ITHACA, N.Y.—Four civic organizations representing Ithaca’s Black community gathered in a sideroom of the Fraternal Order of the Eagle on Sunday. It was late afternoon, and spirits were high. It wouldn’t be long before a small but meaningful ceremony of recognition would begin. 

Representatives of the Forest City Lodge #180, Cayuga Temple #54, Dorinthian Chapter #19 of the Eastern Star and Henry Highland Garnett Lodge #40 chose to put the funds forward to award five $400 grants to different human services agencies that specifically benefited children, youth and families of modest resources. 

“Oftentimes, people go from year to year to year to year doing great work but don’t get the recognition and publicity that they should,” said Abraham Lee, Special District Deputy Grand Master of Henry Highland Garnett Lodge #40.

The service agencies honored on Sunday included the Southside Community Center, the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC), Beverly J. Martin Elementary (BJM), Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS), and Catholic Charities of Tompkins and Tioga County.

Brooke Burnett accepted the award on behalf of BJM for its Housing for School Success Program, which helps housing insecure families with students at the elementary school — the thinking being that a disruption to a student’s housing is a disruption to their education and their future. 

The program is operated in partnership with Ithaca Housing Authority, Catholic Charities, and Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services. The aid, Burnett said, ranges from helping families pay for movers to identifying stable places for a family to relocate.

Brooks told the room on Sunday, “Your money will go to supporting these families which in turn has proven to increase the children’s school attendance, stability and achievement.”

The Southside Community Center received its award for the wide array of programming it delivers to children, youth, teens and families. The community center offers a food pantry, food donation drives and runs music programs, among many other things. Lushima Lumumva-Lasongo accepted the award on behalf of Southside on Sunday saying, “If I tried to say everything that we offer, well, we’d be here for a long time.”

“Southside is a Black space, but we’re here for everybody,” Lumumva-Lasongo said. 

The civic organizations selected GIAC as an awardee for the program it administers known as the Robin Fund. The fund is an emergency assistance program that grants up to $500 to families and individuals that are undergoing financial hardship, or simply can’t afford something like a marriage license, said GIAC’S Director Leslyn McBean-Clairborne.

“It might be someone who just wants to get a marriage license and can’t afford that $35 but they really want to get married, or somebody who’s facing something as egregious as eviction and that $500 maximum will stop the landlord from putting them out on the street,” said  McBean-Clairborne.

Catholic Charities was selected for the work of its Samaritan Center, which provides emergency financial assistance, clothing and personal care items to families and individuals in need. Catholic Charities Development Director Seph Murtagh accepted the award on behalf of the organization, saying that there were a couple of specific programs that the money would go toward, one of which is the Share the Warmth Drive. Donations of clothing and other items are collected by Catholic Charities and directly distributed to families in need.

“Just this last December, when we did the drive we helped 600 individuals, and of those 600, 200 were under the age of 18. So there’s a heavy youth focus,” Murtaugh said. 

Due to contracting COVID-19, the representative from CARS was unable to make it to the event to formally accept the award, but Forrest McCloud of Henry Highland Garnet #40 shared that the organization had chosen CARS for a program it runs distributing books, clothing, toiletries and other household and educational goods to families impacted by addiction. 

“What [CARS] will be doing is definitely just everything we want to see,” McCloud said. 

Sunday’s event grew out of a Children’s Christmas Party that Forest City Lodge #180, Cayuga Temple #54, Dorinthian Chapter #19 of the Eastern Star and Henry Highland Garnett Lodge #40 have been running for a few years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which ultimately disrupted the budding annual event. 

But instead of picking up where it left off with the Christmas Party, the group of civic organizations decided to direct funds toward children and family focused services. Jimmy Carter, Treasurer of  Forest City Lodge #180, said the motivation for the awards was, at its core, the same as the Christmas Party. 

“We need to get to the young people, and let them know that there’s something to look forward to […] We’re trying to reach out to the young people to teach them a little something,” Carter said.  

Corrections: In a previous version of this article, Brooke Burnett’s name was misspelt as Brook Burnatt. Millicient Clarke-Maynard was originally reported as being a part of Cayuga Temple #54. She is a part of Dorianthia Chapter #19 of the Eastern Star.

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn