The Erie Reader Gives 2022
Our staff and contributors show local nonprofits their support
Growth potential may have no better analog than the acorn, a tiny nut weighing less than an ounce with all the stuff of a multi-ton oak inside. For centuries, it's been revered by cultures throughout the world as a symbol of promise, perseverance, and strength. Some say it conveys the wisdom of old age and others the vitality of eternal youth. (Surlier folklorists suggest it portends a bump on the head or a dent in your car's roof, but don't mind them).
Regardless, seeing acorn potential through to oaken prosperity takes patience. It's without a doubt a long-term investment, to be nurtured over time and many seasons. Once matured, however, an oak might flourish for generations. Given the same care, communities can thrive in the same way.
That's been the mentality of the Erie Community Foundation since its inception in 1971, with over 800 philanthropic endowments nestled under its wide-reaching administrative canopy. It planted another acorn in 2011 with Erie Gives Day, a 12-hour public charity drive that brought in $744,444 from 2,770 unique donors to the benefit of 213 local nonprofits.
Fast-forward a decade and it's safe to say we've got a full-fledged tree growing in our backyard. On Erie Gives Day 2021, 10,808 donors (second only to 2020's 11,482) set aside a record $7,057,176 in gifts — nearly 10 times more than the inaugural event. That's nuts.
You know what would be even nuttier, though? Eclipsing those numbers on Erie Gives Day 2022, which is taking place Tuesday, Aug. 9 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. You'll have the opportunity to donate (a minimum of $25) to one or more of 434 partnering nonprofits supporting a breadth of causes, with the Erie Community Foundation and sponsors offering a prorated match for each contribution.
Think of it as Miracle-Gro for transformative efforts all across Erie County, and you'll understand why we've dedicated so many pages to it over the years (apologies to the non-metaphorical trees). In a continuation of an annual tradition, the Erie Reader staff and contributors will now share with you the nonprofits we'll be supporting this year, and encourage you to follow suit or find others you're passionate about at eriegives.org (with an easily searchable database).
Our Nonprofit Picks
Career and Dreams Inc.
Who's giving: Adam Welsh, Editor-in-Chief
Who they are: Career and Dreams Inc. seeks to "empower at-risk youth, families, and individuals with disabilities by partnering with local businesses and educational entities to create alternative career and educational training programs that enhance regional career opportunities." Their programs are designed to help underserved members of our community achieve their employment goals, further education opportunities, and even improve personal health and wellness.
Why I'm giving: Sometimes in life all you need is an opportunity. Career and Dreams Inc. aims to do just that, offering alternative educational and apprenticeship programs that include paths into fields such as aviation, culinary arts, law, education, multimedia, even scuba diving. Ensuring that everyone in our community is exposed to such diverse career opportunities as these is something much needed, and something I hope to see continue to grow in the coming years.
Community Access Media (CAM Erie)
Who's giving: Nick Warren, Managing Editor
Who they are: Community Access Media, better known by the apt acronym of CAM Erie, says it all in the name. They help give members of the Erie community access to media. Be it via podcast recording, live-streaming, original programming, or special event coverage, CAM Erie is there for those that want to create.
Why I'm giving: Years and years ago, I took training classes at CAM Erie (or, should I say, CATV Erie). Learning the in-booth editing techniques and getting access to equipment at virtually no cost seemed like a dream. Having been on both sides of the media and the arts, the value is crystal clear. These days, every time I walk into their offices, I'm energized by how far they've come, and the wonderful content they're able to cultivate, from their CAM Jams to the local podcasts that populate my Stitcher feed.
Bonus: Find them filming this year's Blues & Jazz Festival, and tune in Thursday, Oct. 6 for a special performance featuring yours truly.
Compton's Table, Inc.
Who's giving: Dan Schank, Writer
Who they are: A rapidly-expanding organization that helps queer youth and young adults "find community and resist marginalization," according to their website. Compton's Table recently took up residence in the PACA building at 15th and State, where it will offer support-group services, host gender-affirming community events, and provide physical resources like clothing, hygiene products, and accessories.
Why I'm giving: Erie's recent track record on LGBTQIA+ rights is worth celebrating, especially as it relates to the advocacy of Tyler Titus (the organization's founder). Through their work as an educator, activist, and mental health professional, Tyler has cultivated a strong track record of successful community engagement. It's a volatile time for our LGBTQIA+ community, and Compton's Table provides the concrete resources our youth need in a world that often demonizes and diminishes them.
Dan previously gave to: The Erie County Community College of PA, the Multicultural Community Resource Center (MCRC)
Erie Arts and Culture funding is responsible for many beautification and mural projects throughout the city. This example,
found at West 11th Street and Weschler Avenue, was painted by artist Nicole Salgar with assistance from Precious
Thompson, Sarah Howard, Katherine Peters, and Raina Harden.
Erie Arts & Culture
Who: Erin Phillips, Writer
Who they are: The local organization both fosters and funds local art projects and artists throughout Erie. Founded in 1960 as the Arts Council of Erie, in recent years especially, they've been responsible for numerous mural projects around the city.
