National Rural Health Day is about celebrating the Power of the Rural. What makes Tompkins County strong is the combination of the unique and special city we call Ithaca, surrounded by rural communities and farms. Over the past few years we’ve sat down with some of our rural health community champions to learn more about how they provide support to the rural communities they serve. Our deepest thanks to them, and all the organizations and individuals that help to make these communities healthy places to live, work, and play!
Click a title to read about our rural health community champions:
The Advocacy Center is the local provider of Domestic and Sexual Violence services in Tompkins County, NY. While the agency has grown, expanded services and adapted to the ever changing needs of survivors and our community over the years, we remain committed to the core philosophy of providing compassionate, trauma informed, survivor focused services and education with roots in feminism and the grassroots battered women’s movement of the 1970’s. Today our agency has expanded to provide not only domestic violence services but also services to youth and adult survivors of child sexual abuse, adult sexual assault and rape.
Our agency has a dedicated team of staff who provide direct support, advocacy and resources to adults, teens and children impacted by domestic and sexual violence. All team members have extensive training in the emotional, legal and medical needs of survivors and have successfully completed the training required to become NYS Certified Rape Crisis Counselors through the NYS Department of Health. Our team has Domestic Violence Advocates, Youth Services Advocates, Residential Services Advocates, a Hotline Advocate and a Sexual Assault Advocate. Our Clinical Therapists and Staff Attorney along with the direct supervisors of these staff, round out our Client Services Team. Our team is passionate, dedicated and strives to meet the self-determined needs of those we provide services to.
Additionally, the Advocacy Center provides high quality, survivor informed educational programs to adults, youth and professionals throughout Tompkins County. Each member of our Education Team has a specific expertise and provides education along with building partnerships with schools, campuses, youth serving organizations and community groups. Our team is passionate about education and working towards a community that is equipped to prevent, recognize and respond to domestic and sexual violence.
The Advocacy Center continues to work towards a community where all are free from violence in their homes, relationships and life.
Article and photos provided by The Advocacy Center – Nov. 2023
In 1990, the EFDC moved its operations out of the church and shifted food distribution to the Enfield Community Building (the former Enfield Firehouse) as the need for adequate and nutritious options for food continued to grow. After transitioning, EFDC began to see a consistent distribution of 10,000 pounds of food to 80 families per month. Today, with the rise of inflation, the pantry has seen a significant increase in need (approximated at 350%) and now serves 45,000 pounds of food to nearly 600 families per week. Moreover, up to a third of the residents of the Town of Enfield, NY, access the food pantry. Without the support from the Town of Enfield, partnership with the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, and help from the 40 motivated and selfless volunteers, the EFDC wouldn’t be able to operate at the capacity it does today.
The Enfield Food Distribution Center works tirelessly to improve food security and nutrition for members of the Enfield and Tompkins County communities.
Visiting Nurse Service of Ithaca and Tompkins County is a not for profit organization formed in 1984 to meet the needs of residents of Tompkins County. Services are provided to residents who are in need of professional medical care in their homes. Services include RN, PT, OT, MSW, Speech, Nutrition and Home Health Aide services. Our agency is certified to provide services and can bill Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurances.
Our affiliated agency, Community Health and Home Care has been approved to provide Medicaid Health Home services in Tompkins County and five surrounding Counties. Care Managers provide services to people who qualify for the Medicaid Health Home which includes two chronic diseases and have Medicaid. Care Managers are nurses that help ensure you get the care and services you need to stay healthy.
Our core values include:
Person-and Family-Centered We honor the voices and choices of those accepting care and the people closest to them by providing care that is structured around the unique needs, preferences, and desires of the individual.
Dignity We believe in the inherent worth, value and uniqueness of every human life.
Compassion We develop caring relationships based on empathy, sensitivity, genuine kindness, and a commitment to knowing each person well.
Collaboration We believe in creating collaborative opportunities to partner with other organizations in service of our region becoming an age-inclusive community.
Empowerment With their experience, initiative, knowledge and wisdom, our empowered staff deliver hope and empowerment to those benefitting from our care.
Partnership As partners in care, we create opportunities to support and encourage the ongoing growth of all who are involved in the exchange of care. We recognize that care is a two-way street, with opportunities to give as well as to receive in every moment.
Our experienced staff equip patients and their caregivers with the tools and knowledge to remain living safely at home and in good health.
