Regional Economic Development Council adds new members

The Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council (FLREDC) on Monday held a virtual public meeting to discuss its efforts to support and reimagine transformative projects designed to maximize the region’s future.

The council — which is tasked with implementing a focused, strategic plan that reflects the Finger Lakes region’s efforts to ensure sustainable and long-term growth in the nine-county region — also added two new members. Monroe Community College President DeAnna Burt-Nanna and ESL Federal Credit Union President and CEO Faheem Masood will replace Lisa Barnes and longtime member Augie Melendez, chief human resources and diversity officer at Hillside Family of Agencies, on the council.

“We want to thank Lisa and Augie for their tireless efforts in assisting with our mission. Augie has been with us since the beginning, dedicating himself to our mission and working tirelessly to improve the economic outlook of the Finger Lakes region. Lisa’s expertise in regional business and economic development has served our community well during her tenure. Their contributions and impact on this community cannot be overstated,” said FLREDC Co-Chairs Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bob Duffy and SUNY Geneseo President Denise Battles in a statement. “While we are saying goodbye to two great leaders, we are excited to welcome Dr. DeAnna Burt-Nanna and Faheem Masood to the council. Together, we will continue to work toward our mission of ensuring a strong and prosperous future for our region. We remain steadfast in our commitment to move the Finger Lakes forward and are lucky to have them with us in that effort.”

The FLREDC is working to leverage the region’s advantages in key industry sectors, including agriculture and food production, healthcare and life sciences, optics, photonics and imaging, tourism, arts and skills and talent development. The FLREDC represents Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates counties.

In May this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched Round XI of the Regional Economic Development Council initiative, kicking off a new decade of economic development in a post-pandemic recovery. The 2021 funding round includes more than $750 million in state economic development resources.

The Regional Councils will identify and recommend priority projects that will be eligible for up to $150 million in capital funds on a rolling basis; projects will be reviewed throughout the round. An emphasis will be placed on project readiness and alignment with each region’s strategic plan.

Additionally, projects within each region also will be eligible for a share of $75 million in Excelsior Tax Credits to help attract and grow business in the region. Projects from all 10 regions submitted through the CFA will be eligible for more than $525 million in other state agency funds, which are available on a set timeline. Regional Economic Development Councils will review the projects and provide scores that reflect how well a project aligns with a region’s goals and strategies, officials said.

To date, the Finger Lakes REDC has received $721 million for 950 projects.

“I’m excited to join the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council to realize a vision that will bring our economy back quickly and energize those who love to live, work and learn here. A highly motivated and educated workforce will make all the difference and MCC is ready to do its part,” said Burt-Nanna.

Masood added: “It is an honor to represent ESL and serve on the Finger Lakes Region Economic Development Council. The work conducted by this council in partnership with Empire State Development continues to be vital to the progress and resiliency of our regional economy. I look forward to collaborating with my fellow councilmembers in our collective efforts to develop a more prosperous Finger Lakes region.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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ESL invested $10 million in community for COVID-19 relief last year

ESL Federal Credit Union invested more than $10 million last year to help support local organizations with their pandemic efforts, the company said this week. ESL FCU reinvested nearly $20 million in the community overall.

Faheem Masood
Faheem Masood

“Nonprofits have been experiencing critical financial hardships throughout the pandemic and that is expected to continue well into 2021,” said ESL FCU President and CEO Faheem Masood. “To support the stability and resiliency of these agencies so they can continue to provide critical services nonprofit and corporate funders need to join together to lift up these organizations for the benefit of the people in the greater community. Our purpose at ESL is to help our community thrive and prosper, and thanks to the trust and loyalty of our members we are ready and able to do our part to reinvest in the community as we all work together through this public health crisis.”

