Meet staff from the Isaacs Center and our partner, Goddard Riverside, at this hiring fair featuring opportunities throughout Manhattan. We’re hiring for a variety of roles from entry level through senior management. We look forward to seeing you at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center, 250 West 65th Street, between noon and 4 PM.
It was a perfect chilly fall morning when the Taft Older Adult Center Walking Group began assembling outside the entrance to Central Park at 110th and 5th Avenue. They chatted in Spanish as Aging Services Caseworker Maritza Martinez worked her cellphone.
“I call them every time to remind them. Sometimes they say it’s too cold and I tell them ‘Put a sweater on and let’s go!’” she said with a grin.
When seven walkers had arrived, they headed into the park. Everyone went at their own pace. Eventually they emerged back onto 5th Avenue and kept going south, strung out in twos and threes with as much as a city block in between. This was no mere walk in the park. Today they were headed to 90th Street and back—more than two miles. The group meets twice a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays, and sometimes they stay out walking for an hour and a half.
The members say they get a lot out of the group: access to the outdoors, a chance to socizialize, and a workout.
“To me, it’s the most complete exercise—it works all the muscles,” said Sonia Aguasvivas, a retired teacher. “I try not to book any other appointments at this time so I can go.”
The walking group is a fixture of our Older Adult Center at the Taft Houses in East Harlem, part of the NYCHA public housing system. Taft is the newest member of the Isaacs Center family—and it didn’t get off to an easy start.
The Isaacs Center took over managing the space after the previous management opted to shut it down. “We started in January of 2020,” recalled Aaron Rooney, who oversees all programs for older adults at Isaacs and our partner, Goddard Riverside. “We opened up and were serving meals and had programs in place by March. And then COVID hit.”
The programs, including case management and nursing, all went online so members could continue participating safely. Other than monthly food pantries, not much was happening in the Center’s physical space. When it came time to reopen, it needed significant cleaning and repairs.
“There have been a lot of challenges, but I have a great team and I’m thankful for that,” said center director Winnie Chan.
Now the center is poised to expand its services. It’s planning to increase case management for older adults—that is, help accessing government benefits, plus support and coaching to deal with a wide variety of issues. It’s also working on adding a telehealth program that will enable members to meet with their healthcare providers remotely.
“It may be a model that could be replicated. It’s all about breaking down the technological barriers and giving people the ability to see their doctor—not only teaching them but giving them the space at the Center to do it,” explained Rooney.
“It could be a very exciting year for Taft.”
“There’s toys! There’s toys!” a small girl called out. She dashed across the dining room at our partner, the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center, to get a closer look.
“Best. Day. Ever.” announced another child.
The room was lined with tables containing backpacks, markers, crayons, post-it notes, calculators and other school supplies for all ages. After filling their backpacks, children could pick a toy from a selection of whiffleballs and bats, fidget toys, craft kits, jump-ropes and more. Everyone enjoyed cotton candy made fresh on the spot.
There was similar excitement at our Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center, where we held the giveaway outside. “I’ve got mad stuff in here and I don’t even go to school!” said one preschool-aged boy, holding up his pack.
We’re grateful to Stone Point Capital and Target for sponsoring the giveaways and sending volunteers, as well the local tenant leaders who pitched in to help!
Jennifer Ochiagha is a little busy these days. Besides being a full-time grad student in mental health and counseling at NYU, she holds a full-time job at the Isaacs Center as a recruitment and admissions coordinator, plus she’s interning at a private practice called BeMore.
“I do like to keep busy,” she laughs—then adds, more seriously: “There’s benefits at the end of the rainbow. So that’s what I look towards.”
Ochiagha is one of this year’s 31 scholarship winners at the Isaacs Center and Goddard Riverside. Our two organizations gave out a total of just under $60,000 to help students pay for higher education.
Ochiagha is footing the bill for grad school on her own. She says her award will go straight to tuition: “I’m, like, taking loans out to the point where it’s actually making me very nervous. So I just feel like this scholarship can help eradicate some of that fear. I can have a little bit more breathing room.”
Her goal is to help disadvantaged youth with their mental health needs and eventually open her own private practice—and maybe launch a talk show, “kind of like Steve Harvey or Dr. Phil but more feminine, a little less controversial and a little bit more socially and culturally competent.”
