Betsy Kirtland: Securing Over $15,000 in Grants as AFF Ambassador

Betsy Kirtland (RHHS ‘12)

Betsy Kirtland (RHHS ‘12)

Introducing one of our inaugural ambassadors, Betsy Kirtland (RHHS ‘12)! Betsy has advocated for two organizations during her tenure with the Foundation. For her first year of advocacy, Betsy applied for a grant on behalf of the Mystic Learning Center (MLC) in Boston, MA, and for the last three years she has applied for grants on behalf of Circle Camp at Fleur de Lis in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. According to Betsy, “both of these organizations are funded primarily from small-scale grant organizations like the Ascienzo Family Foundation. With assistance from the AFF, they have been able to support more children and provide more and better resources for them.”

Betsy’s advocacy started while a student at Tufts University, when she was volunteering for an after school program that paired Tufts students with kids at the MLC. The MLC aims to enhance the educational, emotional, and social development of kids who live in the Mystic Public Housing Development and surrounding neighborhoods in East Somerville. The Foundation’s first grant provided funds for field-trips and club activity supplies. It also helped fund the stipends for Junior Staff members, who themselves had benefited from the MLC’s programs and were now in leadership roles. Thanks to Betsy’s great advocacy during the first year, our partnership continued with the MLC over the next year as well. Directors Nick and Sophie, along with Betsy, got to meet with the MLC Director, Florence Bergman, back in the spring of 2017 to hear more about the organization and how our grant was helping out.

For the past three years, Betsy has worked on grants for Circle Camp, a week-long tuition-free summer camp for young girls who have lost a parent. Circle provides a space where these campers can be themselves and grieve, but also just the chance to be kids and have fun. Betsy is passionate about working with kids and “helping create environments where they feel safe, understood, and relaxed.” Betsy herself has volunteered as a counselor at Circle for three years. She has shared more about her experience previously on our blog- head on over to read more!

Betsy is currently a bridge engineer in Boston, and will be returning to Circle Camp this summer as a counselor.

Introducing the Ascienzo Family Foundation Scholarship

We’re excited to announce the first Ascienzo Family Foundation Scholarship! This opportunity has been something that our Board has been discussing a lot over the past year, and we are so proud to be able to provide it to Red Hook High School (RHHS) seniors this year.

As the Foundation has grown over the years we’ve gotten the opportunity to work with amazing RHHS alum- many of whom have moved across the country, whether for college or for their careers, and become engaged in their new communities. Through this network we’ve provided grants to many different organizations in places like San Bernardino County, CA, Tuscon, AZ, Boston, MA, and Chicago, IL (and many more!). But one of the most rewarding parts of the most recent years’ work has also been digging into our own community more and providing opportunities for local grants, as well as partnering with programs like Bard CCE and the Community Center. We hope that through this scholarship we can continue that growth. The scholarship will provide $1,500 to a student who plans to stay in the area after graduation and is excited about local civic engagement. This engagement could mean volunteering at a non-profit, helping the AFF with some of our reoccurring programs like the Farm Market and Food Drive, or coming up with new initiatives that promote our three mission areas.

If you know someone who may be interested, please send the application along! We can’t wait to get to know some of the RHHS graduating seniors.

Sara K Thompson: Advocating for her Students

Sara K Thompson (RHHS ‘96)

Sara K Thompson (RHHS ‘96)

Please meet another one of our inaugural ambassadors, Sara K Thompson (RHHS ‘96)! During the 2015 grant cycle, Sara advocated for an organization called Youth On Their Own (YOTO), and the Foundation provided close to $5,000 in program support to the non-profit. YOTO is a drop-out prevention program that seeks to help homeless youth stay graduate high school.

Learn more at

Learn more at

Sara got involved in the organization when she was teaching high school math and drama and discovered that some of her students were homeless and received help from YOTO. Sara started to learn more about the organization, which provides “supplementary assistance for homeless teens in school through a mini mall where they can get food and other items such as paper or hygiene products. They also provide grade-based stipends to reward academic achievement and provide bus passes to assist students who do not have a car.” At the time this grant was provided, an average of $1,260 was provided per student through the monthly stipend program. Additionally, YOTO provides access to special needs and emergency services, including additional financial assistance and free medical care. Sara said that “homelessness is a larger issue in Tucson than I realized,” and that YOTO does “amazing work to reach out and support teens that are in danger of leaving school because of having nowhere to live. Being a teenager is hard enough without having to worry about where to sleep, how to shower, or how to get to and from school.”

Sara graduated from Frostburg State University in with a degree in Theater Arts. She currently works as a Program Facilitator at Kitt Peak National Observatory Visitor Center, in Tucson, AZ.

Mia Michaelides: First Time Ambassador Dives Right In

Mia Michaelides, RHHS ‘17

Mia Michaelides, RHHS ‘17

Mia Michaelides (RHHS ‘17) joined our ambassador cohort in 2018 and jumped quickly into her advocacy work. Mia is currently a sophomore at Fraleigh Dickinson University majoring in Business Administration and Human Resources. On campus, Mia is involved with a sustainable entrepreneurship student group called Enactus, and is currently serving as their Vice President. Through Enactus, Mia became connected with the Emmanuel Cancer Foundation (ECF), and was “motivated to work with ECF because of their incredible work supporting families dealing with the immense financial and emotional burdens of pediatric cancer.”

This past grant cycle, the Ascienzo Family Foundation provided a $5,000 grant to ECF to help out families with costs of housing, car payments, transportation, and medical expenses while they care for their child. As Mia described in her grant application, families with children who have cancer are faced with difficult and urgent financial needs, and ECF helps these families out with assistance outside of the hospital care. ECF provides over 220 New Jersey families with in-home counseling, material assistance, and emergency financial assistance through their Family Assistance Fund. We were excited to learn more about their work, and be able to contribute funds to increase the number of families ECF can serve!

Mia also plays lacrosse at FDU and talks about her community service involvement here (thanks for the shout-out, Mia!).

Winter Greetings

Warm thoughts your way, as we endure the frigid temperatures!


January has  historically been our "time away" period to reenergize and reflect on previous year's activity. This past month has been no different, with the exception of a well-spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 21st. A few of our local ambassadors (Emma Donahue, Brenna Dolan, and Tess Rothwell) assisted at the Community Center where Bard College sponsored a Day of Engagement in conjunction with the Center's Repair Cafe. The Ambassadors helped Chef Larry Anthony (you may remember hearing about him from the No-Cost Food Market in November), the Food Director for the Red Hook, Rhinebeck, and Pine Plains School Districts, prepare nutritious soup and salads for the public who visited the pop-up café.

Our participation was a nice follow up to the Nourish Your Neighbor Food Campaign from the fall, and we’ve loved every opportunity to engage more with Bard Center for Civic Engagement, the RH Community Center, and all the community members who came by during the event. There is enthusiasm among our local partners and ambassadors to keep pursuing additional healthy food programs. This could take many forms, such as a Chef Cook-Off, partnering with sustainable food delivery systems like FeedHV, continuing education through our Garden Club program grant at Mill Road Elementary School, or senior assistance at the Community Center. We'll keep you posted, and if you have any ideas, please send them our way!