Some of the grants ESL provided in 2020 to support the pandemic response included:

• $4 million to 20 nonprofit agencies distributed through United Way of Greater Rochester to ensure funding for the agencies remained whole due to a decrease in workplace campaign donations throughout the year
• $2.5 million donated to the Community Crisis Fund organized and managed by United Way of Greater Rochester and Rochester Area Community Foundation
• $385,000 through United Way in Livingston, Ontario, Wayne and Genesee counties to housing agencies in those counties for rent relief
• $350,000 to Rochester City School District to address the digital divide among students and provide WiFi access
• $345,000 to Urban League of Rochester for sustaining small businesses and COVID-19 relief
• $300,000 to PathStone Enterprise for COVID-19 business recovery, supporting minority-owned small businesses
• $250,000 to Child Care Council, which provided $1,000 grants in three counties to child care centers
• Roughly $190,000 to Action for a Better Community to address the digital divide. The grant matched a federal grant for internet devices and years’ worth of internet connectivity for some 150 families
• $100,000 to The Children’s Institute to address the digital divide for pre-k students (3-5 year olds)

Ajamu Kitwana,
Ajamu Kitwana

“The critical issues our community faces because of this pandemic and beyond are best addressed when organizations come together and collaborate for the greater good,” said Ajamu Kitwana, vice president/director, community impact, ESL Federal Credit Union. “This level of collaboration will continue to be a necessity in 2021 and ESL is prepared to learn from our work in 2020 and understand where funding needs are greatest as we move forward.”

ESL’s community impact team was created in an effort to support the building of a healthy, resilient and equitable Greater Rochester. The community impact efforts of ESL focus on expanding individual opportunity, building strong neighborhoods and strengthening organizations and systems. Over the last three years, ESL’s philanthropic reinvestments in the community have totaled more than $40 million.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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United Way receives $4 million grant from ESL for emergency services

ESL Federal Credit Union has provided a $4 million grant to the United Way of Greater Rochester to support 20 local health and human services agencies that provide crucial basic needs programs.

The grant is in response to significantly increased needs in the community as a result of COVID-19 and will fund emergency services, legal assistance, community partnerships and housing and shelter.

Jaime Saunders (Jeff Witherow)
Jaime Saunders (Jeff Witherow)

“Our basic needs providers meet high demand every year, but have been pushed to the breaking point given the impacts of COVID-19,” said United Way President and CEO Jaime Saunders. “Our community has worked together to bend the COVID-19 curve, and we need to work together now to bend the basic needs curve for so many individuals and families in Greater Rochester.”

The COVID-19 health crisis has increased the demand for services, pushing additional individuals and families to seek help. Officials noted that in June 2020, the unemployment rate in Greater Rochester surged to 11.3 percent, compared with less than 4 percent during the same time last year.

Calls for help to 211 LIFE LINE, the community’s information and referral hotline, have tripled since March. More than 60 percent of those calls were for food, housing and shelter, when in 2019, fewer than 28 percent of requests were for basic needs, and calls for food are up 20 fold.

ESL's Faheem Masood
ESL’s Faheem Masood

“This community that we love has given us so much and ESL has a duty to step up and help Greater Rochester,” said ESL President and CEO Faheem Masood. “We say that our purpose is ‘To help our community thrive and prosper’ and that cannot and will not be possible if we are not doing our part to contribute to uplifting the health and resiliency of critical agencies that provide essential services to thousands of individuals and families.”

As the community continues to deal with the impacts of the pandemic, experts expect a surge of additional need as governmental assistance ends.

Tuesday’s announcement comes just weeks after United Way announced a significant gap in fundraising for its annual campaign, which had just begun as COVID-19 shut down workplace operations statewide. The campaign is focused on funding health, education and economic mobility services, all of which also are severely affected by the pandemic.

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ESL distributes $20 million in early dividends

ESL Federal Credit Union has distributed $20 million to members in an early owners’ dividend payout for 2020.

ESL's Faheem Masood
ESL’s Faheem Masood

“The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic has created a great deal of financial stress for many in our community,” said Faheem Masood, president and CEO of ESL. “This $20 million is much more helpful to our members now instead of waiting until our traditional timeframe of January 2021. We believe this is a tangible way in which we can support our membership through these challenging times, as the combined impact of $20 million into our community can help make a difference.”

ESL now has shared more than $170 million with its members over the program’s 25 payouts.

The individual owners’ dividend payout amounts ESL members receive are based on an established owners’ dividend criteria.

ESL Federal Credit Union serves as a full-service financial institution to more than 370,000 members. The credit union was founded in 1920 by George Eastman and provides personal banking, business banking, mortgage services and wealth management services through its locally-based 22 branch network, telephone, mobile, online and live chat center.

The Rochester-based financial institution employs some 850 people in the Greater Rochester area and holds more than $6.9 billion in assets.