Born and raised in the Bronx, Ochiagha got to know the Isaacs Center when a friend asked her to come give a talk to young participants about her YouTube channel (her videos, a mix of advice, storytelling and person-in-the-street interviews, get thousands of views). She liked the atmosphere at the center so when a job opportunity came up, she took it—and she’s glad she did.
“I really, really appreciate what the Isaacs Center has done for me,” she enthused. “I’ve been nothing but appreciated and valued. And the fact that in my job, they were able to also give me a scholarship for school, that’s just not something I would’ve ever expected.”
Shawn Riley has always been drawn to hospitals; one of his earliest memories involves a visit to one. “I don’t know why we were there, but I remember I was like—I just love this energy so much. I want to be here.” Because of that desire, and the desire to help people, he’s dreamed about becoming a doctor all his life. Now, with some help from Goddard Riverside’s Options Center, he’s set to begin pursuing that dream at SUNY Albany this fall.
Riley found the Options Center through Harlem Lacrosse, a school-based nonprofit that provides academic support, mentoring and counseling in addition to athletics. He worked with an Options Center counselor to apply to college and figure out how to pay for it. “Options is definitely one of my favorite things I’ve ever been a part of, because there’s so many good things that come out of it,” he said.
For a long time he assumed he’d have to major in biology, but after talking to a doctor about his educational path he realized he could branch out a little more as an undergraduate. So he’s taking journalism this fall and sociology in the spring: “I can just like feel those options out and see what I like more, which I’m super excited about.”
Riley has won enough scholarships to cover his first year’s tuition, which is a great head start on keeping his school costs down. He says his Options scholarship money will go straight to necessary expenses. “It’ll probably be my meal plan. Because of Options, I’m eating, so I love that.”
What does he want people to know about him? “I think you should know that I am a queer black teen man about to change the world,” he said.
“When I was growing up,” he explained, “I never saw anyone that not only looked like me, but also understood me, understood the queer experience, understood the black experience. One of the main reasons I want to be a doctor now is so other people can know that this is possible. There is a community of people out there that share the same traits as you, that share the way you think. You are not alone.”
To support scholarships at the Isaacs Center, make a donation and choose Youth Scholarships in the drop-down menu for Gift Designation.
Jessica Leon was strolling back from a doctor’s appointment on the Upper East Side with her daughter when she saw a flyer for a job readiness program. It was 2005; Jessica was 17 and her daughter was two. She had no interest in the program, but it came with something she did want: a subway pass.
“You attend the class, you get a MetroCard,” she recalled recently in an expansive room overlooking midtown Manhattan. “I had not a dollar to my name, so I took it for the MetroCard.”
Leon’s life had been pretty short on lucky breaks. Abandoned by her biological mother at age two, she was placed in the foster care system and then had a troubled upbringing with her adoptive mother. At fifteen Leon was pregnant. She didn’t receive a lot of guidance from the adults in her life.
“No one in my family ever graduated high school. No one ever had a job. No one really told me, ‘Jessica, go to college. Jessica, build a career. Jessica, do good for yourself and your daughter,’” she explained.
The job readiness program was held at the Isaacs Center. “At Stanley M. Isaacs Center, I was taught to type and prepare for the work environment. Once I learned to type I liked it. I recall the instructor saying to me, next class, we’re going to teach you how to build a resume. And I’m like what the heck is a resume?”
Leon had never had a job, but they put her brand-new typing skills on her resume. Then she learned how to dress for an interview and how to operate in an office environment. A while later, the Isaacs Center called to offer her a job working the front desk at their Senior Center. She knew her adoptive mother wouldn’t approve, because her benefits would be cut if Jessica earned an income.
“I was happy but also nervous because I didn’t want to get in trouble by my mother for working,” she recalled. “But I wanted to advance my career and look into building a better future for myself and my daughter. So, I accepted.”
From that modest toehold, she began to climb.
Leon got her college degree—the first in her family—a couple of years after she started working at the Isaacs Center. She worked in the IT department of a big Wall Street company for several years. Then she got an offer in real estate. Now she helps keep things running like clockwork at a sleek office tower of over 860,000 square feet, with a view of the Empire State Building. Her daughter is in college. Both of their futures look bright.