They go to the patient/client so that one’s ability to get the needed assessment and instruction and referrals are not hampered by location or by a patient needing to get transportation for this part of their access to good healthcare. I hear from people in my community that VNS has been a very helpful and positive experience for them and their loved ones.
Brooktondale Community Center (BCC) serves people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds, who use the facilities and grounds, participate in activities provided by or at the BCC, hold meetings here (meeting space for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, AA, Senior Groups, exercise classes, meditation groups, women’s groups, on average two rentals a week for private parties/activities, a physical fitness group, and Town of Caroline public information meetings), and provide a full-day, 9 week Summer Camp which provides quality, low-cost child care during the summer for working families. Two or three small businesses use the facilities to produce their food products. Anyone in the community can use the outdoor spaces including a pickleball court, basketball court, walking path, and gaga ball pit. BCC encourages youth and community building through youth game nights and family dance parties. BCC’s Farmer’s Market supports small businesses and local food producers. BCC has an annual Apple Festival, which supports community involvement and next year will be their 60th annual event.
Article and photos provided by Brooktondale Community Center – Nov. 2022
Enfield Elementary: An Edible and Equitable Farm School is a community school for approximately 180 PreK-5th graders. With a focus on learning through connection to the land, the food that it produces, and the community that is created through cooking and eating together.
Enfield Elementary’s Welcome Center grocery opened in Spring 2022. A large part of their Edible and Equitable mission is to teach students about all aspects of food security: from planting and growing to cooking and eating. Within this goal is creating a judgment-free space where families in Enfield can access food and community.
Enfield Elementary’s Welcome Center, in conjunction with the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, stocks food items for anyone to take and enjoy. During the school day, students and staff will be able to choose foods to take home. They hope that by providing food free of charge for everyone that they will contribute to a more just and equitable food system.
In conjunction with The Learning Farm, Enfield’s dedicated teacher teams create case studies and projects that lead students to learn new skills and discover knowledge about the world around them. Visitors often remark on Enfield’s welcoming community and strong supportive feel of the learning environment. Enfield’s teachers and collaborators help to keep this special school thriving.
Article and photographs provided by Enfield Elementary – Nov. 2022
“OUR MISSION: Village of Trumansburg EMS strives to be a leader in the Emergency Medical Services arena. Our purpose is to provide our community with excellence in pre-hospital care. We will achieve this by pursuing exemplary care, training and education, preparedness, customer service, and collaborating with other critical community agencies. As our community and jurisdictions continue to grow, we will continue to meet the task by adopting community outreach and promotion, public education, staff development, and providing access to further health prevention within our communities.”
“The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the critical nature of EMS, particularly in rural areas where EMS response is the primary source of frontline emergency healthcare to millions of New York residents. You can’t discuss ‘healthcare for all’ without recognizing that EMS is healthcare.”
– Mayor Rordan Hart, Village of Trumansburg
The Trumansburg EMS Department is a municipal department of the Village of Trumansburg which offers 24/7 Advanced Life Support (ALS) service to the Towns of Ulysses and Covert, and portions of the Town of Hector. With a staff of both full-time and per diem paid EMTs and Paramedics, Trumansburg EMS responds to nearly 1000 calls per year in an area totaling nearly 400 square miles in three counties.
The first ambulance service offered in Trumansburg began as a rescue service of the Trumansburg Fire Department as early as the 1970s. Staffed entirely by volunteers, with ambulances purchased through community fundraising, this service provided emergency medical services to residents of the Trumansburg Fire District for several decades.
By the late 1990s it became clear that hiring paid staff would be necessary to maintain the level of service that the community had come to expect. The first paid EMTs and Paramedics were hired in 2001, and by 2010 the Department was staffed almost entirely by paid providers. It was at this time that the Village made Trumansburg EMS into a standalone municipal department.
Over the last decade, the scope of services provided by Trumansburg EMS has continued to grow. Through contracted coverage with neighboring municipalities, and mutual aid agreements with nearby agencies, Trumansburg EMS responds to calls throughout the region between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes, as well as into the City of Ithaca when assistance is requested by Bangs Ambulance.
It remains the mission of the Department and the Village of Trumansburg to render excellent emergency care whenever it is needed. This is increasingly a challenge, particularly in rural NY State, but the Village of Trumansburg EMS Department remains committed to providing this essential healthcare service to the community.