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Local banks well stocked to survive, back up customers

Banks might want to tweak Arby’s catch phrase.

Instead of “We have the meats,” they could be spreading their message of calm in the face of  COVID-19-related economic downturn by saying “We have the money.” 

While other companies were announcing layoffs and furloughs because of a sudden drop in economic activity, Tompkins Bank of Castile announced it is giving essential branch employees a 25 percent wage hike and providing a loan program for other costs they might be incurring due to the pandemic, such as loss of a spouse’s job. Buffalo-based M&T Bank this week also announced a 15 percent wage hike for its front-line employees for the duration of the health crisis. 

With branches closed to walk-in business, you’d think banks would be laying people off, too, but they’re not, saying they’re an essential business and need their staff—while taking precautions—to continue to provide customers access to capital. Even though they’re not seeing as many people in person, they’re dealing with a crush of phone calls as people try to sort out payments and seek deferrals, say local bankers. And they continue to allow in-person visits, but only by appointment.

Virtually all local banks and credit unions have given the ax to customer fees, including those for late loan payments or bounced checks; promised quick $5,000 personal loans; agreed to defer loan and mortgage payments for those in need; and issued individual guidance for their wealth management clientele.  

CNB's Frank H. Hamlin III
CNB’s Frank H. Hamlin III

“If it’s a fee we’re waiving it. If it’s a deferment, we’re granting it,” said Frank H. Hamlin III, president and CEO of Canandaigua National Bank & Trust Co. “We’re deferring principal and interest on mortgage loans…to allow people to focus on what’s important.”

 With fewer payments, and less interest coming in, how does a bank survive? The quick answer is reserves. 

After the economic crisis of 2008 in which the federal government had to bail out banks (most local banks didn’t take the bailout), banking regulators started requiring even greater amounts of money held in reserve than ever before. 

The same goes for federal credit unions. 

“We have different charter, but we also maintain reserves,” said Faheem Masood, president of ESL Federal Credit Union. “We are extremely well capitalized, one of the best capitalized credit unions in the country.”

ESL's Faheem Masood
ESL’s Faheem Masood

Besides the floor on reserves that the federal government requires, raised since 2008, ESL has always been conservative about its reserves, he said. As a result, “We are well, well, well above the reserves required by the regulators.”

So the banks and credit unions have the ability to take a hit caused by people failing to pay back loans on time or defaulting altogether. 

“It makes sense that the entire community is going to have to grunt through this and we will too. That’s our role in this community,” Hamlin said. “Our income will go down and that’s OK.”

Financial institutions generally were in a better situation before this health crisis hit than before the lending crisis of 2008, said Martin K. Birmingham, president and CEO of Five Star Bank. 

Five Star's Martin K. Birmingham
Five Star’s Martin K. Birmingham

“Relative to 2008, the banks are all much stronger than they were,” Birmingham said. In fact, as they entered 2020, the outlook was really quite good, with reasonable growth. “We made plans for March that are no longer relevant.”

That was true for financial institutions generally, Hamlin said. “ For the most part, all banks are well positioned… to go ahead and blunt some of the effects of this.” Similar to Five Star, the bank has more reserves than required, owing to an adjustment they didn’t make when the corporate tax rate declined. “My team had our eyebrows raised on that. We didn’t restructure around the new tax requirement because we figured the new tax would be taken away.” 

Unlike 2008, when a crash followed a mortgage crisis of Wall Street’s own making, this crisis is one that squarely hits Main Street, Birmingham noted. Efforts to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus are causing businesses to close, lay off employees and potentially go out of business. 

“It’s clear that our federal government is going to follow through with a program that is aimed to address the impacts,” Birmingham said. “We’re starting to receive guidance and communication from our regulators in terms of actions we can take to support and continue to support consumers and businesses.”

Indeed, the Federal Reserve has reduced interest rates on loans, and told banks they have the cash to back them if they need more liquidity.  

Hamlin said, “The Federal Reserve and federal agencies that oversee us have pretty much been backing these plays.” They’ve said banks should offer deferments and the Fed will “do whatever is necessary for us to calm people down. We can bring down the noise level on that.” As for the accounting and the regulations, Hamlin said, “We’ll figure out the regulations. We’ll figure out that in the background.”

Masood added,”The Federal Reserve has been very aggressive in putting together actions that have worked in 2008, adding liquidity into the market to make sure the markets freely operate.”  