“I’ve been through a lot. I appreciate everything at this point,” she said. “What I needed from my mother or any guardian, Stanley Isaacs did it. To be told from the time you’re four years old through your teen years that you’re nothing—you start thinking you’re nothing. But the Isaacs Center believed in me.
“And to think, it all started with a flyer for a MetroCard!” she laughs.
The Isaacs Center’s Education and Workforce program offers free training in Culinary Arts, Community Healthcare, Information Technology, and Youth Development and Human Services. Click here for more information or email Shayla Simpson, Director of Education and Workforce, at email@example.com.
Empire BlueCross BlueShield and Crain’s New York Business have honored Gregory J. Morris and Roderick Jones, executive directors of the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center and Goddard Riverside, as 2021 Whole Health Heroes.
Morris and Jones were listed as a team in recognition of the strategic partnership between the two organizations. The award highlighted the work both have done to support the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Under Morris’ leadership, the Stanley Isaacs Center more than tripled the average number of meals produced monthly, to 6,100. During the first few weeks of ramping up the campaign, the center reached 92% of the 704 clients reporting acute food insecurity because of the pandemic, and it connected the others to nearby providers,” the award webpage notes.
“During the height of the pandemic, Goddard Riverside provided some 1,000 meals per day to homebound seniors and their supportive housing tenants. Goddard Riverside launched programs to help clients meet emergency needs, including financial and legal counseling,” it continues.
The awards went to 25 individuals and teams from numerous high-profile organizations including Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the New York Army National Guard, City Winery, American Museum of Natural History, the National Tennis Center and Actors’ Equity Association
On September 30, we shared music, champagne, a delicious meal prepared by our very own Soup’s Up team, and the long-awaited pleasure of one another’s company in our senior center “home.”
Greg Morris, who has led us thoughtfully and with passion for the last 7+ years as executive director, toasted the Isaacs Center’s long history of compassion and service, and the important work that lies ahead as we continue to promote dignity and self-reliance across generations of New Yorkers in partnership with Goddard Riverside.
We honored outgoing Isaacs Center board president Richard Nesson and longest-serving board member Gretchen Stone, who have given – and continue to give – their time, expertise, and devotion to our organization for many years.
Damion Samuels, who heads education and workforce development – including the culinary arts training program that prepares vulnerable young adults for sustainable careers – engaged celebrity chef JJ Johnson on leveraging his success to mentor trainees.
Finally, we enjoyed canapés and a beautiful, three-course meal prepared in our kitchen by Chef Cori Boudreaux and the training program grads now employed on our Soup’s Up team.
Thanks to those who attended, sponsored tables, donated, and bid on our silent auction items, we exceeded our fundraising goal, raising $100,000 for programs and services that will help sustain and uplift our neighbors in need.
…to Chef JJ Johnson for donating his time, his cookbook “Between Harlem and Heaven,” and his FIELDTRIP gift certificate for our event and silent auction, and for being an active source of support and employment for our young adults.
…to Our Honorees Richard and Gretchen, who continue to lead us graciously and powerfully
…to the Junior Board for sourcing some seriously fabulous auction items
To the Volunteers who transformed our humble home into an elegant event space for the evening and who welcomed and served our guests with grace
…to the student jazz musicians of Kaufman Music Center’s Special Music School High School who dazzled during cocktail hour
…to the Planning Committee – Ashley Higgins Dieck, Marion Hedges, Gail Berry O’Neill, Lee Wareham, and Amy Zeng – you are invaluable to this organization and so much fun to work with
Thanks to the individual donors and foundations who help fund our work, we were able to meet the increased need triggered by the pandemic and sustained by its economic effects.
With your support, we continue:
Addressing food insecurity
Our Meals on Wheels program provides 7 nutritious, home-delivered meals to more than 2,000 seniors each week. Menus include hot and frozen meals, as well as vegetarian, Latin American, and kosher options. Senior center members can also access meals to “Grab and Go” at our center or enjoy them in our socially distanced dining room. Pantry items are offered weekly, and our Soup’s Up program, which launched this summer, is already serving nearly 200 households with health-conscious, easy-to-prep meal kits.
Before we reopened our facilities this summer, we provided full, virtual services to more than 2,000 clients, with 1,394 clients receiving case assistance, 135 receiving financial counseling/assistance, 180 receiving healthcare management/assistance, and 867 participating in recreational/educational activities.