Article and photo provided by Trumansburg EMS – Nov. 2021
In 1982, Carol Drader co-founded the Newfield Community Good Neighbor Fund, an organization funded by the community to help Newfield residents.
The fund is almost entirely funded by community donations, and it helps to cover expenses like rent expenses, home and vehicle repairs, and other necessities for community members in need. Every winter, the fund even provides Christmas gifts through their “Make a Child Smile” Program.
Almost 40 years later, James Drader wants to follow in his grandmother’s footsteps.
Having seen the good that the fund has done for his hometown, JD hopes to bring this model to other rural communities like Newfield, and he is confident in the strength of the ties that help make it possible.
“That’s the power of the rural. We’re rallying them to be passionate of their own,” says JD about the extent of the community spirit. “If I can prove it in one, I can do it in others.”
Twice a month, JD goes back home to Newfield to help his community members gain access to healthcare. He drives down on Wednesday evening and sets up for the day at United Methodist Church in conjunction with the local Food Pantry, a familiar place with friendly faces. He hopes to expand to the Newfield Library by November to engage the community more deeply in their health.
JD joined the Human Services Coalition as a Community Health Outreach Specialist in the fall of 2018, helping to support health access in Tompkins County as part of the Health Planning Council.
With health navigators Elizabeth “Liz” Hoyt and Roberta Hazzard of the Health Planning Council, JD helps to reach out to community members and enroll them in a health plan through the NY Marketplace.
HSC is committed to enhancing health and human services for the County, working alongside other local not-for-profit organizations and health agencies to do so, and for the health navigators, it means meeting the people where they are.
When not in the office, the HSC navigators are spread out across Tompkins County to enroll community members. While JD speaks to community members at the food pantries in Newfield, Dryden, and Enfield, Liz and Roberta can be found in Ulysses Town Hall in Trumansburg and Access to Independence in Cortland assisting with health enrollment.
So far, it’s been a fulfilling experience for JD, and an eye-opening one as well.
The role involves building a lot of trust, notes JD, because “healthcare and social determinants of health go together. People trust you with intimate details.”
He’s determined to make sure community members know he’s with them throughout the process. “I want them to know that I will meet them, that I will go into these places with them,” assures JD. “I’ll meet them there and I will walk in with them.”
For JD, community outreach involves giving hope and a helping hand along the way.
When he’s not in Newfield and Enfield, JD offers health enrollment support at his office at the Human Services Coalition and at Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services. He also provides community navigation services at local homeless shelters, and in the Ithaca Friendship Center. He also does outreach in the fall at school orientations.
“It’s important that you have a primary care doctor and that you’re using them,” says JD about the importance of preventative care in keeping community members healthy.
Beyond health enrollment, the navigators at HSC are committed to promoting accessibility in other ways.
Recognizing the need for transportation in rural communities, JD and his colleagues also help to schedule FISH rides and provide vouchers for those in need of transportation to medical services in Tompkins County.
“Getting services to them is a big challenge,” he notes, but through his community engagement, JD hopes to help address issues relevant to the broader rural communities he serves, such as food insecurity, mental health disorders, and housing related factors, to make Tompkins County to a healthier place.
“It’s important to be as giving as you can about social determinants of health,” he says of his role, and for JD, a big way to promote the well-being of his neighbors is to “instill a volunteer spirit” through his work within communities. That’s how he hopes to promote the power of the rural one day at a time.
Article by Penelope Campos – Nov. 2019
“Anyone that calls, we’ll go. We go everywhere in Tompkins County.”
In the past month alone, Patricia and Diana have conducted forty-three home visits throughout the county for the Tompkins County Health Department. Every year, they visit at least 400 homes, the annual goal for the Healthy Neighborhoods Program, or HNP.
Pat and Diana hope to go beyond that number every year and reach even more community members.
This year marks Patricia’s 37th year working for the Health Department and helping to promote the well-being of those in Tompkins County. Before working for HNP, she worked for the county’s WIC Program as a nutritionist as well as the Environmental Health Division.
Supporting the Healthy Neighborhoods Program with Patricia is Diana Crouch, HNP’s new Education Coordinator. In her role, she helps promote awareness of the program to the community. Together, the pair canvass homes, table at events, and visit food pantries and clinics across Tompkins County to do outreach for the Healthy Neighborhoods Program.
