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Former SU basketball star finds new way to give back to those struggling through pandemic

Editor’s Note: This story includes excerpts from a recent Sunday Conversation podcast where Eric Devendorf sat down with Josh Durso to talk about the CNY Cares, Inc. initiative, which is giving back to communities across Upstate New York. Click here to listen, or find the full-interview at the bottom of this story.

CNY Cares, Inc. is growing.

It’s founder, Eric Devendorf, the Syracuse University Men’s Basketball standout from 2005-2009, says the entire concept was born out of frustration with seeing local businesses struggle. After quickly raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, the initiative is expanding into the Rochester-area, with plans to expand into other communities across Upstate New York, too.

“I set up a GoFundMe and within a month we raised about $80,000,” Devendorf recalled. “And we were able to give that out to 18 different small businesses here in Syracuse. After that, a few people reached out to me and they wanted to get a second one going to take it to a whole new level. So that’s when we formed CNY Cares.”

It’s a non-profit that allows itself to raise money for small businesses and then dish that out to those who need it. Devendorf said that the countless stories he’d been seeing throughout the pandemic, about longtime businesses that were laying off workers- or simply closing inspired him to take action.

“We’re really excited about this project,” Devendorf continued. To date, more than $350,000 has been raised. The goal is to reach $5 million. And even though the prognosis of the pandemic is looking better- he still believes help will be needed for small businesses.

“I’ve been trying to do as much as I can for the community going all the way back to 2005,” the former Syracuse University basketball standout said. “The community has been awesome- they still treat me like I’m on the team. And that just keeps inspiring me to do as much as I can to help out and give back.”

Devendorf says that organizationally, CNY Cares, Inc. has really tightened things up. It operates with a board, as well as a number of well-versed advisors. It has a specific process for applicants, as well as those making contributions. He says the money is delivered directly back to the community and small businesses.

“Obviously, $5 million is a lofty goal, but I believe with the support and the team that we’re creating right now- we’re going to be able to achieve that and hopefully even more,” he said. As more money is raised in different communities- the Cares initiative will be able to continue growing.

Going back to 2009, it wasn’t a forgone conclusion that Devendorf would remain in Syracuse or Central New York. He’s joined by Rochester native John Wallace on CNY Cares, Inc. board. Both are examples of individuals who care a lot about the communities they developed roots in at a young age.

“It’s exciting to give back, and when you think about this moment- a lot of people need help, and there are going to be a lot of people who need help in the future, so we’re building a community-within-a-community,” Devendorf continued. “And it’s up to us as a community of people to keep doing that and helping each other out.”

Even he was personally impacted by the pandemmic. He runs basketball camps, and while Devendorf didn’t struggle the way so many other businesses across the region and Upstate New York did during shutdown and economic restriction- it all inspired him to stay motivated to help. “It’s tough. There’s a lot of negativity out there,” he noted. “But if you start getting people up- and you start focusing on the positive and the ways that you can be a force for good- all of a sudden it has a snowball effect.”