Gail Belokur, interim president and CEO of United Way of Tompkins County, speaks about this year’s campaign March 9 at Moakley House, as Cornell President Martha E. Pollack looks on.

Cornell community exceeds $555K United Way fundraising goal

Cornell community donors who contributed $1,000 or more to the Cornell United Way campaign were honored March 9 at Moakley House, as participants in the campaign celebrated exceeding its annual fundraising goal for the first time in nearly a decade.

So far, the Cornell United Way campaign has raised more than $558,066 in donations, surpassing its goal of $555,000. And that number is likely to increase, with several weeks still left to go in its 2022-23 campaign.

Nearly 78% of that amount came from 170 Cornell community donors who contributed $1,000 or more. Donors at this level of giving become part of the Cornell United Way President’s Leadership Association, and every year the president recognizes them at a reception.

“Our engagement with our Ithaca and Tompkins County community is central to who we are,” President Martha E. Pollack said. “The theme of this campaign, ‘Better United,’ makes perfect sense, because I think all of us at Cornell know that we are better when we are united with our colleagues, our neighbors in Ithaca and in Tompkins County.”

The Cornell campaign is a yearly campus drive that supports an overall campaign run by United Way of Tompkins County (UWTC) to raise funds for programs that support those in need.

UWTC’s mission is to help people meet their basic needs while working to improve education, health and financial stability. Funds raised go directly to approximately 300 local nonprofits each year, including the Downtown Ithaca Children’s Center, Women’s Opportunity Center and the Urgent Rx Prescription Program.

“Throughout this time, I’ve been in awe of the work that is done by the organization, of the actual lives who are saved or whose trajectory is positively changed through the agencies and programs that are offered,” said Pat Wynn, assistant vice president for student and campus life, now in her fifth year as co-chair of Cornell United Way campaign.

Campaign co-chair Brandon Fortenberry, senior manager of training and development for Cornell Dining, told the audience he became involved because of the Big Brother/Big Sister program – an organization funded by UWTC.

“Many times we relied on public services and as a kid, I didn’t understand what that meant,” said Fortenberry, whose single mother battled mental health and substance abuse issues. “But they made an incredible impact in my life. I have a ‘big brother,’ who I still stay in touch with to this day that I met when I was 11 years old, who became that father figure person, provided me with a resource and understanding of how to grow and develop as a person, and just be a great role model and mentor for me.”

Fortenberry also announced that, for the first time in many years, Cornell’s United Way student group would relaunch this year, headed by Jay Gupta ’25.

Gail Belokur, interim president and CEO of UWTC, gave examples of how Cornell students and faculty have helped accomplish United Way goals, including the United Way 211 program, recently launched by a group of undergraduates from the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

The program “provides much needed support for rent, utilities, car repair and childcare, so that people can maintain basic living standards and continue to work or learn,” Belokur said. “And our Dyson students helped operationalize that in the summer of 2020. In the middle of COVID, we did it.”

This year’s campaign began in September 2022 with a county fundraising goal of $1.8 million.

“As someone who has benefited from organizations funded by the United Way, I know what an impact it can have on somebody’s life.” Fortenberry said. “And I want you to feel that and know the importance of the work that you do.”

The campaign ends in April. To donate, visit the Cornell United Way website.

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Abby Kozlowski