In the first year of the program in 2010, after securing a grant from the state, HNP reached out to residents in the City of Ithaca, Dryden’s Mobile Home Parks, and Groton as their first target areas. In the years since then, they’ve been able to expand, pushing as close to the county line as possible to offer their support to rural communities.
The Healthy Neighborhoods Program runs in 18 counties and New York City, helping to improve home safety across the state through in-home assessments and preventive interventions.
The motto at HNP reads, “Healthy homes, healthy families, healthy neighborhoods,” and Pat and Diana have both served that mission for years beyond their time at HNP.
Diana joined the Health Department in September 2019, after thirteen years at the Child Development Council. For Diana, the transition to HNP was smooth after over a decade of compliance work for the Council. “At the Council, I did home visiting and inspections of homes for daycare. There are a lot of similarities, but HNP is not a regulatory program”
With the HNP, she is now helping to serve even more of her community. “I’m still doing home visiting, and I’m helping families, homes, and neighborhoods to be safer.”
Through the Healthy Neighborhoods Program, individuals are provided with a number of products to ensure their safety and that of those around them. Upon assessment, Pat and Diana provide families with products, ranging from fire extinguishers and smoke detectors to child safety locks. They also offer fall prevention tips to senior residents and pest control products for those in need.
“We give the information, the products, and the referrals, and then we can check back on twenty five percent of them or more. We try to revisit those who really need the follow up,” says Pat. “The majority of our visits are for people who need more than just a smoke detector.”
Families can also have their homes tested for lead and radon as part of the home visit.
“Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, it’s the breakdown of uranium in the ground. Smoking is first,” adds Pat. “If you could see or smell radon, you could bet people would test and do something about it.”
Within Tompkins County, the cities of Brooktondale and Enfield are reported to have homes with higher radon levels. Cortland, Pat’s hometown, is one of the worst counties in the state for the threat.
Radon mitigation can be costly, however, there is support available such as the USDA grant program for families who qualify.
The Healthy Neighborhoods Program has helped several homeowners in Tompkins County navigate mitigation issues in their homes.
Moving forward, Pat and Diana hope to reach even more people and to learn more about how to best serve their community. That’s just one reason why they ask individuals to submit voluntary feedback forms to HNP. “It’s not a requirement, but we feel that it’s very powerful,” says Diana about the value of community involvement in the Healthy Neighborhoods Program.
The Healthy Neighborhoods Program relies on referrals from other Health Department programs and collaboration with community partners, such as Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services, Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8), and the Department of Social Services to reach as many community members as possible, especially in their rural areas.
The agencies work together to make the appropriate referrals and ensure everyone can receive the help they need.
Pat mentions the significance of community connections to inform people about HNP. One of the communities they serve, she says, helped to get word out about their program by publicizing it on their email listserv.
“Even though in rural areas with a lot more space between neighbors, I see a lot of tight-knit communities,” adds Diana, and those bonds play a powerful role in helping HNP keep their rural neighborhoods safe and healthy.
“We really enjoy meeting people and providing this information, and everything is completely voluntary and free,” says Pat. Call us at 607-274-6688 to schedule an appointment.
Article by Penelope Campos – Nov. 2019
“I just love the connection. I love to meet seniors in the community, I love to hear their stories. I want them to feel they are important and that I hear them. That fulfills me.”
After twenty-five years at the Tompkins County Department of Social Services with their Eligibility Division, Dawn Sprague joined the Tompkins County Office for the Aging, a transition that has been nothing short of fulfilling. Dawn took on the role of Aging Services Specialist at COFA just over a year ago in August of 2018.
The Office for the Aging is committed to helping older adults in Tompkins County live independently in their homes, with dignity, and ensuring they gain access to the services they need.
Dawn recognizes how critical COFA is in making this possible for members of the community.
“Office for the Aging is a first stop for some people,” she says. “As much as we can do here to connect someone with services, we’re going to assist them in the process here,” she adds about their “no wrong door” policy at the office. Navigating services can be an overwhelming process, but COFA is here to help.
For Sprague, an important part of her work at the Office for the Aging is making sure she provides person-centered services and that individuals are reminded of their autonomy.
Dawn and fellow Aging Services Specialist, Rodney Maine, have the opportunity to interact with the community outside of the office through their outreach known as Conversation and Connections. They visit senior centers, Ithaca’s Foodnet social dining sites, and senior centers around the county to speak with people about services available to them and to hear what is important to them. This has been a great success for the agency, and, so much so that several rural community members have asked for more frequent visits.
