OLEAN — Cindy Wagner knows the value of giving, having worked in the nonprofit sector for much of her career.
She also knows the value of the grant process, beginning her career in grant writing when she was working with a shelter for women who were victims of domestic violence in Cortland. She would go on to a 30-plus-year career in nonprofit management with nonprofits up and down the East Coast, but she always continued to write grants, even when serving as director of an organization.
A reporter with the Times Herald for the past several years, Wagner recently established the Wagner Family Fund at the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation to give support to libraries in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties beginning in 2023.
The fund’s grant application process will open Aug. 1 with a Sept. 30 deadline, and awards will be made in November each year.
A native of Portville, Wagner began college at 28 as a full-time working, single mother of two, and graduated from Jamestown Community College with High Honors and Cum Laude from SUNY Fredonia in just 3 1/2 years — a feat that remains one of her proudest achievements.
Wagner, as well as the rest of her family, were also active volunteering in the community.
Wagner served as a board member of the Mental Health Association in Cattaraugus County, as president and a member of Keynote Chorus and was a member and former chair of the Town of Portville Planning Board after she returned to the area 17 years ago when her grandchildren began arriving.
She remembered her late parents, Nancy and Gerald Wagner, also volunteering for community organizations like Olean General Hospital and Meals on Wheels.
“Everyone in our family has always volunteered our time, but this is maybe the first time we have really been able to give of our money, too,” Wagner said. “My parents have passed now, and not all of us have as much time anymore, so I am happy that we are still able to help out, and it means a lot to be able to do it in way that lasts in perpetuity.”
Established as an endowed fund, the Wagner fund will provide annual grants to area libraries in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties to support educational programming and new activities for youth and adults.
Libraries have played a special role for the Wagner family, making it all the more meaningful to give back to them through this fund.
“Growing up in a middle-class family in the ’70s, we never had a lot of money for extras, so libraries became very important to all of us,” she said. “Both of my parents and my brother and I became readers, and it was books and the need for research for homework assignments that took us there.”
While her mother was an aide in the Portville Elementary School for decades, libraries played an important role in the lives of her sons, Brian North, a North Carolina attorney, and Jason North, a Portville business owner.
“Whenever the boys and I would move to a new town for school or work, the first thing we would do is go to the library for a new library card,” Wagner said. “Whether it was for books, CDs or new artwork to hang on the wall, it was a great place to find out what was going on. It immediately made our small family feel a part of the community, and I feel indebted to all of those libraries.”
Wagner hopes that the Wagner Family Fund will have a special impact over the many years to come for the libraries that were so important to her family in a community that she was raised in and returned to call “home.”
“I hope the available funds bring new programming to those libraries who don’t have a programming budget at all and be a critical piece of additional funding for libraries who want to expand their community education programs,” she said.
“Libraries provide so much more than books for families of all backgrounds in the communities where they are located,” said Karen Niemic Buchheit, CRCF executive director. “For many, the libraries in our rural communities provide resources that are otherwise unattainable like internet and access to research materials and digital services. Libraries also provide programs that help youth and adults alike continue to learn and grow.”
Donations can be made to the Wagner Family Fund at the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation, 301 N. Union St., Suite 203, Olean, NY 14760, or online at cattfoundation.org.