Blastoff! Our New Afterschool has Taken Flight

Several children and a few adults look up at the sky with eclipse sunglasses

It was 3 in the afternoon, and the young members of our new Jack August After School Program were grabbing a snack of soft pretzels and fruit juice before settling down to the afternoon’s activities. They’d just been walked over from their nearby schools by our After School staff. The room filled with chatter as they sat down at small tables covered with bright red tablecloths. 

The Jack August After School opened in April. It exclusively serves children who live in the Isaacs Houses and Holmes Towers—the public housing projects where the Isaacs Center is based. Program Director Eric Wyche said supporting their education is one of the goals of the program. 

“We help them with homework every day,” he explained. “I’ve gotten great feedback from the parents that some of the kids have improved in their homework. So that’s been great to feel that we’re contributing to their success in school.” 

Other activities combine learning with play. For example, the children have built bridges with popsicle sticks, using math to figure out how much strength is required to hold the bridge up. They observed the Solar Eclipse with staff and created their own solar system.  

Recently they took part in a community beautification project with resident gardener Mr. Leroy by planting flowers and adding vibrant colors and words of inspiration to the rock beds that surround the garden. 

“We also have a drama portion,” said Wyche. “We’ve had a teacher here twice a week teaching the kids different types of acting and they seem to enjoy it so much.” 

The program is named in memory of Jack August, a longtime Manhattan educator, and is generously supported by his family. 

”Jack August was an elementary school principal for several decades, serving his longest tenure at PS 108 in Spanish Harlem,” wrote August’s son-in-law Fred Bernstein in an email.  “Every morning he stood on the front steps of the school to greet students and teachers as they arrived. When, at PS 108 he became concerned that many of his young  students had had no breakfast, or an inadequate meal before coming to school in the morning, he persuaded the Board of Education to institute the City’s first free school breakfast program.” 

August, he added, was devoted to his job and loved to encounter his former students around the city.  

“He would have been delighted to hear of the afterschool program for young children being created at the Isaacs Center,” he wrote. 

Getting Food Assistance in a SNAP 

Want to find out if you qualify for SNAP? Contact Samuel Gaedke at 646-946-0095 or sgaedke@isaacscenter.org. 

Applying for SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, can feel daunting. Samuel Gaedke makes it easy.  

“People tell me, ‘I don’t qualify. I’ve tried before.’  I talk to them for two or three minutes and I say, ‘I believe you’re qualified,’” he said.

“For me, when somebody gets the benefit, that’s the best part of the job. When I can call someone up and say, hey, you’ve been approved, in a way I feel like I won the lotto.” 

Gaedke runs our Nutrition Outreach and Education Program (NOEP), and it’s his job to make sure everyone who qualifies for SNAP in Manhattan can get it. The work takes him to community fairs and events across the borough, where he does quick screenings of three or four minutes—in English or Spanish—to find out if people are likely to be eligible.  

If he determines that they probably qualify, he helps them throughout the entire process, including solving any issues that may come up: “I’ll turn over any rock to seek a solution.” 

Why are people who qualify for SNAP not getting it? Gaedke says people often go through the application process once and then give up.  

“They may have applied years ago and they don’t realize that the income limits go up annually,” he explained. “Or they don’t know there are special eligibility rules for groups like older adults, people with disabilities, and people who have childcare costs.” People also think the application process is more complicated than it really is, he added, or that you need a lot of documentation (often you don’t). 

Angela Harmon is one of Gaedke’s happy customers. She had been between jobs for a while when someone handed her a NOEP flyer and she called to make an appointment. “Samuel immediately made me feel at ease,” she recalled. “I came into his office and it was like teamwork.” 

Having SNAP has been a huge relief, she said—especially when it comes to feeding her daughter. 

“She gets out of school and she’s hungry and that for me was the hardest part, when I didn’t have snacks for her. To be able to provide nutritious snacks and then we can eat dinner and be ready for the next day—knowing that I don’t have to worry about food—it’s been a game-changer.” 

SNAP can be used to buy a wide variety of groceries, as well as pretty much any food that isn’t hot: cold sandwiches at a bodega, for instance, or salads and sliced deli meats at the grocery store. You can use an Electronic Benefits Transfer card (EBT) to pay; it works like an ATM card.  