Once they’ve made that contact, Dawn says, they can help assess an individual’s needs, discuss their options, and assist in connecting them to services.
In rural communities, they reach out to people at potluck luncheons and dinners, Senior meetings, and community events. This is also an opportunity to collect ideas directly from the seniors. Just recently, they were invited to present on services at a Senior luncheon hosted in Trumansburg, where around 80 people attended and had a chance to meet with people in an informal setting.
It’s brought a “greater awareness of what is available to people,” says Dawn, and it’s helping to foster connections for more people, especially in the more rural areas of Tompkins County.
The Office for the Aging also puts community members into contact with volunteer opportunities, such as Project CARE and the New York State Long-Term Care Ombudsman program.
The Ombudsman program allows volunteers to advocate for individuals living in long-term care facilities, lending an ear and investigating complaints to protect their rights and well-being. The program offers volunteers NYS certification with participation in their extensive training program and in monthly meetings.
Through Project CARE, COFA’S friendly visitor program, older residents receive weekly visits from a volunteer. Dawn gives special attention to the applications, looking for similar interests and backgrounds, to ensure both older residents and volunteers are compatible and content with their visits. Based on the person’s wants, volunteers can share a meal, play games, offer some help around the home, go for walks, and offer companionship.
For a multigenerational connection, older community members can participate in Project Generations, an offshoot of Project CARE that partners with college students in the area offering the same weekly visiting and companionship to our Seniors. Ithaca College Project Generations members present an annual senior prom on the Ithaca College Campus for a night of fun including music, dancing, and entertainment. There is a chosen theme for the evening, such as “At the Hop”. Attendees dress based on the theme and at the end of the evening a Prom King and Queen are chosen.
“They benefit so much from each other. A lot of the seniors love having someone young come and hear their stories about what life was like when they were growing up, their career, their family,” says Dawn of Project Generations. “They like to hear about students, what they’re doing and where they’ve been, what their goals are. It seems to work really well.”
During outreach, Dawn encourages rural residents to reach out to their own by participating in Project CARE. “That’s one of the ways we can combat social isolation, which is one of the biggest problems in the county for people who live in the rural areas.” Regular interaction is not as common for those in rural areas as it is in senior or assisted housing facilities.
“Seniors may be by themselves the majority of the time. That creates loneliness, depression, and illness. It’s a vicious cycle,” says Dawn, and that’s where she sees the impact of Project CARE and Project Generations in supporting the health of the community. More volunteers are needed in the rural areas to help match with Seniors requesting a weekly friendly visitor.
“What I’ve always found fascinating about rural communities is that they really take care of each other,” says Dawn, who grew up in the small town of Ludlowville in Lansing.
An important part of Dawn’s role is increasing their visibility in the community, and she wants residents to know that they want to reach everyone and every issue.
“We just want to keep reinforcing the same information. We’re here, we can help, we have services. When somebody needs information about something and they don’t have internet access or they don’t use technology, we’ll find it…if we don’t know, we’ll try to find the information for them.”
“We want to be accessible to everybody. I think that’s a big thing, to be inclusive of everyone in the county.” The Office for the Aging offers other outreach programs such as fall prevention tips and assesses homes for potential dangers, Personal Emergency Response systems and more.
For Dawn, giving seniors the tools to be informed and make their own decisions is empowering. “I love what I do.”
Article by Penelope Campos – Nov. 2019
Dr. Michael Berlin joined Cayuga Medical Center’s staff in 2014 to work in internal medicine after finishing his residency at NY Presbyterian. Five years later, he is the director of the new Rural Internal Medicine Residency Program at Cayuga Medical Center, which opened its doors to its first three residents just this summer.
His time in Ithaca has been nothing short of fulfilling, he says. “I am a part time hospitalist and I’m a part time program director…Full time dad and a full-time husband. I stay busy, but it’s exciting and it’s really rewarding to be all of those things.”
Dr. Berlin grew up in Westchester, New York, and after completing his undergraduate studies at Skidmore College in Saratoga, he pursued a graduate program in chemistry before deciding to go from the “bench to the bedside,” he says.
After completing medical school at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, he started his residency at the Cornell campus of NY Presbyterian and took part in a two-week rural medicine elective that opened his eyes to rural medicine.