Why I'm giving: One of my family's favorite books to read together is Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett. It's about a little girl who lives in a colorless, cold little town. She finds a magical box of bright yarn that never runs out, and after knitting sweaters for everyone in town, she starts to make sweaters for buildings, mailboxes, pickup trucks, etc. At one moment in the book, the author writes: "Things began to change in that little town."
We choose to donate to Erie Arts & Culture for Erie Gives Day because they are doing just that. Through public art and generosity, bit by bit, Erie Arts & Culture is changing our little town. I find myself amazed at how a previously overlooked piece of utility, like a retaining wall or garage doors can be seen as a blank canvas, and then transformed; making a walk to work or school feel like walking through an art gallery. I also feel it is important that my own children and the children of Erie have the opportunity to see that transformative power of art, to see that creativity is something to be valued, and to feel inspired by an artist's vision.
We look forward to many more projects to come from Erie Arts & Culture and are happy to donate to the organization every Erie Gives Day.
The Erie Philharmonic
Who's giving: JIm Wertz, Contributing Editor
Who they are: The Erie Philharmonic first took the stage in 1913 as a 50 piece orchestra playing "sacred music." Today, it is the cultural crown jewel of northwest Pennsylvania with more than 65 professional musicians under the leadership of Daniel Meyer, who became the 12th music director of the Erie Philharmonic in 2007. With a reverent nod to the "sacred music" of old, the Erie Philharmonic now offers the community two concert series – one symphonic and one pops. In addition to its ticketed events at the Warner Theatre, the Erie Phil offers free summer concerts in community parks across Erie and Crawford Counties, sometimes bringing out more than 1,000 people on a warm summer night.
Why I'm giving: The Erie Philharmonic and its energetic staff, capably led by Executive Director Steve Weiser, is nationally recognized as an orchestra that is punching well above its weight class. The quality and consistency of the orchestra – even through a global pandemic that crippled many much larger orchestras – is, in many ways, unmatched. Inside the newly renovated Warner Theatre, the orchestra has never sounded better. And if traditional symphonies aren't your thing, try watching one of your favorite movies – E.T., Star Wars, Mary Poppins, to name a few – with a live orchestra performing the soundtrack. I challenge you not to get lost in the orchestra while you watch the biggest stars on the silver screen.
The Erie Philharmonic also supports partner organizations like the Erie Philharmonic Chorus and the Junior Philharmonic to expand the reach of its legacy. And to extend its pipeline for the future of the orchestra, community programs like artist residencies at elementary schools throughout Erie County, and a piano donation program that provides pianos to homes that otherwise couldn't afford them, cement the Erie Philharmonic's place as a cultural anchor in our community.
Bonus: Truly a bonus to your gift this year: every dollar you donate to the Erie Philharmonic will be matched dollar for dollar by an anonymous donor, doubling your gift.
Erie Police Athletic League (PAL)
Who's giving: Jim Wertz, Contributing Editor
Who they are: The Erie Police Athletic League (PAL) program first began in the 1950s to bridge economic, cultural, and racial divides that framed the day. The PAL program gave kids an opportunity to get off the streets and build relationships with mentors that helped them navigate their lives and to look forward toward opportunities that would have previously gone unrecognized. But these programs waned throughout the United States during the 1970s and 1980s as police department priorities shifted based on operating procedures and funding incentives.
The Erie PAL reemerged in 2015 under the direction of former Erie County Sheriff John Loomis, former Erie City Police Chief Randy Bowers, and Attorney Ron DiNicola. In the seven years since reorganizing, the program has grown from a few dozen Erie kids and a handful of police officers into a program that served more than 800 kids and 93 participating officers under the leadership of Lt. Tom Lenox.
Why I'm giving: The PAL program participated in more than 300 community policing events in 2021-22, in addition to after school programs at six city elementary schools, three city middle schools, Erie High, Collegiate Academy, and several community centers including the Erie Boys and Girls Club, the St. Martin's Center, and the Eagle's Nest. School year programming often includes Saturday programming as well. When school isn't in session, the Erie PAL runs summer programming including weeklong camps in collaboration with the Erie Boys and Girls Club and Gannon University, a weeklong Junior Police Academy, and field trips including Niagara Falls and the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh. It's an equally invaluable experience for the participating students and the officers who mentor them.
Bonus: In addition to its regular programming, the Erie PAL hosts birthday parties for its participants and last December the Erie PAL delivered Christmas bags with gifts and other family needs — individually door to door — to more than 300 families and PAL students. If you're participating in a conversation about police reform, it should include initiatives like the Erie PAL.
Lake Erie Food Rescue
Who's giving: Matt Swanseger, Copy Editor
Who they are: Self-described as the "Uber" of donated food, Lake Erie Food Rescue (LERF) is all about saving what is wasted. LERF enlists "Food Rescue Heroes" to pick up items from partnering donors (grocery stores, restaurants, food wholesalers, etc.) and drop them off at local nonprofits for redistribution to those in need.
