George Ferrari ’84 defines dedication to community

George Ferrari ’84, who earned his undergraduate degree in Human Development and Family Studies, began his academic life at Cornell in a place that could not have been more different from the Human Ecology program: The School of Engineering.

“I took one of those personality tests and when I saw the results I thought, ‘What in the world am I doing in engineering?’” he recalled.

He changed his major, but his work today reflects a particular kind of engineering – the engineering of community.

Ferrari is the chief executive officer of the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, an organization that provides philanthropic support and community engagement opportunities that enhance the lives of those who live and work in Tompkins County.

“I love my job,” he said. “We provide the tools and relationships to help people engage in philanthropy as they see fit, to manifest their values. Money is not the only tool – we do it with information about our communities, and with social capital.”

Ferrari grew up in Binghamton, N.Y., and was the second person in his family to attend college. He began his non-profit work in 1983, when he took a field work assignment in the Ithaca community at Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service.

“I grew up influenced by Catholic social teaching,” he explained. “I took it as a personal obligation that I should be of service to others. We all live in a context, a community, and we all need to act in solidarity with others.”

“At Cornell, I learned that it wasn’t just about knowledge – it was about the application of knowledge, putting knowledge to work in the service of addressing the needs of people,” he said. “I learned how important it is to seek to achieve greater justice and integrity in not only the work we do, but in how we do it.”

Those lessons have served Ferrari – and the Tompkins County community – well over the past 37 years. He began his work at the Community Foundation in 2005, but his position there is the tip of the iceberg. He’s served as the executive director of Catholic Charities of Tompkins and Tioga Counties; worked as the crisis line manager at Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service, was the founding executive director of AIDS WORK of Tompkins County, and also worked at Head Start and in residence life at Cornell University.

Off the clock, he’s just as active. He’s a part of NY Funders Alliance and is involved in creating a community dialogue through his work facilitating the Tompkins County Human Service Coalition’s monthly meetings. He sits on the boards of directors at the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, the Diversity Consortium of Tompkins County, and Kendal at Ithaca, and serves on the Cornell University Council.

“I have always had the privilege of doing work that is important to me,” Ferrari said, “of being able to build a broader and broader tent to include people in the discovery of what they want to do, and how it can benefit our community.”

Alumni Affairs and Development
Human Development