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.

Local Grant: Senior Programming at the Red Hook Public Library


In 2017, the AFF approved a grant to the Red Hook Public Library for senior programming. We were excited by all the Library had been doing for seniors in the community, as well as the variety of programming they were hoping to offer moving forward. In the grant application, Director Dawn Jardine noted that at the start of a recent program, “a patron stood up. . . to express his gratitude to library staff. He said, ‘Thank you for noticing we’re alive.’ He appreciated not only the content of our program, but even more the fact that we reached out to them at all.”

In the past, the Library has held events for seniors like concerts by area singer-songwriters, movie nights, and arts & crafts nights. Noting the food insecurity of some local seniors, the Library always offers healthy, interesting food at every program. The AFF’s 2017 grant provided close to $2,000 in funds for off-site movie screenings, performer and guest speaker fees, and refreshments for eight events.

All were enthralled by the local history presentation!

All were enthralled by the local history presentation!

The picture featured here is from the last event for seniors funded by the 2017 grant. The event was a local history lunch with Claudine and Chris Klose, and it was packed! Seniors from all over the area, including from the Commons, made the trip over to learn more about their town.

The Foundation was excited to be able to fund this sort of programming- our mission goals are threefold (alleviating poverty, promoting education, and aiding the elderly), but we find that a majority of our grants support the first two. We are always looking for grants that will support programming for seniors, so if you’re working with such groups locally (or as an ambassador elsewhere), we’d love to be in touch!

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.