Why I'm giving: Have you ever returned from holiday to find your produce drawer an ICU for vegetables in critical condition? Or seen a restaurant table cleared with only a few bites missing from each plate? As both a home chef and a former food service worker, food waste at any scale bothers me — whether it's a handful of spring mix or a Santa-sized sackful of sub rolls. Furthermore, food insecurity is one of the greatest existential threats facing us all. I would not toss a chance to help hungry neighbors down the garbage disposal.
Matt previously gave to: The Performing Artists Collective Alliance (PACA), Erie Together, Bayfront Maritime Center, Asbury Woods, and the Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center
A sunset view seen along the bluffs of Lake Erie.
Lake Erie Region Conservancy
Who's giving: Jessica Hunter, Photographer; Publishing and New Media Coordinator
Who they are: Lake Erie Region Conservancy (LERC) is a land trust that was formed in 2000 to identify, conserve, and protect the natural, cultural and historic resources in Pennsylvania's Lake Erie watershed. It was initially formed to preserve the Coho site on the shoreline of Lake Erie, which in 2004 successfully became the 540-acre Erie Bluffs State Park, the first new state park in 25 years. The Elk Creek Access Area, formerly owned by Girard Township, was incorporated into Erie Bluffs in 2009 making the park 587 acres. The park has nearly two miles of frontage on Lake Erie and two-thirds of a mile on Elk Creek.
Why I'm giving: Conserved lands create an enhanced quality of life for our community and everyone benefits. It means more open space for recreation and less stress on the local ecology. In addition, spending time in nature can relieve our own stress and anxiety, improve moods, and boost feelings of happiness and well-being.
Bonus: LERC's mission of protecting open space, providing public access to nature, protecting watersheds, and advocating for a cleaner planet is something that I think we can all get behind. Check out one of LERC's 10 protected lands on your next outdoor adventure!
McCord Memorial Library
Who's giving: Bryan Toy, Longtime Cartoonist, Writer, and Sometimes Cover Artist
Who they are: Our local library in the town of North East since 1889.
Why I'm giving: When my family first moved to North East, McCord Library became our second home. Nearly every day, as toddlers and preschoolers, the kids would walk with a parent or grandparent over to the library for story time or educational programs. They helped turn my children into lifetime readers. My father and I both volunteered to run workshops in the amazing children's section. When I was in grad school, McCord Library became a quiet place for me to study and use the POWER Library to do research.
Funded mostly from township and borough taxes, which are limited, they rely on individual donations to pay their awesome staff and support their programs. As an independent library operating outside the umbrella of the Erie County Library System, they must show financial backing from local residents in order to maintain state funding.
Bonus: Their annual book sale is second only to the Great American Book Sale. If you are addicted to books like my family is, keep an eye open for it. You can never have too many friends or books!
United Way Imagination Library
Who's giving: Brian Graham, Editor and Publisher
Who they are: Music icon Dolly Parton started the Imagination Library in her home county of Sevier County, Tenn. with the mission to provide free monthly books, delivered in the mail, to every child in the county, regardless of income, from birth until the age of five.
In 2000 Dolly took the idea nationwide, making the program available to any community with a local partner, and in 2013 United Way became that local partner for Erie County.
Why I'm giving: Soon after my daughter was born we signed her up for the Imagination Library. Every month we looked forward to the surprise in the mail. On the day it arrived we would say "Dolly sent us a new book!" and we would either read it right away or save it for bedtime. Old classics like The Little Engine That Could and modern classics like Hair Love were a delight to read. There was even one book written by Dolly herself: I Am a Rainbow.
Shortly after her fifth birthday, we received the final book and a letter from Dolly congratulating her on completing the program. I'm not afraid to say I got a little choked up thinking back on the many stories we shared over her first five years.
A love of books and a bulging bookshelf are just a couple of the benefits of signing up for this awesome free program. Erie's Imagination library is funded 100 percent by United Way of Erie County, and that's why I'm donating to the United Way Imagination Library this Erie Gives Day.
Urban Erie Community Development Corp (UECDC)
Who's giving: Liz Allen, Writer and Erie City Council President
Who they are: UECDC serves young people, including many New Americans, with free programming, including career counseling, cultural opportunities, community events and English as a Second Language and GED classes, to name just a few of its offerings.
Why I'm giving: I have known about the good work done by UECDC, under the leadership of Director Gary Horton, his staff, and their volunteers, for many years and have always been impressed by the annual Walking in Black History field trip that gives youngsters the chance to visits the places and learn about key leaders in the civil rights movement. In recent years, these young people have made it their mission to speak up at Erie City Council meetings about important issues in our community. I always learn something new from their presentations and requests.
I also will continue to give to other organizations caring for people in need in Erie and helping to transform our community, including the Eagle's Nest Leadership Corp., the SSJ Neighborhood Network, the Mercy Center for Women and Emmaus Ministries, along with several other nonprofits. The Urban Erie Community Development Corp. is housed at the E.F. Smith Quality of Life Learning Center, 2046 E. 19th St. Visit uecdc.org to learn more.
"Previously given" notes only reflect write-ups that appeared prior in the Erie Reader.