“The people in the hospital, everyone from physicians and nurses to the people that transport and clean the hospital, were extraordinarily nice,” he says of his first impressions, and the hospital, he discovered, offered an advanced level of healthcare services.
“There was really amazing medicine happening,” he says. As the director of the Rural Residency program, he hopes to mirror his own experiences at Cayuga Medical Center for his residents.
The Rural Residency program was awarded its foundational grant in 2017, allowing for recruitment to start in the fall of 2018.
Using a combination of channels such as Weill Cornell, the American Medical Association, and social media, the program received over 1200 applications, domestic and international, for its inaugural class.
A hundred applicants were interviewed, he says, and this July, three started the internal medicine program. Two have started their rotation at Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca and one is placed in New York for their urban-rural track.
Dr. Berlin is excited for the expansion of the program and for residents to see what rural medicine has to offer. The applications for next summer have started rolling in, with over 2800 already received by early November. 10 residents will be starting next summer.
“If we just expose people to what our healthcare system has to offer and then integrate them into the community, it will dispel the myths they have about what practicing at a community hospital in a rural setting means,” says Mike, reflecting on his own transition to Cayuga Medical Center.
He notes the unique quality of rural communities as something residents can expect from their involvement in the program.
Dr. Berlin says the residency program offers its residents a chance to work beyond the exam room and get out into the community. During the residency, participants are heavily involved in the community for their research projects, offering them the opportunity to create ties in their new homes.
“If we engage them in the community, they are going to similarly find, that it is dissimilar to many places in the country,” he says. “And they won’t want to leave it because there’s not a better place to be. That is how we built the residency.”
Dr. Berlin notes that there’s a physician shortage across the country, which disproportionately affects rural areas.
“It is current and going to get worse, and it creates health inequity in access to medical care,” he says, and with the Rural Residency program, he’s hopeful that they can begin to address this growing issue in Tompkins County one resident at a time.
Physicians are more likely to stay where they’ve trained, and their ties to the community factor significantly into that choice. The community engagement of the residency program addresses this head on, says Mike.
“Larger, urban hospitals can deliver all these phenomenally advanced medical interventions, but there are things that we do better and population health is, by far, one of them.” He cites their collaboration with Cayuga Health Partners in familiarizing residents with the population they serve.
The expansion of the program to a full class of 30, says Dr. Berlin, will be really powerful to see, and he is excited to see the structural change that will come from this level of community engagement, especially with regard to access and other social determinants of health such as health literacy.
The program aims to recruit and train physicians to lead and advocate for their community members because, as Dr. Berlin notes, “the physician’s role does not end at the physician’s door anymore.”
He says the training program offers its residents a fairly innovative “1-2” track, offering exposure to both rural and urban medicine. After completing their first year at NY Presbyterian-Cornell, selected residents spend the last two years in Tompkins County.
“It exposes them to the medicine that is being delivered at a large, urban institution, he says, and then they’re able to come here and contrast that with how care is delivered in a smaller community hospital,” offering them a diversity of experiences comparable to multiple residencies.
Dr. Berlin adds that most residency programs struggle with a competition between service and education, but the Rural Residency program offers them an alternative.
“It’s fifty percent inpatient, fifty percent outpatient so they can get the training and education they need in order to be independent and autonomous, high quality providers upon graduation. That service-education battle has never been a problem here,” he says.
Looking beyond the resident experience to the mission of the program, Dr. Berlin says it’s important for the community to know that the “residency program is for them.”
“The goals were not to deliver services to the hospital but to train and retain these physicians for our community,” he says.
“Competence is context specific,” Dr. Berlin consistently highlights to his residents, and “the people in our community are the strongest asset.”
Article by Penelope Campos – Nov. 2019
This past spring, Foodnet/Meals on Wheels was one of eight nonprofit organizations in Central New York to receive an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Community Health Award for their commitment to health and wellness.
“The needs that we’re addressing with our service are senior malnutrition and food insecurity for older adults in Tompkins County. Our services cover every nook and cranny of Tompkins County,” says Jessica, but their mission doesn’t stop there for her.
Jessica Gosa, Executive Director of Foodnet, will mark her third year at the organization this December, and credits her time at Family and Children’s Services in Ithaca as a Senior Services Coordinator for introducing her to Foodnet.
“I did a lot of home visiting, and during those home visits, the Foodnet truck would pull up, and I would see the connection that the clients would make with the drivers. It was the most amazing service, and I referred every single one of my clients to it,” she says.
