50th Anniversary Celebration Peaks with Gala; Continues with “Gifts for Good”

December 14, 2022

Gala Offers Multiple Reasons to Celebrate

On September 17, the Community Foundation welcomed 600 guests to celebrate its 50th anniversary, a transfer of leadership, and four heroes of local philanthropy. The 2021-22 fiscal year also broke a Foundation record for grantmaking, with a total of $48 million.

The audience included philanthropic and nonprofit partners, plus friends and family of Philanthropy Award recipients Judy von Bucher (Joe U. Posner Founders Award), Jonathan Foster, Emerson Fullwood, and Dr. Dawn Lipson. (Learn more about the honorees here).

Nearly three dozen extra tickets were purchased by guests so that BIPOC leaders from small nonprofit organizations could attend for free.

Jennifer Leonard was celebrated for nearly 30 years at the helm as president and CEO. During her tenure, the Foundation’s assets grew from $32 million to $598 million, while cumulative grants and scholarships reached more than $547 million.

Rochester Mayor Malik Evans and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello presented Leonard with a joint proclamation that highlighted the Foundation’s achievements under her leadership. Bello said Leonard leaves “a mark and legacy that will live on in our community for generations,” and that her leadership in recent years — particularly through the COVID-19 pandemic — was needed “more than ever before.” Leonard also received a key to the city.

New York State Senators Jeremy Cooney and Samra Brouk presented Leonard with a proclamation from the State Senate and called her a “catalyst for community change.”

Incoming President and CEO Simeon Banister, who has been with the Foundation since 2017, closed the program with an energizing speech exploring the event theme: “Taking Charge of Our Future, Celebrating the First 50 Years.” Banister, a Rochester native, is known for his longstanding and ongoing commitment to racial equity and community advocacy.

The evening was full of moments that made it a night to remember, starting at the reception when a “flash mob” of singers from Finger Lakes Opera serenaded the crowd with an Italian aria. The event program included performances from lutenist Kenneth Kam, Garth Fagan Dance Student Ensemble, and vocalist Cinnamon Jones. Rounding out the evening was dancing to the music of Twilight.

A selection of event photos is below, and you can find a full album on our Facebook page here.

While anniversary galas don’t happen often, we welcome all community members to attend our annual philanthropy award celebration. If you’re not on our guest list, sign up for news and invitations here.


“Gifts for Good” Continues with Free Admission to Cultural Gems

While the gala may have marked the high point of the Foundation’s 50th anniversary celebrations, special events have been planned for the entire 2022-23 fiscal year. In April, the Community Foundation launched “Gifts for Good” — 24 sponsored events offering free tickets or admission to a variety of performances and museums across the eight-county region. The program continues through March 2023.

Gifts for Good so far have included performances by the Gateways Orchestra, Garth Fagan Dance, and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, to special activities on free admission days at the Sodus Bay Lighthouse Museum (Wayne County), the Cobblestone Museum (Orleans County), Finger Lakes Museum (Yates County), National Warplane Museum (Livingston County) and the Jell-O Gallery Museum (Genesee County).

The Gifts for Good program not only allows the Foundation to say “thank you” to the community, but aims to support arts and culture organizations that took an especially hard hit during the pandemic. The Foundation’s board and staff hope the opportunity for free attendance will attract new patrons who will return in the future.

The program has seen an excellent response from community members and participating venues. Highlights to date include:

  • In May, the Finger Lakes Museum, which offered free kayak lessons and rentals for their Community Paddle, added more time slots after the event sold out.
  • In June, a record number of visitors to The Strong National Museum of Play were able to participate in a Juneteenth celebration with easy access to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park, where other festivities were being held.
  • In July, the New York Museum of Transportation reported a “door-busting turnout” to its day of free admission and trolley rides.
  • In September, the Cobblestone Museum in Orleans County had more than 900 visitors.
  • In October, the Rochester Museum & Science Center reported more than 1,200 guests — many of them new visitors — while a typical Fall Friday sees about 400.

Check out the remaining free events through the end of March and get details on tickets (if needed) at racf.org/50. If you check out one of the locations, please tag us (Rochester Area Community Foundation) and use the hashtag #GiftsforGood.

Gifts for Good combines one of the Foundation’s most unique traits with some of its most fundamental values. Because the Foundation stewards the community’s endowment, gifts from past donors enable us to live our values of vitality, inclusion, and equity in our 50th year. If you are interested in supporting endowed funds for any number of causes — including arts and culture, racial equity, and historical preservation — learn more at racf.org/BFOI.


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