If you have questions about SNAP or would like to find out if you’re eligible, contact Samuel Gaedke at 646-946-0095 or sgaedke@isaacscenter.org.   

“You Never Stop Learning”: Bus Trips are an Affordable Treat for Older Adults 

Three women in winter coats stand under a lofty ceiling of steep white ribs with a narrow skylight at the center

It was the first day of Spring, but apparently nobody had told the weather. The long, low contours of the Irish Hunger Memorial were acting as a wind tunnel, channeling freezing blasts of air off the Hudson River. Still, the little group of visitors from our Older Adult Center walked all around the site, lingering over the inscriptions and examining the landscape. 

“The soil, stones and native vegetation are from Ireland—and there’s a stone from every county,” Aurea Garcia told the group, reading from her phone. “That’s cool.” 

The excursion was one of four bus trips that run every week from the Older Adult Center—once a day from Monday through Thursday. Sometimes the outings go to museums and historical sites; on other days they head to affordable shopping destinations like Costco and Dollar Tree. The little white bus is wheelchair-accessible; it holds a maximum of twelve people and the only cost for passengers is a $2 suggested donation.  

Garcia has come on several trips, mostly to museums—including her favorite, the Cooper-Hewitt. “The groups are small and I like that because you can talk to people,” she said. “It’s a learning experience. You never stop learning.”  

After the Hunger Memorial the group headed to the Oculus, the flashy transportation center and high-end mall at the former World Trade Center site. The women admired the building’s architecture—its soaring white ribs are meant to be “symbolic of a hand releasing a dove”—and did a little window-shopping before getting back on the bus. 

“The biggest purpose of the bus trips is to provide opportunities for the older adults to go to places they otherwise wouldn’t,” said Older Adult Center Director Jemma Marens. The second-biggest, she explained, is shopping support—giving people a chance to get staples like food and clothing for less than they would spend in Manhattan. 

It’s all part of supporting aging with dignity, Marens said. 

“People should be able to treat themselves and enjoy themselves,” she said. “These trips allow older adults do that without breaking the bank.” 

Meet our New Board Chair, Marcia Bystryn

A woman smiles next to a Goddard Riverside logo

“It’s all the things I’ve always cared about, but right in my own backyard.” 

Our new board chair at Goddard Riverside and the Isaacs Center has a wealth of experience with city and state issues. Marcia Bystryn says what drew her to get involved here is the chance to make a difference in her neighborhood.  

“I was walking around the Upper West Side, where I live, and I realized I was so little involved with my own community,” she said. “That really is the charm for me with Goddard.” 

Bystryn has served on the boards of the Natural Areas Conservancy and Our Energy Policy, and as vice chair of the Peconic Land Trust. She headed the New York League of Conservation Voters for nearly two decades before stepping down in 2018. She’s worked in government, too—as New York City’s Assistant Commissioner of Recycling in the first half of the 1990s. 

“I’m very into governance,” she said. “I’m really interested in how not-for-profits work and in playing a constructive role in their governance.” 

Bystryn joined the Goddard board back in 2015. She replaces lawyer Christopher Auguste, who served as long as term limits would allow, and who remains on the board. She set out  two main priorities as chair: making sure the ongoing merger of Goddard and the Isaacs Center concludes smoothly, and looking at whether our programs can and should change to reflect changing realities in the city. “Goddard has done so much since the beginning of Rod Jones’ tenure as president,”she said. “I’m really sort of focused on the big picture of where we’re going.” 

One thing Bystryn has confidence in is the abilities of the people she’ll be working with: “I am extremely impressed with the staff of Goddard. I’ve met such a range of talented people and hope to get to know them better. And the board too—this is a smart and committed board and it’s going to be fun working with them.” 

From Culinary to Computers, our Education and Workforce Classes are Enrolling Now!

A collage of four photos showing a young person working on a computer, a young person showing off a dish he made, several people graduating, and a nurse assistant shaking a patient's hand
A collage of four photos showing a young person working on a computer, a young person showing off a dish he made, several people graduating, and a nurse assistant shaking a patient's hand

Ready to take the next step toward achieving your dreams? The Isaacs Center is here to help! Our Education and Workforce program has multiple FREE classes starting in early February.

For more information and to apply to any of these programs, go to linktr.ee/IsaacsEdWorkforce and fill out the form for that program.

