The 2020 NYSSCPA Awards: Public Service Award Winner Lorraine P. Wolch Applies CPA Skills to Community Philanthropies

By:
Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jun 29, 2020
Lorraine Wolch

Lorraine P. Wolch, winner of this year’s Arthur J. Dixon Public Service Award, has spent decades of her life applying her expertise as a CPA to philanthropic organizations throughout the Rochester area. As a veteran volunteer with the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester (JFGR) and the housing organization Tempro, she has worked hard to ensure the financial stability of both organizations, which provide a wide variety of services for needy people in the area.

Wolch first joined the JFGR—which has a variety of philanthropic activities in the wider community, ranging from youth programs to charitable giving to anti-hate advocacy—in 1986 as a program volunteer, before eventually joining the organization’s professional advisory committee.

She was inspired after a family trip to Israel, where she came to understand the need to deepen her involvement with charitable works. “The Jewish Federation exemplifies the value of ‘tikkun olam,’ which means healing the world,” she said.

As a member of the JFGR’s finance committee, Wolch turns her considerable skills as a CPA toward helping the organization. She is an important part of the annual budget process, and also has reviewed its Forms 990 before filing. But her involvement does not begin and end with the financial side. For example, shortly before 9/11, she worked through her organization as part of a national mission to Israel to understand issues on the ground. After the attacks, the group was temporarily stranded in Israel, and she was impressed with the Jewish Federation’s response, “making sure there were doctors available” for people who needed prescriptions or counseling. In addition, she provided internet communication for those with families back in the United States, as many cell towers were down at the time.

This then led into a longer-term partnership with the town of Modi’in, which became a partner city to Rochester in 2003. Wolch, who co-chaired the initiative, said that the two cities conduct regular student and teacher exchanges so that the two can better learn about each other’s culture. Among many other activities, they sponsor youth travel programs with American and Israeli teens, who tour the United States, Israel and Poland.

Wolch is also involved with Tempro, which provides emergency housing for the homeless and other populations in Rochester, as well as throughout the wider Monroe County area, with a focus on family units. The original founders of the organization were members of Temple B’rith Kodesh, which her husband at the time had been leading as president. The original treasurer, she said, suffered a stroke in 1993, which led to her being asked to serve.

“And, as you can tell, I have a hard time saying no,” she said.  

Over the more than 25 years during which she has been involved, Wolch has used her professional expertise for tasks such as providing bookkeeping support for corporate fundraising, drafting financial statements for audit and review, and preparing the Forms 990 and New York state CHAR500 forms. She has seen the organization through the expansion of a suburban supportive housing program from 11 units to 22, with a Housing and Urban Development grant, as well as through recent facility upgrades to its current housing stock, thanks to a New York State Homeless Housing and Assistance Program grant. Last year, Tempro celebrated its 50th anniversary, inviting back many of the original founders.

Amid all of this volunteer work, Wolch is also the head of her own firm, which she grew from a small home practice to a five-person firm offering a diverse array of accounting, tax and advisory services. She credited her husband and business partner, Donald J. Onimus (who nominated her for the award), as well as their staff, with giving her the support she needs to continue her volunteer work—and even helping with Tempro and other volunteer projects. For his own part, Onimus praised her as a “tireless volunteer” who has, over the course of her volunteer work, “shepherded [their] finances through multiple iterations of projects” in order to maintain their financial health.

“I have known Lorraine for 40 years. She is a consummate professional and superlative volunteer. We met as volunteers for the former National Association of Accountants, now the Institute of Management Accountants. She has given freely of her time to both professional and not-for-profit organizations,” said Onimus.

Since the outbreak of the global pandemic, Wolch, as a woman over 70, has shifted much of her work—both for her firm and as a volunteer—online, as she socially distances,. Yet this doesn’t mean that she has slowed down. Even in times like these, she said, “I’m always busy.”

“I’ve been a CPA for 40 years, 24/7, and I love every minute of it.”

This award recognizes CPAs who have a demonstrated history of public service and volunteerism for a charitable, community or civic organization. It celebrates the quality of, and dedication to, philanthropic service and the CPA’s overall contribution to building and fostering community.

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