When I saw that the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce was accepting nominations for their Business Awards, including the category ‘Nonprofit Organization of the Year,’ I immediately thought of L.E.A.P. Is it because I work here? Perhaps. But it is BECAUSE I work here that I have heard so many incredible stories about how this organization has gone above and beyond over the past year (and beyond) to impact the quality of life of those in our community. And by organization, I really mean the staff. Because organizations are made up of people, just like communities are made up of people.
I started at L.E.A.P. in August 2020, and each and every week, I am still learning about the things our staff members do for children, adults, seniors, and families in our community. Businesses and partner organizations as well of course, although, again, those are made up of individuals as well.
I’m not sure if I’m allowed, but I nominated us for the ARCC Nonprofit Organization of the Year Award. The criteria was the following: “Recognition of a not-for-profit 501c3 business whose organizational mission is reflective of community needs and has demonstrated outstanding contributions to the community’s quality of life.” L.E.A.P.’s work over the past year and a half fits that criteria to a T.
I wrote a three-page letter about why I think L.E.A.P. is deserving of this award. Not only as an employee, but as a resident of this community. And I could have kept writing. I’m including some of it here in case you’d like to read it. As the second-largest nonprofit in Washington County, I know that many members of the community, and even many of our own employees don’t know the extent of all of the incredible ways we impact people in the community.
Here are some of the examples I shared:
–When the COVID 19 pandemic started, L.E.A.P.’s 120 employees did not stop working. In fact, programs and services continued, and additional assistance was implemented. For example, when the mask mandate first went into effect, L.E.A.P. Head Start staff used their personal sewing machines and recruited family and friends to make 5,000 masks; delivering them to ensure each member of every Head Start family had 2 cloth masks. Many families were unable to access the internet to order masks online, or unable to go to stores to purchase them due to transportation or economic issues. Without a mask, they were then unable to go into public places or stores at all. For many families, the number of masks required for each family member was an unexpected financial strain on those already living paycheck to paycheck. 15,000 diapers were also distributed to these families with babies and young children, and since these children were not getting the breakfast, lunch, and snacks at the center due to remote learning, these meals were delivered to their homes as well.
–Early on in the pandemic, the entire contents of L.E.A.P.’s Food Pantry (in a matter of hours!) was moved from the County Building to the neighboring WIC building. Many staff members from several different departments assisted to ensure uninterrupted service to those in need of emergency food. As other local Food Pantries were forced to reduce services or close entirely, L.E.A.P. ensured that 913 households received food, including 179 families who had never before used our Food Pantry. In fact, the Food Pantry began to offer a new service—delivery throughout the County, including cleaning products and hygiene supplies which were in short supply in local stores even for those who could afford to get to the store.
-L.E.A.P.’s Transportation Program never stopped operating. L.E.A.P.’s paid and volunteer drivers continued to transport clients, because dialysis, chemotherapy, and other life-sustaining treatments couldn’t be postponed, even during a pandemic. Transportation for many of these 57 individuals that were served over the past year isn’t only a quality of life issue, it is a matter of life.
-Each year, L.E.A.P. has a winter coat drive and collects donations of new or gently used coats for children and adults of all sizes. During the pandemic, the policies about how to collect, store, and clean these items changed. In addition, instead of a one-day distribution event, coats had to be individually distributed to clients in need. Rather than discontinue this program during the pandemic, staff adapted to the new expectations and distributed over 100 coats. Again, having a suitable coat to walk to the store, shovel the driveway, or wait for the school bus is a quality of life issue.
A “community” is made up of individuals, and by serving individuals with what they need, when they need it, L.E.A.P. supports the entire community. Businesses cannot succeed if their employees are hungry. Schools cannot succeed if children enter kindergarten without age-appropriate social, emotional, physical, language, and literacy skills. Health care providers cannot serve those who cannot get to their location.
As an employee of L.E.A.P. for the past ten months, I have heard stories and personally seen examples of L.E.A.P. staff members in all programs going above and beyond to improve the quality of life of individuals in our community. Both during, after, at work and outside work, these staff members used their time, energy, talents, and personal resources to ensure that community members had what they needed. The day of the largest snowstorm of the year, Program Coordinator Leeah Wright personally dug a L.E.A.P. vehicle out of FEET of snow to be able to get food to clients. During the holiday season, Family Advocate Heather Adams-Wendell took time out of her own holiday preparation to ensure that several families with last minute challenges got donations of holiday gifts, food, and other essentials so that they would have a happy holiday as well. Head Start teachers came up with innovative lessons and adapted to an entirely new way of interacting with small children to keep them engaged on a computer screen. Home Visitors sat outside with families in order to properly socially distance, oftentimes on the ground because the families did not have outdoor furniture. These are only a few the many demonstrations of outstanding contributions to the community’s quality of life.
The youth that completed L.E.A.P.’s Summer Youth Employment Program attained experience and skills that will serve them for life. The individuals/families that received emergency assistance funding to prevent a potential crisis, the dislocated workers that received funding for supportive services or one-on-one support from an employment counselor, the children that received a referral to a specialist because of a physical challenge, the parents that received an encouraging word…their lives were all improved by the community of staff members at L.E.A.P.
If you’d like to nominate L.E.A.P. for the ARCC Business Awards Nonprofit Organization of the Year, you can do so on their website. If we win, it’s because of the staff here. They are incredible.
–Jen Frigolette, L.E.A.P. Outreach and Development Coordinator
For more information on the ARCC Business Awards, including the 6 categories and online nomination form, visit their website: https://www.adirondackchamber.org/annual-arcc-business-awards