As the clock ticks down the last few days and hours of 2023, the people directing nonprofit initiatives in Lancaster County are focused on the challenges ahead.
They’re eager to foster collaboration and overcome differences. They’re grappling with ongoing issues like food insecurity and homelessness. They are considering the lessons of the past and thinking about how best to lay the groundwork not just for 2024, but for decades ahead.
One United Lancaster asked some of them to share their reflections. Scroll down to read them; or click the links:
Melissa Gizzi and Nita Landis
Co-Chairs, Braver Angels Lower Susquehanna Alliance (BALSA)
Why was there laughter during a conversation among a Republican state senator (Ryan Aument), a Democrat state representative (Ismail Smith Wade-El) and a roomful of Lancaster County citizens of different political persuasions on Aug. 15?
Why didn’t anyone leave angry? Because everyone present chose to stay curious and to “listen to learn from” the others in the room rather than stereotype, dismiss, or demonize them.
At this event and eight others in 2023, Braver Angels Lower Susquehanna Alliance (BALSA) had the privilege of creating spaces in which almost 300 people got to see and experience the possibility of restoring respect, goodwill, and trust in American politics, and in our families and friendships.
More and more of us understand that the bitterness of our nation’s partisan divide paralyzes our politics, seeps into our friendships, and sucks the life out of our souls. May more and more of us choose to acquire the skills to do something about that bitter divide in the coming year!
A particular BALSA hope for 2024 is the opportunity to offer workshops for parents, educators, and school board members in our conflicted school districts.
We hope that 2024 — an election year when the temperature will continue to rise—will also be a year when more and more of us learn to treat people who disagree with us with honesty, dignity, and respect; to welcome opportunities to engage those with whom we disagree; to seek to disagree accurately, avoiding exaggeration and stereotypes; and to look for common ground where it exists and find ways, when possible, to work together.
That would be a win for all of us and for the generations to come.
Director, Center for Racial & Gender Equity, YWCA Lancaster
2023 has been a year of many “firsts.” For me, it was my first anniversary as a Lancaster resident, and first year as leader of YWCA Lancaster’s Center for Racial & Gender Equity.
Lancaster has been a great community to our family, and I have met and continue to connect with new folks leading organizations doing amazing and important work for Lancaster County. And like any other community, Lancaster has opportunities to grow and improve.
This brings me to another “first,” but this time for our community: With the support of more than ten local agencies, YWCA Lancaster helped launch Pennsylvania’s first county-wide Racial Equity Profile.
This important collaboration has collected much-needed data about structural racism across our community, from housing, to education, to health, and more, as well as illustrated the opportunities we have to create a more equitable and just Lancaster County in the future.
After launching the Profile and sharing it to as many people as possible in Lancaster County, YWCA Lancaster created the Racial Equity Profile Action Team (another first for us!) to raise awareness about this data, connect with fellow community members, and talk to local leaders about these inequities.
Change takes time, and the many inequities highlighted in this report will need the dedication and endurance from all of us to make a difference.
My hope for 2024 is for a renewed commitment from the Racial Equity Profile action team, for more community members — especially directly impacted individuals — to join the action team.
Most importantly, I wish for our local leaders and decision makers to join our imperative to eliminate racism, empowering women, and help create systemic change in a County that is trying to live up to its branding: a wonderful place to live, work, and raise a family for all. Here’s to a second year as impactful as my “first!”
Executive Vice President, Lancaster County Community Foundation
As we turn the calendar to 2024, the Lancaster County Community Foundation is ready to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
The Community Foundation exists because 100 years ago, local visionaries in Lancaster County were thinking about all of us. During the last century, people have invested in our community’s endowment, a pool of resources that supports our community today.
This year, we invite people to think about our shared opportunity to invest in Lancaster County for the next 100 years.
One key role of the Community Foundation is to care for the $200 million community endowment that builds resiliency for Lancaster County. It’s a resource for times we need it. For example, when Covid-19 struck, we quickly seeded and partnered with the United Way of Lancaster County to create the Lancaster Cares Covid Relief Fund, pushing out millions of dollars within weeks to support people in need.
The endowment creates ongoing funding for specific causes like the environment, education, and the arts. It also builds possibility for Lancaster County. These resources allow our community to explore opportunities like transformation of the Watt & Shand building that ultimately became the Lancaster Marriott and Lancaster County Convention Center, or to spark new initiatives like the ExtraGive.
In 2024 you can join the celebration. Follow the Shaping Tomorrow Awards, which will distribute $1 million to local organizations and scholarships in four future-focused areas: Creative Expression, Well-Being & Vibrancy, Next Generation and Our Planet.
