In the socially distant year of pandemic, the 10th annual Cornell Town-Gown Awards – affectionately known as the TOGOs – took on the warmth of camaraderie, as three community partners were recognized in a virtual event Nov. 21 for their neighborly teamwork.
TOGO partnership awards were given to the Child Development Council, Cayuga Health System and the Tompkins County government. Additionally, environmentalist Richard Booth, professor of city and regional planning in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, received this year’s Town-Gown Achievement Award.
Through myriad COVID-19 preparation and planning meetings, multi-agency coordination, testing laboratory setups, readiness for student influx and tamping down coronavirus hot spots, the Cornell administration said college and community synergy solved common problems.
“I think that as we look back at the historic events of 2020, the lesson that is clear is that no person, no individual, no institution is an island,” said President Martha E. Pollack, at the online award ceremony. “We are all in this together.”
Provost Michael I. Kotlikoff noted community pride in working together in successfully managing to keep virus numbers low, particularly this fall when thousands of students returned to Ithaca.
Kotlikoff said that by early April there were more than 100,000 cases statewide and 3,500 coronavirus deaths. He called the springtime numbers “terrifying” and reminded attendees of how TOGO award-winner Cayuga Health System deployed 60 medical personnel April 8, via two Cornell Campus-to-Campus buses, to relieve overwhelmed staff at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine in Manhattan.
Not only have Cornell and community partners collaborated to keep coronavirus case numbers low, “but most importantly, we worked together and we trusted each other,” Kotlikoff said. “Rather than divide us, the crisis has made this community stronger.”
Dr. Martin Stallone, chief executive officer of the Cayuga Medical Center and Cayuga Health System, said the TOGO recognition was for hundreds of team members in his health system. They have been “absolutely heroic during this entire time,” he said. “Not only in their usual roles as health care workers … but also in the responsibilities we’ve given them that are out of their normal set of responsibilities.
“We have again and again asked them to deliver the impossible,” he said, “and they’ve risen to the challenge.”
Receiving the partnership award on behalf of Tompkins County were Jason Molino, county administrator; Frank Kruppa, director of public health, Tompkins County Health Department; and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, chair, Tompkins County Legislature.
“This award means a lot to Tompkins County,” Molino said. “If anything, over the past 10 months, relationships and partners have allowed us to work collectively for the betterment of the community.”
Molino praised the unsung heroes from the offices of planning, assessment, public health, aging and finance, who rallied to help local residents in the pandemic’s darkest days. “Managing pandemics is not what they signed up to do when they took a job with the county,” he said.
“I think we could probably write a book on [community] relationships and how important they are in managing situations like this,” Molino said. “It has allowed us to build trust, credibility and respect with each other.”
McBean-Clairborne thanked Cornell for its resilience and leadership throughout the crisis, “in showing the rest of the country what [pandemic leadership] looks like to not only to lead with love, but to lead from a place of scholarship and a place of heart,” she said.
As area school districts and day care facilities grapple with coronavirus public health closures and other issues, Mary G. Opperman, vice president and chief human resources officer, called the Child Development Council “a go-to, reliable stalwart” serving Tompkins and Cortland counties for a half-century. “They have unfailingly provided resources, support services, information and referrals to parents and child care providers in the community,” Opperman said.
In thanking Cornell for the award, Sue Dale-Hall, the council’s chief executive officer, said early childhood education – much like solving community problems – relies on a foundation of networks and relationships.
“All of this really reminds me is that what we teach in early childhood education is [that the world is] built on relationships,” Dale-Hall said. “Children learn … the relationships that they have with us and with their peers … and the developmental milestones that come from these relationships, carry us through into our adulthood and in fact, [they] are reflected in our communities.”
Booth was honored for his academic work and his 10 years of service on the City of Ithaca Common Council, six years on the Tompkins County Legislature, his work on the board of Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, and for his appointment to the New York State Adirondack Park Agency and the New York State Low Level Radioactive Waste Siting Commission.
Seventeen retiring community leaders also received TOGOs:
- Karen Bishop, director, community health, Tompkins County Department of Health;
- Bev Chin, director, Health Planning Council, Human Services Commission;
- Melissa Gatch, supervising community health nurse, Tompkins County Health Department;
- Joanie Groome, coordinator, recreation programs for individuals with disabilities, Ithaca Youth Bureau;
- Janice Johnson, Tompkins County Coordinator for Community Youth;
- Mark Macera, executive director, Longview;
- Dan McClure, project manager, Cornell Facilities and Campus Services;
- Sarah Myers, information management specialist, City of Ithaca Clerk’s Office;
- John O’Neill, trustee, Village of Lansing;
- John Spence, executive director, Community Arts Partnership;
- Paul Streeter, vice president for budget and planning, Cornell;
- Liz Thomas, supervisor, Town of Ulysses;
- Daniel Tier, assistant fire chief, Ithaca Fire Department;
- Rich Tracy, assistant fire chief, Ithaca Fire Department;
- Jim Weber, director of public works, Town of Ithaca;
- Deborah Whitney, chamberlain’s office, City of Ithaca; and
- Erik Whitney, assistant superintendent of public works, City of Ithaca Water and Sewer Division.