To reassure customers, Hamlin made a video letting them know that the bank is there to help. It’s available on CNB’s website and has been airing on local television stations. 

Birmingham said he hopes federal regulators will also allow more reporting flexibility for banks so they won’t get dinged at the regulatory level for allowing more customers than usual to be delinquent on their payments. If those changes aren’t made, ”that would mean the bank would take the loan and would have to increase its risk profile and therefore allocate more capital to it and potentially change its earnings or ability to earn interest revenue off of that loan.”

All three local bankers stressed it’s important for consumers to contact them if they are in financial distress.  

“In the coming month as we cycle through payment dates, that will become more apparent,” said Masood. “We’re trying to encourage customers to let us know that and we’ll be taking action to defer payments.”  

 The bankers also noted the important role financial institutions play in local economies by keeping capital flowing even as the financial system stutters and slows. And while all sounded confident about this negative cycle being followed by a positive one just as has happened countless times before, they also said the depths of the financial crisis are still unknown. None wanted to make firm economic predictions, given the still-developing nature of the crisis.

“We’re as a society and as a country really in uncharted territory in terms of what can happen,” Birmingham said. “We are really in unprecedented territory. Not since World War II  have we had such a dramatic need for collaboration.” Nevertheless, he said he could envision a turnaround by the end of the year, assuming the health crisis doesn’t last too long. 

Masood offered, “Even in the worst of circumstances, I think through a number of cycles, we have shown our economy is pretty resilient to bounce back.”

Both Five Star and ESL have been around for generations, but Canandaigua National is the granddaddy of local banks. 

“We’ve been in existence 135 years,” Hamlin said. “We’ve been through wars, the S&L crisis, every stock bust you can imagine. The fact is, there will be commerce. There are people who are buying things and people selling things.” 

Even the plunging stock market, which has reduced the value of investment portfolios, now offers opportunities for those in a position to buy, his officers added. 

Banks may actually grow during this time because of the calm stance they’re taking, offered Vincent K. Yacuzzo, chief financial officer at CNB. 

“Long-term our organization will come out stronger,” Yacuzzo said. “We’re connected to the local community unlike some other larger institutions. By tripling down on communications, we’re strengthening relationships.”

Hamlin dismissed economic predictions in favor of focusing on the here and now of the crisis. 

“Why don’t we calm down and let’s focus one step at a time: Make sure everyone gets fed and cared for,” he said. “If we all agree to do that, everything else will fall into place.”

[email protected]/ (585) 363-7275.

ESL’s Masood named to Federal Reserve’s advisory council

Faheem Masood
Faheem Masood

Faheem Masood, president and CEO of ESL Federal Credit Union, has been named to the Federal Reserve Board’s Community Depository Institution Advisory Council.

The national council provides input to the Federal Reserve Board on the economy, lending conditions and other issues and meets with the board twice a year in Washington, DC.

Appointees to the council come from local advisory councils at the Federal Reserve’s twelve banks. Each local council provides a single member to the national council. Masood is a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s advisory council. Another local banker, Martin K. Birmingham, president and CEO of Five Star Bank, also sits on that nine-member local council.

ESL celebrates its 100th anniversary as a financial institution this year. The credit union based in Rochester has 369,000 members and a network including 22 branches.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275

ESL issues largest dividend in 24 years

ESL Federal Credit union will issue $20 million in owners’ dividends Friday, Jan. 17, – the largest in the 24 years the credit union has been providing dividends.

“We are committed to living our purpose of ‘helping our community thrive and prosper,’ and we couldn’t do that without the support of our loyal members and community, and the hard work and dedication of our employees,” said Faheem Masood, president and CEO of ESL.

Individual credit union members’ dividends will vary, depending on the size of their average monthly savings or loan balances, the kinds of services they use at the credit union, and the amount of their activity, such as debit card usage.

Members can go on the credit union’s web page for more information about the dividend and use a special calculator to estimate it.

ESL began 100 years ago as a savings and loan serving the employees of Eastman Kodak Co., but became a credit union 24 years ago. In that time, the credit union has issued a total of $150 million in owner’s dividends, according to the institution.

