By Jamie Swinnerton
Non-profit organizations are plentiful throughout Tompkins County, and make a big impact in our communities. Despite their contributions, area non-profits can sometimes go unnoticed or unknown. In an effort to shine a spotlight on those who are making a difference in our county, Tompkins Weekly will be showcasing these organizations on a regular basis.
This week we are highlighting the Varna Community Association. To learn more about the organization, we asked VCA Board Chairperson Jan Morgan about it.
Tompkins Weekly: What is your mission?
Jan Morgan: The Varna Community Association is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in and around the hamlet of Varna in the Town of Dryden. The VCA provides educational, charitable, recreational, and social activities and resources for people of all ages.
TW: How do you fulfill that mission?
JM: Most activities happen at the Varna Community Center located at 943 Dryden Road (Route 366). The Community Center is home to the Varna After School Program, which is now in its second year of providing childcare to students in pre-K through Grade 5. The program is registered with the New York State Office of Children and Family Services; the Ithaca City School District buses students to the program from elementary schools throughout the school district. By creating the Varna After School Program, the VCA brought several new jobs to Varna.
The Community Center’s commercial kitchen is rented to various small food businesses, such as Rose’s Home Dish, Dos Amigos Tacos, and Alexander’s Meals. The kitchen is also the place where volunteers from the community create a delicious, annual, free Thanksgiving Dinner and all-you-care-to-eat pancake breakfasts on the second Sunday of each month September through May.
Meeting rooms at the Community Center host public informational meetings like the January 10 meeting organized by the Town of Dryden to provide information and get public input about plans for work to be done on the historic one-lane bridge over Fall Creek in Varna. (see: Dryden.ny.us)
The grounds of the Community Center feature a playground designed by Play-By-Design and built by community volunteers in 2016. The playground is used daily by children in the Varna After School Program and it is also a frequent destination for neighborhood families and others. The basketball practice court is enjoyed by players of all ages and doubles as a spot to ride a tricycle or play hopscotch or four-square. Tompkins-Cortland Habitat for Humanity uses the VCA’s large metal barn as a dry storage space for building materials.
TW: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces?
JM: The VCA’s volunteer board of directors is always looking for new ways to serve the community. The board has creative ideas but most require volunteers and funding. Finding volunteers to help at events, maintain VCA facilities, or serve on committees is an ongoing challenge. While everyone is busy, it seems that Varna residents are particularly hard to draw into community service – especially since so many in the hamlet are here for a short while and then move on.
The other big challenge, money, is particularly challenging right now since VCA reserves were spent down in order to open the Varna After School Program.
TW: What is something people do not know about your organization?
JM: GeoWhiz! The inaugural event will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Varna Community Center.
The VCA is launching GeoWhiz as a new educational quiz program that will run like a spelling bee but with questions about geography. Teams of three people, ages 13 and up, will compete to see who can answer the most questions correctly. The registration fee is $30 per team. At the event on Jan. 27, questions will be limited to local geography, the United States, and U.S. territories.
Here’s a sample question: Which is longer, the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail? (The answer is at the bottom of this section.)
GeoWhiz questions will be serious, yet the atmosphere at the event will be light-hearted. People who don’t want to compete are very welcome to come, watch, and provide encouragement to teams! Refreshments will be available.
More information, including a registration form and study resources can be found on the VCA website at VarnaCommunityAssociation.org
Proceeds from GeoWhiz registration fees and donations will benefit the VCA, so GeoWhiz will help with the VCA’s money challenges. In fact, GeoWhiz is destined to become the VCA’s signature fundraiser to take place annually in mid-November. (Answer to the sample question: The Pacific Crest Trail is longer.)
TW: How can people best support your mission?
JM: Sign up now to be part of GeoWhiz. The event on Jan. 27 will be fun and it will help support everything the VCA offers to the community. To register a team go to VarnaCommunityAssociation.org, email GeoWhiz@VarnaCommunityAssociation.org, or call VCA Chair Jan Morgan or Jim Skaley at (607) 256-1617.