Our Team’s Reflections on Five Years of Grantmaking

Reflection from Nick Ascienzo (Founder)

The Ascienzo Family at the Ascienzo Family Foundation’s Inaugural Winter Event (2016).   Standing: Nick’s nephew Chris, Nick, nephew Andrew, and sister Terri (former AFF director)  Sitting: Nick’s dad, brother John, and mom, who passed away in 2016.

The Ascienzo Family at the Ascienzo Family Foundation’s Inaugural Winter Event (2016).

Standing: Nick’s nephew Chris, Nick, nephew Andrew, and sister Terri (former AFF director)

Sitting: Nick’s dad, brother John, and mom, who passed away in 2016.

As we celebrate our 5th year of charitable and community-inspired giving, there are significant partnerships we’ve fostered that have defined our local Red Hook history. Partnering is a process of enlisting like-minded people who share the values and goals of the Ascienzo Family Foundation! The visibility of an organization and its outreach, such as that from the Rotary Club, the RH Schools, the RH Faculty Association, Bard’s Center for Civic Engagement, and the RH Public Library are linked to the wonderful leaders and advocates of those organizations. The AFF’s reach is a function of their tireless dedication to making the Red Hook community a special place. Thanks to them and the many other community-oriented people for our presence and growth!

Just as we have in Red Hook, we strive to strengthen our Ambassador connections, encouraging Ambassadors to foster a similar sense of community wherever they are located. My retrospection also shines a bright light on our Board Directors Brittany, Ali, and Sophie whose inspiration, commitment to our organizational impact, and willingness to wear many hats have underscored our charitable giving and future vision. The AFF is a family of splendid individuals - our directors, ambassadors, and partners have contributed substantially to our 5 year mural. May that mural expand in its service to others both in RH and in our ambassador surroundings.

Reflection from Ali Fraenkel (Founding Director)

My experience in co-creating the Ascienzo Family Foundation has been beyond expectations. I am in awe of the collective story, actions, and advocacy that have interwoven and worked together to make the Foundation’s vision come alive. 

Inaugural AFF Community Event, December 2015   (Ambassadors Pictured) Robinson Greig, Sara Thompson, Julie Zemke, Betsy Kirtland, Megan Sanger, Cassidy Blundell, Jess Nielson; (Directors Pictured_ Sophie Laing, Ali Fraenkel, Nick Ascienzo, and Brittany Mosher.

Inaugural AFF Community Event, December 2015 (Ambassadors Pictured) Robinson Greig, Sara Thompson, Julie Zemke, Betsy Kirtland, Megan Sanger, Cassidy Blundell, Jess Nielson; (Directors Pictured_ Sophie Laing, Ali Fraenkel, Nick Ascienzo, and Brittany Mosher.

The work of our foundation goes far beyond any one person, or any one funder. We have embraced the reality that our contribution and connection to our homes, past and present, will change through life… Despite this, and because of this, we are driven to put our connections of shared values and shared hometown in the Red Hook area to good use. We are willing to imagine how we can support each other and our communities to build skills and practices of contributing to the common good wherever we are. The Ascienzo Family Foundation is a place where we recognize we can come together in new, creative, and collaborative ways to experience a different level of connection to our previous and current hometowns.

In my 8+ years working across philanthropy, one reflection continues to become crystal clear: Philanthropy is not just a thing for a select few, with millions of dollars, to engage in. Philanthropy is a toolkit, a mindset, and a genuine opportunity for all of us to think creatively around how we can contribute to the common good -- with our time, money, resources, network, and advocacy. 

There is no limit to how we can express “our love for humanity” (which is the etymology of the word philanthropy). 

Getting to serve the Red Hook community and the homes of our connected alumni community, who serve as Foundation ambassadors, has been the project of a lifetime. It feels like we’re just getting started, even five years in! 