ESL has its headquarters in downtown Rochester and maintains 22 branches.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275


MCC meets fundraising goal, highlights Wegmans and ESL donations

mcc-logoMonroe Community College Foundation’s annual gala event Thursday honored the Wegman family for its philanthropic commitment to MCC, and announced a  pledge of $4 million from the ESL Foundation to help support students.

Danny Wegman, president and chairman of the Wegman Family Charitable Foundation, accepted the MCC Foundation’s 2019 Salute to Excellence Award at the event, held Thursday at the Floreano Convention Center.

According the foundation, the award recognizes the Wegman family’s contributions, including $3 million to help first-year students who face hunger and other barriers to reaching their educational goals. This fall more than 200 MCC students became the first “Wegmans Scholars,” benefiting from food scholarships and coaching to keep them on their academic paths.

The Wegmans gift was part of MCC’s $50 million “Every Bright Future Needs a Strong Foundation” campaign.

The campaign’s co-chairman, Tim Wentworth, also announced the $4 million donation from ESL Charitable Foundation, to launch three programs supporting student success. Over five years, the money will support:

  • Pathway to College, a program of aid for students without a high school diploma who are not eligible for federal college aid.
  • Strong Foundation, a fund for students who exhaust their other financial aid while completing basic courses aimed at getting them ready for college-level classes.
  • Finish Strong, financial aid for students who run out of other aid just before they would complete their program.

“Every student in our community, no matter their age or background, should have pathways available to an affordable, high-quality education that sets them up for career success,” said Faheem Masood, ESL Federal Credit Union president and CEO. “MCC and the MCC Foundation are proven leaders in our community when it comes to making education options available that lead to meaningful employment opportunities for the Greater Rochester population. We are honored and elated to support these vital scholarship programs that will have a significant, positive impact on the students.”

Sergio Esteban, chairman of the MCC Foundation’s board of directors, also announced that the campaign had exceeded its goal by 5 percent in raising $52.5 million.

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275


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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United Way surpasses centennial goal, announces 2019 fundraising campaign

Rochester area residents, businesses and foundations dug deep in their pockets last year, together giving more than $30 million to United Way of Greater Rochester Inc.’s centennial fundraising campaign.

Jaime Saunders
Jaime Saunders

Hundreds of community members on Thursday joined United Way President and CEO Jaime Saunders and 2018 campaign chairman Faheem Masood, president and CEO of ESL Federal Credit Union, as they announced the impact of United Way’s yearlong fundraising effort.

“We were looking to accomplish more than we had ever before,” Saunders said ahead of the morning event. “Workplace and individual giving remains the cornerstone of what we’re able to do as a community. It’s one of the most beautiful things about United Way. It is actually uniting individuals, from the dollar donor to the $10,000 donor, and all together we can make this impact.”

Masood said his role during 2018’s yearlong campaign was providing leadership and carrying the banner for the Rochester community.

“And sort of revisiting why we were started, a 100-year history of us coming together and really following George Eastman’s lead in saying that we’re not really strong until everyone in the community is strong,” Masood said. “It is truly community. It’s people of all different backgrounds, whether they give $1 a week or a much larger amount, all participating in a common good. I think that’s what United Way very uniquely does.”

Saunders noted that during November’s ROC the Day, held each year on Giving Tuesday, donors gave $700,000 in a 24-hour span. Of 2018’s $30 million total, nearly $15 million was in employee giving in Monroe County, $1 million was in special events, $5 million was in corporate and foundation giving, $2 million was in regional county support, nearly $2 million was a result of individual giving and more than $5 million was from community grants and initiatives like ROC the Day.

Faheem Masood
Faheem Masood

Saunders called the total “astounding.” In 2017, which did not benefit from a full-year campaign, some $25.4 million was raised. United Way typically holds a four-month workplace campaign to reach its annual goal.

“We’ve evolved from having just one goal; our goal is to leverage as much as we can on behalf of the community,” Saunders said of this year’s campaign, which will again run all year.

Thursday’s event had a “Dear Rochester” theme. United Way will ask residents to share a “Dear Rochester” story—a love letter, a wish or a challenge to overcome—on the organization’s website. The 2019 campaign is about having a “heart to heart” with the community.

United Way’s focus this year will be on its Community Fund, Saunders said, which helps fund 75 programs in the Rochester area each year.

“We’re striving to make sure the Community Fund is whole. We will continue to expand our partnerships and leverage additional resources on behalf of the community,” Saunders said. “We are also very excited that for the first time in our 101-year history, instead of one campaign chair for the community, we have a family.”