“The organization was about so much more than the food. It’s the human connection part of what we do that is equally as important as the food,” she notes of Foodnet’s role in the community, and it’s growing every year.
In her time at Foodnet, she says there’s been a steady increase in home delivery and nutrition across the county.
Through the Meals on Wheels program, seniors in the community are able to receive a hot meal for lunch through the delivery service and an optional sandwich to keep for an evening meal. Partners caring for their loved one in the home are also eligible for the meal service.
Foodnet also hosts social dining meals at different locations across Tompkins County, such as Titus towers, Center Village Court, and the YMCA. In that way, the organization offers older residents access to nutrition and an opportunity to socialize.
As director, Jessica’s role is to ensure their work aligns with the mission and to further the vision of the organization. She sees a commitment to advocacy, education, strategic partnerships and outreach as central to the Foodnet’s goals.
Home delivery accounts for three-fourths of Foodnet’s services for the community, but the deliveries offer more than just a meal. They offer a safety check and a friendly face, and drivers cover 9000 miles a month to reach the seniors.
Jessica says that their model offers drivers, and seniors, consistent routes, allowing them to build relationships and providing a stabilizer for seniors in their day to day.
“We see it as a really supportive service to our healthcare system, too, in the way that we’re providing a lot of preventative care,” says Jessica of the role of drivers in keeping residents safe.
Beyond connections, the Foodnet drivers serve as the “eyes and ears” for the community, says Jessica, as they are able to monitor the health of their clients through their frequent visits.
“We find people shortly after a fall sometimes. We find people who have been on the floor a lot longer. These circumstances are an unfortunate reality. But getting people the care they need quicker, we’re also maybe helping to shorten the length of their recovery time in the hospital.” She says that’s the impact that home visits can have.
With the unique needs of the community in mind, Foodnet offers its seniors comprehensive nutrition services. Their dietitian analyzes and certifies meals for the organization and offers nutrition education and counseling at sites.
Foodnet has the support of talented volunteers, who help to support the Foodnet vision, as well as interns from Binghamton and Cornell, who support the dietitian. A case manager is set to join the team, says Jessica, to offer even more personalized support and referral coordination.
With winter just around the corner, Foodnet is currently working together on their Blizzard Bag Program, which offers its clients emergency meals if bad weather prevents drivers from reaching their home-bound clients.
In the bags, the clients can find four shelf-stable meals in the event of an emergency, in addition to water and nutritional snacks, like granola bars, raisins, crackers, and peanut butter.
The program, Jessica says, is largely supported by donations from United Way, Wegmans, and a number of local businesses. Every year, community members gather in the center to help pack the blizzard bags for the seniors.
“It’s one way we at least know they won’t go without nutrition,” she says of the program.
According to Jessica, their assessments “have become more comprehensive” to reflect the changing and diverse health care needs of the community elders, noting that more are likely to live alone than before.
The Meal on Wheels program, says Jessica, is inclusive of a broad sector of the community (and across all income levels), and the home deliveries can be an invaluable service for members of the community dealing with a number of challenges, such as dietary restraints, frailty, grief, and economic barriers.
Just last year, Foodnet provided about 170,000 meals to the community, serving a total of 828 people across Tompkins County.
When she speaks to community members interested in the program, Jessica says she recognizes a common desire to remain close to their roots. “We talk about how the service is really designed to promote their independence because we know that people want to stay in their homes” she says.
“Our clients have a lot of pride where they are. They love where they are, and they love their land. They love living where they are. If you talk to them, they’ll tell you about how their whole entire families once lived on that road or the farm down the street was their uncle’s,” Jessica notes of the importance of home to her clients. “There’s just so much history in all of our communities.”
Jessica describes Foodnet Meals on Wheels as being “on the frontline,” and it is their hope that the program will continue to serve more of the community, helping clients receive the support they need to stay home and stay connected.
Article by Penelope Campos – Nov. 2019
This past September, Groundswell celebrated its ten-year anniversary, reigning in the year by achieving its not-for-profit status.
“We’re small but mighty,” says Natalie Hughes of the Groundswell team.
Natalie joined the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming as their Development Manager in 2017.
Before arriving at Groundswell, she earned a degree in urban agriculture at Binghamton University, staying in the city after graduation to work for the VINES program. She ran a teen employment program, oversaw a network of ten community gardens, and evaluated issues related to health and food injustice.
