I received an email from a new member the other day saying that he had a hard time understanding who SRAC is and he asked if I could add that to our website in a better way than it is today. After looking up a post that I created in November 2007 when I began this blog, titled, "SRAC - Who Are We?" (note the question mark!) and another the same month titled, "Stone Soup" - I had to smile and reminisce a bit about how far we have come in such short time...I hope that readers seeking to understand us better will use this post in conjunction with the two referred to above, and that this will answer many questions that you may have...
My name is Deb Twigg, and I am one of the co-founders and currently executive director of the Susquehanna River Archaeological Center, (SRAC.)
When those earlier posts were written, I remember that I was filled with anxiety and excitement about the huge undertaking that I'd signed up for...Creating a totally new nonprofit organization, buying an old run down warehouse style building with crumbling walls, and only having enough money after making the down payment to keep going for a few months without creating a way to generate revenue in the meantime....Looking back, I have to say that I learned A LOT in those first few years, and the biggest thing that I learned was that if you believe in your heart that you are supposed to do something - no matter how big or small it is - you need to first BELIEVE you can do it - and then roll up you sleeves and figure out how.
While there were some who laughed at us for buying the 100-some year old building that we now call our Center back in December 2007, the minute that I walked in, I had a picture in my head that I drew out (see below.) This became our plan for the main floor of the building that is pictured above. (Note when we first bought the building there were no walls or bathrooms on this floor.)
To see our latest renovations and additions, visit: http://www.SRAcenter.org/Museum
While I realize that some of you may think that all of this, to this point, could have been chalked up to just over-confidence and a boatload of luck - we also had what I will call the first important ingredient all great non-profit organizations have in common - a great and unique cause. To me, SRAC's cause is like no other in the region. We not only work hard to educate private collectors about preserving the archaeology that is out there and not currently in the public eye, but we educate the public about our prehistoric past using what we have preserved. To this end, we have preserved 15 private collections that are on display in our exhibit hall and expect many more to be donated when collectors are ready to make a decision about where their collections should go past their lifetimes. Using this local archaeology, we continue to push ourselves and professional researchers to make the research continue in our region to help us figure out even more that we do not know. By inviting professional and avocational archaeologists and historical speakers to speak in our lecture hall, as well as private collectors to display their artifacts at certain events, we continue the efforts in learning and sharing every month. As stewards of our local archaeology and its preservation we have become a great example of educators that never stop learning. In addition to the public stopping in everyday at SRAC, local schools, local clubs and even nursing homes make special field trips to our center... As you can see - our energies and efforts are endless in supporting this meaningful cause.
Looking back, the second important ingredient to our success in my mind is successful funding. Unlike other nonprofit organizations, we signed a contract early on with co-founder Dick Cowles that we would not accept federal or state funding - and if we did , his family would have the right to remove his collection for the fear of new laws at some point effecting his fathers collection. This caused us to have to work alot harder in that we never were able to get funding in the way that most non-profits do from state or federal funding. Instead, we would have to seek the support of our community organizations, philanthropic foundations and generous individuals.
As a part of my role at SRAC, I have taken on the responsibility of constantly seeking funding to keep SRAC afloat. Initially, I thought the best plan was to go to big organizations in the area, the hospitals, the banks and even the racetrack, etc...but without fail, I was told that they did not see how SRAC could possibly survive, and therefore we were not a good investment...I remember smiling and saying, "We will survive because we have a great cause, a huge collection, etc" and at a certain point, realized that I just could not seem to inspire large businesses because they had to see it all on a spreadsheet - which makes sense because that's how they run their own businesses! I must note that this year's SRAC Giving Campaign did receive some donations (see below) from local businesses and my hope is that we are finally gaining the confidence of at least some of them!
Instead, the largest donations by far have been by philanthropic individuals and foundations that our cause actually speaks to above and beyond any spreadsheet. Since September 2009 our donations were received in the following proportions: 73% from individuals, 23% from foundations, and 3% from local businesses. With that said, if you would like to donate to SRAC, please visit http://www.sracenter.org/Donations/
Sadly, today many large organizations are learning that even with a great cause and a lot more money than a new organization like SRAC has - that keeping their doors open is still a challenge without dedicated people. With nearly 300 members to date and 100% volunteer staffing, I think our staff by far surpasses any other nonprofit organization that I am aware of. Furthermore, the fact that none of us have ever made a penny from all of the hours that we have donated is a credit to our board and volunteer staff and their dedication to our cause. It is also very efficient for us as a non-profit to not have salaries listed among our expense line. Furthermore, nearly every one of our board members volunteers time in SRAC every week! To me this helps us all to get to know each other and work together as a team - and it allows all of us to have a feel for the Center and those we serve in the community. No showing up once a month for a meeting if you are on our board - we expect more - and get it!
As a result, when someone enters our doors, they are welcomed with a friendly smile and a knowledgeable person who can answer their questions. In fact co-founders Ted Keir and Dick Cowles work one afternoon shift every week in our exhibit hall and it is no secret why those days are the most popular days of the week for the public to visit SRAC!
Ted is the leading source of information about the archaeology in our region. A retired high school teacher with a degree in Earth Science, Ted became an avocational archaeologist and private collector in his off hours. There is not a collector or professional in our region that does not know Ted Keir and respect his life's work in educating our community. In fact Ted still gives educational lectures at SRAC a couple of times a year! His incredible collection can also be seen in SRAC's exhibit hall and if you come on Tuesday afternoons, Ted will share his stories about the artifacts and where they were found with you personally.
Dick Cowles is the son of Mr. Ellsworth Cowles, engineer by trade and an earlier avocational archaeologist the generation before Ted Keir. Although Ellsworth passed away in 1991, his knowledge of the Chemung River Valley, it's history and archaeology is unsurpassed even today. Dick is the third co-founder of SRAC as he ended up with all of his father's artifacts which no local museum was able to take on because of it's sheer size. Once filling a three room basement, the Ellsworth Cowles collection was the foundation for the SRAC collection that now boasts 15 collections. Following in his father's foot steps, Dick also became a local historian, and is very knowledgeable in the Revolutionary War period for our region to include Sullivan's Campaign. If you visit the SRAC shop's book section, you will see books by both Dick and his father. SRAC is also currently seeking a foundation grant to compile a 500+ page book written by Ellsworth over his lifetime about our region's prehistory and early history. If you would like to meet Dick, simply stop in some Thursday afternoon, he'll be there with that great smile of his welcoming you as you come in the door.
Both Ted and Dick as well as the rest of the board also wear many other hats at SRAC!
So today as I am asked "Who is SRAC?" I feel as though after 5 years of incorporation and becoming a non-profit organization, I have more confidence in answering that question, and how we actually have done it. While there are so many aspects of SRAC that are still left to discuss, I hope that I have given you a better answer than there was before.
With many new things planned for the coming years such as more renovations, enlargement of our exhibit hall, addition of a research center and library on the second floor and even a classroom or two, I am sure I will make an addendum or two in the future.
To learn more or to support our efforts, visit http://www.sracenter.org/
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about SRAC. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Deb Twigg, SRAC