The Gallina family
The Gallina family

The Gallina family—Andrew, Karen and their children Lauren, Rob and Evan—were announced as the 2019 United Way campaign chairs at Thursday’s event. Longtime Rochesterians who have helped revitalize downtown Rochester through a number of purchases including the Seneca Building and the former Chase Tower, now the Metropolitan, the Gallina family operates Gallina Development Corp., a company that manages nearly 3 million square feet of property.

“We just need to continue the great work that Faheem and United Way has set forth already,” Andrew Gallina said. “Our community has many challenges and we need to keep addressing those challenges and making this community better and better, and we can only do it through supporting wonderful organizations like United Way that touch so many lives and in so many ways, so we’re going to continue that work.”

The Gallina family announced Thursday plans to contribute $100,000 toward United Way’s 2019 goal.

United Way last year secured grants from the State of New York for summer learning initiatives and garnered additional dollars for home visitation for new moms and babies. More recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced $15 million for the Rochester community via United Way to look at how the community can work better across systems.

When Eastman founded the organization in 1918 he gifted United Way with $500,000. In honor of that first donation, ESL offered the 2018 ESL Give Back Challenge, in which the credit union matched all new and increased donations to United Way’s Community Fund in 2018, up to $500,000. The challenge raised $1.5 million, Saunders noted, and ESL will host the challenge again this year.

Saunders said the biggest challenge the agency faces is the lack of understanding of what it is United Way does.

“We are not a pass-through,” she said. “United Way’s role is to catalyze collective giving. So uniquely, we are able to raise the money and give it out effectively every single year. Our job is to make giving easy, but also to make sure the dollars are going where they make the biggest difference and the biggest impact.”

United Way must respond to emerging needs, including the opioid epidemic and the 2,000 Rochester residents impacted by the partial government shutdown.

“So our role is really to be responsive, to be innovative and make sure that we can make a difference,” Saunders said. “We have a lot of opportunity in front of us. United Way stands at the ready to support the solutions to the challenges that we’re facing.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
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United Way launches 2018 campaign with goal to exceed $25.4M

United Way of Greater Rochester President and CEO Jaime Saunders
United Way of Greater Rochester President and CEO Jaime Saunders

United Way of Greater Rochester, and its new leader Jaime Saunders, have launched the agency’s 100th anniversary campaign, a year-long celebration of community giving. United Way’s 2018 campaign goal is in excess of $25.4 million.

The kickoff, held Thursday evening at the George Eastman Museum, drew a crowd of more than 500 leadership donors, community leaders, nonprofit service providers and volunteers. The 2018 United Way campaign is being chaired by ESL Federal Credit Union President and CEO Faheem Masood.

United Way typically holds a four-month workplace campaign to reach its annual goal, but chose to change things up for its centennial. New President and CEO Saunders touted the organization’s efforts to “reach for the stars” in its 100th year.

“What United Way is and does for the Rochester community encompasses much more than a four-month campaign,” Saunders said. “We’re a helper, a problem solver, a convener, a champion for human services and an ambassador for the local people who need our help.”

Saunders joined United Way this month, taking the helm from former President and CEO Fran Weisberg. Saunders previously served as president and CEO of Willow Domestic Violence Center, formerly Alternatives for Battered Women.

When George Eastman founded the organization in 1918 he gifted United Way with $500,000. In honor of that first donation, ESL is offering the 2018 ESL Give Back Challenge, in which the credit union will match all new and increased donations to United Way’s Community Fund in 2018, up to $500,000.

It is one of the largest challenge grants and corporate donations in the agency’s history.

“We believe, as our founder George Eastman believed, that a community’s prosperity depends on the prosperity of all of its members,” Masood said. “The ESL Give Back Challenge will honor Eastman’s legacy and inspire community members to give in support of United Way to help thousands of local people thrive.”

In both 2016 and 2017, United Way topped its annual fundraising goals; in 2016 the organization raised $25.1 million and last year it raised $25.4 million.

United Way has planned a number of events throughout the year to celebrate its centennial, including a birthday cake celebration at all Rochester-area Wegmans Food Markets Inc. stores on April 14. A 100th Birthday Bash will be held April 21 at the Kodak Center Theater.

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