Workforce Training

These courses include paid internships and job placement to help you turn your new skills into a career.

The Information Technology Support track prepares you for a wide range of entry-level technology jobs. It offers the opportunity to earn the Google IT Support Professional Certificate and the CompTIA A+ certification. The Cybersecurity course prepares you for the growing field of digital defense with the chance to earn a Cybersecurity Analyst Certification (CySA+). Classes are taught in our high-tech classroom in partnership with Per Scholas, a nonprofit dedicated to diversifying the technology field.

The Culinary Arts track gives young people the skills to work in the food industry, from knife skills and plating to menu planning and food safety. It’s open to people aged 18 to 24.

Certified Nurse Assistant training teaches you how to provide direct, hands-on care to people who need it, while you earn key health certifications in skills like EKG and phlebotomy. You must be between 18 and 24 years old.

Jezebel Gomez is working in a fine-dining restaurant in NYC after completing our Culinary Arts training. “I was able to focus on learning rather than how I was going to finance it; a freedom not many get to experience,” she said. “I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity and confidence the program gave me.”

Education

Our GED classes let you learn how YOU need to learn while earning your high school equivalency diploma. Daytime and evening classes are available; the daytime program offers a stipend or paid internship.

Jayda Morrison came to our GED program after scheduling difficulties made high school impossible. She said the program gave her the structure she needed to make progress in school: “I’ve been doing my own thing by myself and I needed a lot of help. I just needed motivation. When I need that, they’re here for me.”

A Culinary Arts Grad Rises to the Top

Jezebel Gomez went through Culinary Arts training in 2022 and wowed the instructors with her teamwork and kitchen hustle. Clearly they weren’t the only ones who noticed: she got hired before she even graduated by her internship site, Hawksmoor, an upscale restaurant in the Flatiron District.  

After spending a year fine-tuning her skills, Jezebel reached out to the Isaacs team for guidance on her next move. We’re thrilled to report that she’s joined the staff of Chef Jean-George Vongerichten’s new fine-dining restaurant, FourTwentyFive, which just opened on Park Avenue! 

The Culinary Arts program asked her to share her thoughts on her experience. Here’s what she wrote: 
 
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I started this program, nor did I know the amount of beautiful people, insightful teachers and immense amounts of support I was going to receive. It was a sense of community I was yearning for, and my love for the kitchen was amplified when given the tools to succeed. I was able to focus on learning rather than how I was going to finance it; a freedom not many get to experience. I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity and confidence the program gave me; it allowed me to walk into my internship interview ready for whatever challenge awaited. 
 
“Hawksmoor was a very different environment than the school kitchen. The expectations were high and didn’t allow for excuses. It was a major adjustment, but that high expectation ultimately gave me a sense of pride, credibility, and respect for the kitchen and food itself. Anyone can learn how to cook, but to have respect for the kitchen and everyone who works in it, truly allows you to become a great chef.” 

Our Culinary Arts program provides young people aged 18-24 with training on everything from skills such as knifework, butchery, baking, plating, and presentation to fundamentals such as proper work habits, professionalism, and food safety and sanitation. Students obtain their NYC DOH Food Handler License and ServSafe Certification. The program is tuition-free. For more information, fill out the program inquiry form, or click here learn about all of our workforce training programs.

Year-End Giving Guide: How to Support Us with a Credit Card, PayPal, Venmo and More 

A word cloud including community, giving, charity, service, help, dedicated and other giving words

The end of the calendar year is the most popular time to support your favorite causes. This year we’re making it easy by providing plenty of quick and secure ways to donate. 

With check theft on the rise, authorities say you should avoid simply dropping a check in a blue postal box on the street. If you must mail your donation, try to give it directly to a USPS employee or mail at a post office.  

But first, check out these convenient alternatives! 

Debit or credit card: Give securely online via our donation page. Our partner, DonorPerfect, uses the latest technology to keep your transaction safe.  

PayPal and Venmo: Our secure donation page accepts these platforms too!  

Double your Donation: Use our quick and easy digital tool to find out whether your employer will match your gift! https://isaacscenter.org/matching-gifts/ 

Give by phone: Throughout November and December you can call our donation hotline at 212-873-6600 ext. 1012 and give your information directly to one of our Development staffers.

