is just the beginning of their careers as culinarians.”

The first class included: Jehmel Alexander, Anthony Arroyo, Kristen Gates, LaRhonda Harris, Bre’Onn Hepburn, Da’Quan Quick, Gloria Soldevila Ramos and Jenna Raymond Torres. Alexander, Arroyo, Gates, Harris and Ramos were offered positions at Wegmans, while the remaining students continue their progress through the program.

“The past year has been quite a journey, but I made it,” Harris said. “I love putting on my Wegmans chef coat every day because it’s my way of showing my three kids how to be a stronger person and how to achieve your goals.”

Wegmans was instrumental in developing the structure of the course, as well as its externship. Chefs at a number of stores and restaurants served as mentors and the fellows navigated the rigors of full-time work in the kitchen, officials said.

“It’s been a pleasure watching this first class of fellows grow and mature as culinary professionals,” said Chef Donald Harter, director of Asian & Sushi for Wegmans. “This has been an exciting and collaborative partnership for us, and we’re thrilled to welcome many of them to the Wegmans family.”

Private funding from the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, William and Sheila Konar Foundation and ESL Charitable Foundation helped make the program possible. A second gift of $150,000 from the Kona Foundation will help support a second class, set to begin this summer.

“The Foodlink Career Fellowship is a great workforce development tool, providing students with the culinary and leadership skills they need,” New York State Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said. Hochul was in attendance as students accepted their certificates on Thursday. “Members of the program received on-the-job training in the field and are prepared for good jobs at companies like Wegmans and others. We want to make sure all New Yorkers have the access and resources they need to be trained to fill jobs in the agriculture and culinary industry across the state.”

Foodlink will accept nominations for its second class through July 1.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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