Congratulations, Irene!

This past year the Foundation launched the Ascienzo Family Foundation Scholarship. The application was open to RHHS seniors who have demonstrated a commitment to giving back to their community, and are planning on staying in the area after graduation. We are thrilled to announce the inaugural recipient, Irene Celaya!

Irene Celaya (RHHS ‘19)

Irene Celaya (RHHS ‘19)

Irene is heading to Siena College in the Fall, and plans to study Business Marketing and Communications. The Foundation was impressed by her commitment to volunteerism throughout her time in high school, and her desire to continue giving back as she continues her education.

Here are some highlights from Founder Nick and Irene’s conversation this past weekend:

Nick: What have been your proudest accomplishments in and out of the classroom?

Irene: Algebra in 9th grade was a challenge. I did my best day-in-and-day-out and was rewarded with a grade in the 80’s on the Regents exam. I was so proud of that! My volleyball experiences were collectively very rewarding, as well. Becoming the captain of the team was awesome and I worked on my communications skills and leadership abilities in that role!

Nick: Other than your parents, who has motivated you the most in your life?

Irene: My sister Rosa, who is ten years older than myself; she pushed me to keep going and make our parents proud of who I was becoming.

Nick: How about your favorite teacher?

Irene: Mr. Swanwick my English teacher in my sophomore year. I remember a speech I gave in class on immigration that he helped me put together. He encouraged me throughout the year to be my own person and not listen to the opinions of others.

Nick: Your application for the AFF Scholarship included your volunteer time with Culture Connect in the Life, Language, & Culture program administered in the elementary schools at Mill Road. What is your one take-away from that experience?

Irene: The program would have been a great opportunity for me growing up, if it had been in existence. Since I love helping others, assisting young kids through that mentoring program made me feel good about myself, as well.

Nick: What was the process like in considering undergrad study?

Irene: At first I was undecided about a four year school and its costs. My parents and I agreed that Siena was a possibility, following a meeting with Mrs. D’Onofrio, the College and Career Advisor at RHHS. She provided the encouragement and guidance that my family and I needed.

Nick: What will you miss the most about Red Hook, its community and school?

Irene: There is great comfort in having grown up in such a warm and caring community. It’s been nice to know so many people in such a safe environment. I’ll miss my classmates, after 13 years of sharing our childhood and young adulthood together!

Nick: What about your favorite food?

Irene: Italian - I love pasta!

Nick: Favorite fun things to do?

Irene: Well of course volleyball! I also like to shop and adventure!

Nick: As a young woman - and one who has with her family overcome the challenges of immigration - what advice might you give to younger kids, especially girls?

Irene: Don’t take no for an answer, keep pushing yourself to be better, and don’t hide who you really are!

Nick A.'s "Boston Marathon"

Founder Nick A. had quite a full Monday! On the 10th, Nick took a day trip to Boston to visit and meet with four grantee organizations as well as three Foundation Ambassadors who live in the area. Here’s how his busy day unfolded:

9:00am: A get together with Howard Novick and Cara Giovanoni from The Home for Little Wanderers, the organization for which Ambassador Alex Parks has advocated for the past few years. Nick’s takeaway: the Home continues to commit its resources to well established programs that tackle the mental health needs of Boston’s youth, and does so with a view of expanding upon those services year to year. Howard and Cara were gracious in acknowledging Alex Parks’ ambassador advocacy, as well as that of his wife Leila who works in the Boston schools.

11:00am- Nick drove to Roxbury to view Fresh Truck’s operational hub. There to greet Nick were Josh Trautwein and Annika Morgan, co-founders of the mobile fresh food market whose mission is to radically change the health of those community members their trucks visit throughout the Boston region. Nick’s engaging conversation and visit included a “truck tour.” Nick got to see and learn more about the retrofitted school bus designed to carry fresh produce and foodstuffs while also allowing paying customers to walk through and shop as they would at a farmer’s market. Nick’s takeaway: Robinson Greig, our ambassador advocate for Fresh Truck, has found a great grant fit incorporating health and food sourcing. Josh and Annika are folks with great vision and heart who see unlimited potential- a third bus is in the works!