We want you to feel good—and secure—about the way you give. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact our Annual Giving Manager, Victoria Sheridan, at vsheridan@goddard.org or 212-873-6600 ext. 1026. Have a wonderful holiday season! 

Year-End Giving Guide: How to Donate Items

A word cloud including community, giving, charity, service, help, dedicated and other giving words

As the weather cools, many people start thinking about the holidays: What am I making for Thanksgiving dinner? What gifts do I get my family? Do I need to get out my warm boots? 

The Isaacs Center also asks these questions, but on a much larger scale. No matter the season, we keep working with over 20,000 people to cover their practical needs of food, shelter, education, and care. We’d love for you to join us! 

If you are interested giving in-kind donations to Isaacs this holiday season, please consider the following urgently needed items: 

  • Toiletries and personal care items 
  • Winter coats, boots, gloves, hats, and socks 
  • School supplies 
  • Twin-sized bed linens 
  • Metrocards or Amazon gift cards for $10-15 
  • Books in Spanish for children and adults 
  • Tablets (models no later than 2019) 

Due to health and safety regulations, items must be new and unused, except for tablets, which must be wiped.  

Donations can be dropped off at any of our main offices between November 1 and December 12 from 9am-4pm:

  • Isaacs Center at 415 E 93rd St. (and First Ave.)
  • Goddard Riverside at 593 Columbus Ave. (at 88th)
  • Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center 250 W 65th St. (near West End Ave.)

If you would like a tax acknowledgement letter, please include a note with your contact information with the donation.  

If you have any questions, please contact us at 212-618-2896 x1026.  

“Events Like This Truly Make a Difference”: Celebrating Hispanic Heritage

Several women pose in elaborate dresses and sashes bearing the name of their country
Several women in colorful costumes and holding flags pose for a photo

The Isaacs Older Adult Center honored Hispanic Heritage Month with vibrant cultural performances, activities, and traditional clothing.  

Members representing different countries throughout Central and South America entered the dining room one by one to music from their country. They wore elaborate costumes and sashes with the country’s name. 

America Paniagua was participating for her fourth year in a row. She always has a dress specially made in the Dominican Republic for the event: “The show is always amazing, every year. I’m proud to be a part of this.”  

After the parade of nations, attendees lined up to enjoy traditional dishes from various Latin countries, including rice and beans, crispy chicken bites, sweet plaintains and a guava-filled cake. 

Isaacs Center Social Worker Albert Bencosme organizes the annual event along with many volunteers. “It’s about bringing awareness to people in the community about the Hispanic heritage at the Center, and celebrating it,” he said. He added that the event purposely showcases the uniqueness each specific culture while also celebrating their commonalities. 

Amanda Cifuentes, another member of the Isaacs Center, said, “I’m very grateful places like this exist because I haven’t been able to return to Ecuador, my birth country, in 10 years. Events like this truly make a difference and bring nothing but joy and a big smile to my face.” 

Open House Highlights Isaacs Older Adult Center Offerings

Did you know— the Isaacs Older Adult Center doesn’t just have daily lunches? It also has fitness classes, a book club, daily shopping trips, bigger trips to Broadway and other destinations, activities in multiple languages, access to social workers, art classes and more. Membership in the Older Adult Center is free and open to anyone 60 and older. 

“Some people come to see our social workers, but they don’t know about all the programs we offer. Some people come to the programs but don’t know we have social workers!” said Khristel Simmons. Besides overseeing all of our aging and nutrition programs, Simmons is a member of the Older Adult Center’s Hospitality Committee. Earlier this month the committee organized an Open House for members and prospective members to learn about the many benefits of joining the Older Adult Center. 

On Open House day, the dining room and the hallway outside were lined with informational tables run by Isaacs Center programs as well as organizations we partner with. The Holmes Isaacs Coalition, the Holmes Tower Residents Association, State Sen. Jose Serrano’s office, Weill Cornell, the Visiting Nurses Service and more were represented.  

Linda James was manning the Hospitality Committee table. She’s been a member for 9 years. What would she like members and prospective members to know?

“Some people aren’t connected with our emails,” she said. “They can sign up to get emails or robocalls that let them know what’s going on that day.” 

She added that the committee strives to make everyone feel comfortable the first time they come in—so they’ll want to come back. 

“What I value most is the friendships I’ve made here, the camaraderie of people I’ve met over the years,” she said. “It’s my home base—my home away from home!” 

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