New Grant Spreading Positive Energy across CNY Classrooms

$543,034 in Grants Awarded to Nonprofits in Onondaga & Madison counties

January 4, 2018 – By now most have seen the video of Keaton Jones, a Tennessee middle schooler asking through tears why other children bully him. Keaton’s cry for help offered us a glimpse into the often unseen emotional turmoil children go through at school, leading to a wave of support from celebrities, athletes and strangers around the globe. Bullying is now a systemic issue that is often going under the radar of school teachers, administrators and parents. U.S. Army veterans Mike Erwin and Jeff Bryan found a way to turn that often unspoken pain into positivity, right here in Syracuse.

After graduating from West Point and serving a combined total of five deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Erwin and Bryan launched The Positivity Project, an organization that  sets out to empower  youth to build strong relationships – by understanding, appreciating and exemplifying certain character strengths. The pair used lessons learned from their deployments to equip schools with training and resources they can use to teach these traits to children in the classroom.

“Negativity and bullying in any form can leave children with feelings of unease and exclusion,” said Mike Erwin, co-founder of The Positivity Project. “We wanted to find a way to empower youth to build strong relationships by seeing the good in themselves and others.”

The program focuses on teaching children 24 character strengths that researchers have found to exist in every individual- ranging from bravery and forgiveness to integrity and gratitude. Erwin and Bryan say these character strengths help students build stronger relationships by recognizing the traits in themselves and each other.

For 15 minutes a day, students discuss weekly character strengths, including optimism, teamwork, self-control and appreciation of beauty and excellence. The discussion is supplemented with a hands-on activity to bring the ideas to life.

In 2016, the organization received funding from the Central New York Community Foundation to implement its teachings in Syracuse. The program has since been active across the Central New York region. Parents have reported that their children are bringing their lessons about character strengths and relationships to discussions at home.

The organization just received a $24,000 grant from the Community Foundation to enhance its training in Central New York. Principals and teachers that will receive advanced lessons on positive psychology for passing on to their students.

“This project is important to the Community Foundation because it provides our youth with a foundation of character on which they can build throughout the life span,” said Danielle Gill, director, community grantmaking at the Central New York Community Foundation. “The resulting confidence and empathy will assist them as they graduate high school, go on to a career or college, and have families of their own.”

The new lessons will dive deeper into positive psychology than the initial training the district received. They will be designed to give teachers and administrators additional resources for engaging children in the 24 character strengths.

“We believe that strong character-based relationships are the cornerstones of health, happiness and resilience – and will be crucial in meeting challenges of the future,” said Erwin. “We are implementing these new training lessons to effectively equip teachers with resources to drive success in classrooms and schools.”

Over the past two years, The Positivity Project has partnered with 44 schools throughout Central New York, and is now serving approximately 18,500 students.

To learn more about future grant opportunities please visit

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The Community Foundation awarded the following grants to local nonprofit organizations:

Aurora of CNY received $30,000 to launch Adult and Children Care Coordination Services, which will provide hearing and visually impaired individuals with improved health care coordination and management.

Earlville Free Library received $18,858 to create a new children’s area, computer laboratory and teen lounge. The designated space will enhance the library’s ability to provide customized materials and services to children and youth.

Earlville Opera House received $20,000 to purchase a new heating system that will allow the theater to run its programming year round.

Friends of Camillus Park received $23,847 to purchase and install accessible outdoor fitness equipment. The new equipment will encourage increased activity for seniors and individuals with disabilities.

Hillside Children’s Foundation received $9,750 to support the Swag Team program, which works to increase grades and lower high school dropout rates.

Humane Association of CNY received $85,000 to rebuild and renovate its animal shelter. The new shelter will repair flooding from highway runoff and prevent the spread of infection caused by poor air circulation and filtration.

Junior League of Syracuse received $5,000 to purchase new electronic office equipment to allow for more efficient data gathering and effective programming.

Merry-Go-Round Playhouse received $25,000 to expand its Sequential Dramatics program to provide arts enrichment in low-income schools with limited access to artistic programming.

Oneida Healthcare Center received $75,000 to expand its outpatient radiology facility. The expansion will provide access to various health services in one location.

Onondaga County Public Library received $21,579 to create a new area designated for children and teens. The addition will provide children and teens with a space for learning, one-on-one computer job assistance and early literacy programs.

Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York received $30,000 to renovate its waiting room to create a safe welcoming environment for visitors.

The Positivity Project received $24,000 to build two new training programs for principals and teachers to foster and continue the growth of their knowledge of positive psychology to teach to their students.

Syracuse Stage received $25,000 to support Cold Read: A Festival of Hot New Plays. The new program will educate audiences on the process of new works and how to use theater to express themselves.

YMCA of Greater Syracuse received $150,000 to install a new elevator for its residence facility. The addition of the elevator will allow the program to increase capacity to serve more men, as well as increase the dignity of the environment in which they live.

These grants were awarded from the following charitable funds administered by the Community Foundation:

Shirley M. Aubrey Fund, Harry and Helen Barnes Jewell Fund, William D. Barnet Memorial Scholarship Fund, Carriage House Foundation Fund, Charles F. Brannock Fund, Coon Fund, Community Fund, J. Henry & Martha E. DeBoer Fund, John F. Marsellus Fund, The Martha Fund, J. Daniel & Diane Pluff Fund, Tiny Rubenstein Animal Welfare Fund, Donald W. Ryder Fund, Dorothy R. Shoudy Memorial Hearing Impaired Fund, Small Grants Fund and the William & Mary L. Thorpe Charitable Fund.

Established in 1927, the Central New York Community Foundation encourages local philanthropy by supporting the growth of permanent charitable endowments for the betterment of the region.  The Community Foundation is the largest charitable foundation in the region with assets of more than $226 million. It awarded $14 million in grants last year to nonprofit organizations. Since its inception, it has invested nearly $170 million in the community. The Community Foundation serves as the steward of charitable legacies for individuals, families and businesses through the administration of more than 700 funds. The organization also serves as a civic leader, convener and sponsor of special initiatives designed to strengthen local nonprofits and address the region’s most pressing challenges.


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