12:30pm- Time for a quick bite at the Dudley Cafe in Dudley Square, followed by a meet up at 1:30pm with representatives from Budget Buddies and our Ambassador Kyla Gabriel, who volunteers with the program. Anita Saville, one of Budget Buddies’ founders (soon to retire), Danielle Piskadlo, the new incoming Director, and Catherine Pedemonti, the Boston Outreach Coordinator were happy to chat about the history of Budget Buddies’ expansion. Broadly, the group promotes women’s empowerment through financial literacy programs. Anita, Danielle, and Catherine were just as energetic to learn of our background and unique funding model as they were in praising their trained volunteers who act as peer coaches for the women they teach. Nick’s takeaway: Budget Buddies has succeeded in making an impact in women’s lives, and will continue to do so, if for no other reason than the commitment and passion demonstrated by Anita, Danielle, Catherine, and Kyla!

Nick Ascienzo (Founder), Alex Parks (RHHS ‘06), Kyla Gabriel (RHHS ‘13), & Betsy Kirtland (RHHS ‘12)

Nick Ascienzo (Founder), Alex Parks (RHHS ‘06), Kyla Gabriel (RHHS ‘13), & Betsy Kirtland (RHHS ‘12)

3:00pm- How nice for Kyla to join Nick as they drove to East Boston for a discussion with Shakira Floyd from Crossroads Family Shelter. What a nice connection we’ve made with them through our ambassador Micaela Ryan, who has advocated for three grants on behalf of the organization. Crossroads houses 27 families, assists in their out-placement, education (including Budget Buddies programming), and other social service needs. Shakira was grateful for our funding, which has mainly supplied bedding, baby cribs, and move-out kitchen supplies to families. Her poignant description of the shelter’s activities and family life, as well as reflection on the city’s expanding needs, particularly struck Nick. We’re humbled to have a three year history with Crossroads, the only family shelter in East Boston.

5:00pm- Navigator Kyla and Driver Nick then headed for Cleary’s, an Irish pub which in the Back Bay area of Boston. They enjoyed some casual downtime, catching up over beverages and some pub fare with two other AFF ambassadors, Alex Parks and Betsy Kirtland. Nick’s takeaway: it’s nice to connect the dots of those passionate grantee contacts in the Boston area with a few of the ambassadors that made those contacts and our philanthropy happen! Our other Boston-based ambassadors Robinson Greig (Fresh Truck), Micaela Ryan (Crossroads), and Cassidy Blundell (Youth Cities) were knee deep in professional obligations that afternoon - we’ll catch up next time!

7:00pm- Nick was on the road again, this time thinking to himself: What a fun day to see so many wonderful people! And, how cool would it be driving the Fresh Truck home to the Hudson Valley?

Kyla Gabriel: Advocating for Financial Education

Kyla Gabriel (RHHS ‘13)

Kyla Gabriel (RHHS ‘13)

Meet one of our newer Ambassadors, Kyla Gabriel (RHHS ‘13)! Kyla joined the Foundation in 2018, and has jumped right into her advocacy. This past grant cycle she applied for a grant on behalf of Budget Buddies, a financial literacy non-profit in Boston, MA.

Kyla said that “raised by a longstanding lineage of social workers, I have always been passionate about addressing financial literacy and health inequities that disproportionately burden our country's most vulnerable populations.” For this reason, Kyla was drawn to Budget Buddies, which, as she describes, “has a fierce commitment to empowering women living on the economic margins.” A $5,000 grant from the Foundation helped to fund staff time, travel expenses, instructional materials, and other supplies related to adult and teen programs in Lawrence, Methuen, and Haverhill in 2019.

Budget Buddies’ work fit well into two of the Foundation’s mission goals: alleviating poverty and improving education. Kyla said, “moreover, the organization's mission firmly aligned with the Ascienzo Family Foundation's charge to assist local neighborhoods in the fight against poverty and to address the educational needs of those less financially capable. I thought a partnership with Budget Buddies was a fantastic opportunity for the AFF to play a role in empowering the lives of hundreds of low-income women and their families in the Great Boston Area.”

Kyla graduated from Brandeis University in 2017 with a double major in Business & Health: Science, Society, and Policy. She is currently living in Boston and working as a Digital Health Associate at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Senior Expo Success


This past Saturday the Red Hook Community Center and Red Hook Senior Services Committee co-hosted a Senior Expo. The Foundation was happy to table, as well as help plan the food demonstration and Drawdown eco-challenge activity. The Drawdown challenge was a team-based competition to gain points for doing more sustainable things (specifically focused on three challenges related to food: reducing consumption of animal products, smaller portions and being mindful of how hungry you actually are, and eating local). A Red Hook Town team and Bard plus community team competed to earn points and start bettering the planet!

We were so lucky to have Tessa Rothwell (Ambassador Class ‘19), Emma Donohue (Ambassador Class ‘18), Brenna Dolen (Ambassador Class ‘18), and Director Ali Fraenkel’s Dad, Chef Tony, put their all into this event.

Here’s a note from Emma:

The senior expo at the community center was a hit!  It was fabulous to see all the different vendors and the people that attended the event.  Our involvement with Chef Tony was especially well received, with people coming back for seconds remarking how amazing the soup tasted or that they were surprised that they enjoyed the salad.  What made the event special for me was getting to see everyone try a new food and truly enjoying the dishes.  One of our goals was to educate people about more sustainable, nutritious food options that were easy to prepare in advance or right on the spot.  I think Chef Tony came up with perfect options for the audience we were hoping to engage with.  Overall, participating in the expo was a great way to interact with the senior community of Red Hook on a personal level, and it was nice to listen to them tell stories, ask questions, and be excited about the foods we were preparing and the work the Ascienzo Family Foundation is doing around the community.  Thank you to Jennifer Van Voorhis and Tony Fraenkel who came and volunteered their time to serve and prepare food! It would not have been the same without your involvement.  Thank you to Sarah Ugolini for inviting us to join the day, to Mr. A for guiding us through the planning and involving us in AFF, to Brenna who recently moved west but was very much a key player in planning the event, and to Tessa who did an amazing job with incorporating the Drawdown Challenge into our table.  

What a great use of the Community Center space and opportunity to engage the senior community in Red Hook. We all loved being a part of this event!

Greetings from St. Thomas!


Founder and Director Nick Ascienzo shares this note from St. Thomas!

Hello, friends and followers of Ascienzo Family Foundation, from St. Thomas, USVI! No, I’m not vacationing, but rather going into my fourth week of volunteering with a non-profit group called All Hands and All Hearts. They have been assisting in the recovery of the island after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Island in the fall of 2017. Since then, some 3.3 million dollars and 1200 volunteers have brought relief to individual homeowners and communities throughout the area. The project is ending by April 29th, and I’m humbled to have been part of such a massive operation. Our last site rebuild is a community park, started in December of 2018, and scheduled for completion today, April 25th, at which time a celebration of renewal will take place - an appropriate last big event for staffers, volunteers, and local families!

Although our missions serve different needs, the AFF and All Hands and All Hearts have a commonality that has become increasingly apparent with each passing day. We both strive to build communities - the AFF through local outreach programs and ambassador networks, and All Hands and All Hearts through their home rebuild assistance which allows individuals to be dynamic members in the rebuilding of their own previously disrupted neighborhood. We share a spirit of compassion for those who are underserved and a mission of partnering with those that can effect positive change. My vantage point today as a foot soldier for All Hands and All Hearts in the renewal of St. Thomas is not altogether that different from my view as a director for the AFF - from both positions I see connectivity as the key to accomplishing great things and in addressing the needs of others!

As my time here winds down, my focus returns to the AFF. It has been wonderful to hear reports from our local Red Hook ambassadors Tess Rothwell, Emma Donahue, and Brenna Dolen, and chef Tony Fraenkel, on their planning leading up to the Senior Expo this Saturday from 10 am to 2 pm at the Red Hook Community Center. Kudos to them! I’m excited to get home to participate in the event.