In looking forward, I’m committed to uncovering deeper avenues for our impact and for our model to meet more individuals, families, and extended community in need of support. In all the Foundation does we recognize that community, participation, and personal investigation of our passions are at the center of our contribution. You are welcome to join us and share your gifts as we await the next five years of our mission in action! We will continue to show up for you and for each other, envisioning what the new role of philanthropy is meant to be in a complex, challenging, and still unrelentlessly beautiful world.

From Sophie Laing (Founding Director)

Directors Ali and Sophie at the AFF’s Second Annual Winter Event

Directors Ali and Sophie at the AFF’s Second Annual Winter Event

Seeing the Foundation grow from a famous Mr. A thought to an organization with a 30+ Ambassador Network across the country, strong local partnerships, and tens of thousands in giving each year, has been incredible.

For me, one of the most exciting things about being on the Foundation’s board has been seeing all of the local and national connections form and inform each other. Fellow RHHS grads continue to invest in the new homes they’ve settled in across the country, but share those experiences with us, learn from each other in the process of grant-making, and frequently have ideas for how the Foundation can be more involved in the local Red Hook community. Hitting five years means we’ve grown relationships with nonprofits to whom we’ve offered grants via active Ambassadors. It means we’ve visited Ambassadors and the grantee organizations, seen Ambassadors become Directors, Ambassadors mentor new Ambassadors, and our reach in the Red Hook area grow significantly. I can’t wait to see what the next five years will bring!

From Brittany Mosher (Director and Former Ambassador)

Over the past 15 years, I have lived in New York, Alaska, Montana, Colorado, Massachusetts, and, now, Vermont. Moving can be difficult, but it is also a time of hope and excitement. I love having the opportunity to get to know the character of a new place, to see how community members care for one another, and to become a part of this yourself. Being a Director of the Ascienzo Family Foundation has given me a bird’s eye view into communities all over the country, and the people who make those communities unique. 

The Ascienzo Family Foundation is helping redefine philanthropist, by putting funding in the hands of wonderful change-makers, innovators, and do-ers. We believe that some of the best philanthropists in our communities might be those who have creative ideas and big hearts, but limited funding. I am so proud to be part of an organization that recognizes the valuable contributions that young people, teachers, community enthusiasts, and everyday people can make when given the tools that allow them to take action. Thank you for sharing your communities with us.

From Nick Fiorellini (Intern):

At last year’s hardscrabble festival, I was assisting Nick Ascienzo table and talk few initiatives that the Foundation was planning. It was our biggest year yet: We were spearheading our twenty-five-grant initiative, planning a no-cost food market—with pounds and pounds of locally grown produce, and (arguably most importantly) Nick was the grand marshal in the parade that was going to happen later that day.

As we passed out information about the Foundation and everything we were up to as an organization for the next few months, it seemed that there were more people who did stop to say hi and catch up with Nick than didn’t. Everyone in Red Hook is one or two degrees away from him. Whether he was your math teacher or a donor to your organization, the name Ascienzo probably means something to you—and has probably affected you in a palpable way.

Unlike many of the directors the foundation has had over the years, I did not have the privilege of knowing as Nick a teacher. But I do know it’s impossible to get involved in the public sector without being verklempt about the community you’re advocating for. Through witnessing the connections and relationships he has maintain after all these years—and seeing him interact with the Red Hook community—it’s obvious that he’s deeply invested and concerned about providing better opportunities for Red Hook and beyond.

Because of this, whenever a grant application comes through to the Foundation—whether from the local library or a non-profit an ambassador works for—it means something to the Ascienzo Family Foundation. These programs that we support are the heartbeats of the communities they serve, and it’s important to remember that supporting these educational, poverty alleviation, and senior care initiatives benefits us all. 

As we celebrate five years as an organization, it’s not only important to recognize what the Ascienzo Family Foundation has accomplished over these years, but to begin to think of the change we will be making moving forward. In another five years’ time, when the face of Red Hook and the Foundation has changed, I can only hope that some of the people in the programs we funded will have the chance to come full circle and serve as ambassadors, interns, directors, and volunteers for an organization that helps make Red Hook, Red Hook.