Enjoy free events, complimentary coffee, pop-ups, and partnerships across the county throughout the year. Finally, consider what you care about and how you might give now or later to impact Lancaster County for future generations.
When we reflect on 2023, we are grateful to the many individuals that have invested in our community. Our hope is that when people look back on 2024, they will say our community made visionary choices to strengthen Lancaster County and make it even more extraordinary for the next 100 years.
(To learn more about Lancaster County Community Foundation’s 100th anniversary celebration and stay connected, visit ChangeTheNext100.org.)
The Rev. Roland P. Forbes Jr.
Senior Pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church
As I reflect on all that 2023 has birthed, changed and transitioned, I’m beyond grateful that we have been blessed as a local church to serve our community through various avenues such as our low-barrier nightly homeless shelter in partnership with Lancaster County Redevelopment Authority and the Lancaster County Food Hub (which we are prayerful will return after our needed repairs and upgrades); our weekly free meals that we provice to over 22,000 persons; our weekly Return Citizens Support Meetings; and our bi-weekly food giveaways.
We also seek to impact food insecurity through our Food Share, which feeds some 400 people per month. This year and the coming year of 2024 has presented many challenges that must be met through the continued partnership of churches, city agencies, our mayor and all who are willing to put our hands to the plow.
God has trusted us to serve our community for His Glory. We don’t post or share our work much, because we want the focus to be on God and not us. I pray that in 2024 and beyond, our community is better because of the hearts and hands actively working together to collaborate, not compete, so that lives are made better and people empowered and transformed.
We are looking forward to more ways to impact our community with more partnerships that have a passion to serve and help. The old gospel song by the late Mahalia Jackson says, “If I Can Help Somebody … My Living Shall Not Be in Vain.” This is our hearts’ desire.
CEO, Good Samaritan Services
As 2023 draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on the incredible journey of Good Samaritan Services in serving the homeless in our community. This past year has been a testament to the unwavering strength of our collective compassion and the impact it can have on the lives of those in need.
Our community has come together with open hearts, demonstrating the true essence of being good neighbors. Through the tireless efforts of our dedicated team and the support of countless volunteers, we’ve been able to provide shelter, warmth, and stability to those who have found themselves without a home.
As we enter the new year, my hope is for an even deeper commitment to caring for one another. Let us continue to foster a culture of compassion that knows no bounds, responding to our neighbors in need with empathy and understanding.
In the upcoming year, let our shared goal be to build a stronger, more interconnected community. Together, let us forge a path towards a brighter future, where no one is left behind, and the spirit of compassion guides our every action.
May the year ahead be marked by continued collaboration, understanding, and an unwavering commitment to the well-being of our neighbors in need. In doing so, we can create a community where compassion is the cornerstone, and the journey toward a better tomorrow is one we embark upon together.
Dr. Jeffrey R. Martin
Chair, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health
The past year opened with much promise. After three years of battling the COVID-19 pandemic, we all breathed a sigh of relief as a period of daily change, driven by the pandemic, was coming to an end.
Counting those hospitalized and dying was overtaken by celebrating our collective immunity through past infection and vaccination. Constant change was waning as we pivoted to refocus on the work of healthcare: bringing advanced services to Lancaster, identifying continuous quality improvements and fulfilling our mission of enhancing the health and well-being of the communities we serve.
As 2023 commenced, however, we faced additional challenges. COVID-19 taught us, again, that those most vulnerable among us are the most impacted by threats.
Those afflicted with chronic disease, health-related social needs like financial and housing insecurity, and those with limited social connections, often fare worse when confronted by outside forces.
Instead of a virus, the additional challenges of 2023 were economically related, forcing many to make choices between housing and food, or housing and healthcare, and produced the largest increase in people experiencing homelessness in Lancaster County in nearly a decade.
I am not surprised that 2023 presented additional challenges, as care of the most vulnerable is a fundamental tenant of community wellness and therefore a consistent priority for healthcare institutions like ours.
Understanding that there is much yet to do, I appreciate the support of our healthcare system and our community in helping define new programs, like our Street Medicine program and medically supported transitional housing to meet the burgeoning need.
I have no doubt in 2024 we will protect the most vulnerable together, improving on the vision of Lancaster as a great place to grow, play, work, and love.
Program Director, Bright Side Opportunities Center
As we bid farewell to 2023, I am filled with gratitude for the incredible strides made by Bright Side Opportunities Center (BSOC) in empowering our youth through STEM education.
Reflecting on our journey, it’s heartening to see the impact we’ve made, especially through our participation in two national STEM initiatives: Imagine Science and the Million Girls Moonshot.