At Groundswell, she tackles the same issues in agriculture, managing the farm’s communications and fundraising and supporting the community engagement central to Groundwell’s mission.
“Groundswell’s main mission is to support new and beginning farmers in the Fingerlakes region, says Natalie, “but we do this with a lens of equity and justice and sustainability. We’re really committed to supporting and helping farmers to farm in ways that are regenerative for the environment and produce healthy food for people to eat.”
Through their community engagement, Natalie adds, their mission aims to factor in some of the greater challenges related to farming. “The number one issue to get into farming, for young farmers at least, is land access. We really prioritize trying to help farmers overcome the burden of purchasing or leasing land. Land is expensive and it’s a limited resource around here.”
“We really try to help connect farmers to land. That’s one of the reasons why the incubator farm exists,” she adds.
Groundswell’s incubator farm started in 2012, providing farmers with a garden-sized plot to plant their roots. Although designed to be transitional, Natalie says, many of their farmers have decided to stay with the Center.
The incubator farm provides new farmers with the tools and the space to start their business. This season, she says there are ten businesses operating off the incubator farm. Of the ten, eight are refugee owned, growing a range of herbs and vegetables from lemongrass to eggplants. Altogether, it now serves a network of 30 farmers across a dozen plots.
In the coming months, Natalie mentions that Groundswell is in the process of transitioning the incubator farm to be a community farm, and the organization is currently fundraising to install a pond on the site.
“We’re looking to build a pond and a farm here to help support the autonomy of this site and to keep water costs low, ” she says, and the pond would be significant in aiding ecosystem health.
Moving forward, Groundswell is dedicated to helping people scale up and expand their vegetables and products including livestock, Natalie says, with hopes to access more land for its farmers soon.
Groundswell is dedicated to supporting inclusion within the greater community through more than just providing land access.
“Groundswell provides a lot of training and network opportunities for beginning farmers,” says Natalie. Every season, the center offers technical workshops in collaboration with 40 community partner farms to teach farmers about organic spray methods and how to use farming equipment, among other skills.
Every winter, the center offers an intensive 9-week farm business planning course, says Natalie to help farmers plan long-term and to provide networking opportunities.
Natalie mentions the Center’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility within their programs.
To reach female farmers in the male dominated industry,Groundswell launched Women on the Land series in 2018, arranging technical workshops “led by women and for women.”
“We have a special pricing structure, which we call our solidarity pricing so folks who are immigrants, refugees, or people of color are welcome to take advantage of a lower rate than anyone else to try to incentivize these courses,” she said of the center’s dedication to making their trainings accessible.
The center also aims to reach more of the farming community by offering childcare, transportation, and meals to those in need, says Natalie.
Central to Groundswell’s success and diversity, says Natalie, is their outreach.
“We have built really good relationships with different organizations in town that are led by people of color and with different organizations that work with immigrants and refugees,” she said of the impact of their collaborations. Some of these include Ithaca Welcomes Refugees, Southside Community Center, and Catholic Charities’s Immigration Services Program.
Using their platform to engage those in the Fingerlakes, Groundswell engages the greater farming community through their webinar series, Farming for Justice. Once a month, local leaders are invited to facilitate discussions around a range of topics regarding food justice, from food insecurity to policy.
“It spans advocacy, education, and action around issues in the food system, and that is more open to a more national scale,” she says of the webinar’s reach.
Groundswell is part of the Fingerlakes Farmer-to-Farmer Facebook community with over 900 members, says Natalie, and their own organization’s page has over 3000 followers itself, reaching farmers far and wide.
For Natalie, what sets Groundwell apart from other organizations that support farmers is their commitment to justice and focus on sustainability. The organization, she says, has created a community around food justice and supports a network for farmers to learn from each other.
“I see Groundswell playing a role in helping to support a healthy, rural farmer life, highlighting all of the great communities and cultures that we have in Upstate New York, and helping everyone benefit from more fresh and abundant food,” and as she mentions, it is important for the community to see the impact of farming is in our day to day lives.
“We are lucky in the Finger Lakes. There is so much knowledge here. We have really amazing farms, and we have a great food system. Part of what Groundswell is trying to do is make sure everyone gets an opportunity to come to the table,” Natalie says of the organization’s efforts.
Article by Penelope Campos – Nov. 2019
To learn more about rural health initiatives visit https://nysarh.org/