This past year, BSOC served 250 young minds! Our STEM Leadership Academy has been a beacon of learning, where students explored the journey of water to the ocean. Understanding local stormwater runoff and its global environmental implications has not only educated them but also sparked a sense of responsibility towards our planet.
Our scholars joined BSOC in our dedication to sustainability. They not only learned about environmental engineering but helped us plan and install green infrastructure improvements around the campus, which is now a certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
Looking ahead to 2024, our vision is to further ignite the passion for STEM in our youth. We actively search for new opportunities for youth to explore STEM pathways, guiding them towards sustainable careers and financial wellness. This initiative is not just about imparting knowledge; it’s about opening doors to a future where our youth can thrive in fields that are pivotal to our world’s sustainability.
Our commitment extends to bridging the gender and racial gaps in STEM fields. Our programs like STEM Leadership, STEM Camp, and Girls Who Code are not just educational platforms; they are catalysts for change, fostering equity and inclusion.
With the coming New Year, BSOC remains steadfast in its mission to empower, educate, and inspire. Together with our partners in equity, we look forward to continuing this journey of empowerment and transformation.
President & CEO, Lancaster Conservancy
2023 was a year of transition for the Lancaster Conservancy as a number of us began new roles within the organization.
I like to say that we stand on the shoulders of giants, leaders in the conservation movement who came before us. They set the Lancaster Conservancy on a path of conserving our community’s most precious resources — our natural lands and waterways — to ensure they are protected forever for the benefit of the landscape, the wildlife, and the entire community.
This work is time-consuming and often takes years of behind-the-scenes planning. Because of these efforts, we will settle on multiple parcels totaling 450 additional acres of forested land protected along the Susquehanna River in the first six months of 2024.
We also recognize the important work we have ahead of us in restoring and maintaining healthy habitats on our nature preserves while finding ways to provide sustainable access for our community.
This past year we opened two new nature preserves and four new trails. We finalized plans to restore a 50-acre floodplain to full health. We distributed over 4,000 native trees and shrubs to homeowners and planted thousands of trees in restoration efforts on our preserves.
And this is just a small sliver of our efforts. In 2024, we will begin work on our third universal access trail (the Lloyd Clark Trail at the Clark Nature Preserve) to ensure folks of all mobilities can immerse themselves in nature.
Access to nature is an incredibly important component of our future success as we build our team’s expertise in forest habitat management and trail building with an eye toward healthier forests and communities.
President & CEO, United Way of Lancaster County
As we approach the end of 2023, I look forward to continuing to elevate the important work of the incredible team that I am fortunate enough to work alongside in 2024.
Whether it is preparing free tax returns for hardworking local families through VITA (the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program), assisting our neighbors in times of need through PA 211 East, by providing financial support of other important community organizations, activating volunteers through meaningful opportunities, and so much more, United Way of Lancaster County continues to advance the education, economic mobility, and health of our community by mobilizing resources, people, and organizations.
I’m grateful for the staff, volunteers, and community partners who help make this important work possible, and I hope United Way of Lancaster County has the opportunity to share more with you in the year to come.
Senior Policy Research Manager, Central Pennsylvania Food Bank
Over the last year, our team at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, along with dedicated colleagues at Hunger-Free Lancaster County, embarked on a major research project to increase our understanding of food insecurity and the many challenges that accompany that experience for nearly 50,000 individuals in our county.
The process was focused on listening deeply to our neighbors to learn how we as a community can work together to eradicate hunger. This research took place in the context of a food insecurity rate that has increased more than 25% since 2021 to levels not seen since the Great Recession and created unprecedented demand for charitable food services, with levels higher than the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the face of these challenges, we learned that food pantries and service providers are largely trusted community institutions across Lancaster County, run by committed staff and volunteers. This trust and dedication is an asset that distinguishes Lancaster County and is a strength we can build on.
We also learned there is more we can do to ensure everyone facing food insecurity can access the food they need.
That includes ensuring neighbors are treated with respect and dignity when they seek help at food pantries or other service providers, regardless of their race or ethnicity, income, or language. It includes ensuring that our community destigmatizes the use of SNAP and works to increase participation in this critical food security program. It includes working with policymakers and other community stakeholders to address economic issues upstream from food insecurity.
Our commitment in 2024 and beyond is to further reduce food access barriers. How? By leaning into the charitable food system’s unique role as the first place people turn to when they need help. By increasing innovative collaborations to connect people with other resources they may need
By advocating with policymakers about transformational investments such as SNAP, school meals, and the expanded child tax credit; and by continually measuring our effectiveness and progress towards reducing food insecurity.
We can meaningfully reduce hunger in Lancaster County, but it will take sustained and collaborative efforts from everyone in this amazing community.