With covid-19 precautions in place, our center is now bustling again, with indoor activities like yoga, barre class, table games, and discussion groups. We have at least 2 full-time social workers onsite each day, as well as in-person nursing, health coaching, and technology assistance.
Providing pathways for young adults
Though educational programming was entirely virtual, 8 earned their high-school equivalency, and 20 grade gains were made in reading and math.
Even in a fully remote setting, our culinary arts training program is on track to significantly eclipse every performance target. Our Community Kitchen and Soup’s Up programs employ young adult graduates of this program to support our increased kitchen output.
Our scholarship program helped 18 students pursue a college degree and our mentor program engages recipients with young professionals from our junior board. We are assembling an alumni advisory council to center the voice of the underrepresented job seeker in program development, and launching a managerial apprenticeship so that program alumni can cultivate marketable skills.
We placed 159 participants in jobs.
Supporting school children
Our Beacon after school programs faced multple challenges, including reaching students and families after the onset of the pandemic, engaging children in virtual learning, and dealing with school closures even once students returned to classrooms. Our staff focused heavily on providing social and emotional supports to children and their families.
Events engaged 475 participants, however, and 200 elementary students moved up a grade on time. We are preparing to launch in early 2022 the Jack August Learning Program, a privately-funded, comprehensive, partner-based, multi-year program for children and their families. More details will follow.
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In May 2021, the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center (Isaacs Center) entered into a strategic partnership with Goddard Riverside (Goddard) with the purpose of enhancing the services that both organizations provide to New Yorkers. Joining forces with Goddard, at this critical moment in the City’s history, will expand access to economic security and housing stability for thousands of low-income New Yorkers (from Lincoln Square to East Harlem) and support a just and fair recovery for communities most affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
This partnership has been a long time in the making. Since the Isaacs Center was the beneficiary of Morgan Stanley’s pro bono Strategy Challenge program, which assessed the Isaacs Center’s mission and aspirations, and offered insight into sustainability strategies, the board explored opportunities for partnership that would position the organization to create change on local and city-wide level. In Goddard, we found an organization with similar values and vision, whose long history (since the 1800s) and present leadership demonstrates an enduring commitment to serving vulnerable New Yorkers with sensitivity and integrity. Our mutual alliance was made official in May with an eye toward demonstrating efficiency and effectiveness while building the capacity and leverage necessary to influence the City’s ability to improve the lives of vulnerable New Yorkers.
Who is Goddard?
Goddard supports families at every stage of life, serving more than 20,000 people a year on the Upper West Side and throughout New York City. Like the Isaacs Center, Goddard is an active member of the settlement house community. They prioritize dignity and respect, and work within a social justice framework to create a fair and just society where all people have the opportunity to make choices that lead to better lives for themselves and their families.
Dr. Roderick (Rod) Jones has served as Goddard Executive Director since February 2017. Rod grew up in New York City public housing and went into social services, first in Rochester and then in St. Louis. He was named Not-for-Profit Leader of the Year in 2011 by the Regional Chamber of Commerce and The St. Louis American. Rod has a doctorate in Education from St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York and a Master’s in Public Administration from SUNY-Brockport. He sees the role of settlement houses like Goddard and the Isaacs Center as “enabling people to make the best choices they can for themselves and their families.”
What has changed?
The agreement between the Isaacs Center and Goddard allows the Isaacs Center to maintain its independent non-profit status while becoming a membership organization under Goddard. As a subsidiary of Goddard, the Isaacs Center can also offer better benefits and more growth opportunities to its staff, who are essential to our good work and deserving of the best possible compensation.
The Isaacs Center now has a single, corporate board member: Goddard, and its reconstituted board comprises five Goddard board members. Eight of the previous Isaacs Center board members joined the Goddard board, ensuring continuity of governance and oversight. Other previous Isaacs Center board members wishing to continue their service to the Isaacs Center were invited to join Goddard board committees.
During the summer, our administrative offices (human resources, development, finance, and operations) began migrating to Goddard. For these teams, the move to Goddard means a larger staff and access to more resources. The cost savings of combining our respective back office functions are complemented by greater capacity to execute those functions. In the coming months, the senior leaders of Isaacs Center programs will be migrated under the Goddard umbrella to lead the alignment of Goddard and Isaacs Center programs. Isaacs Center Executive Director Gregory J (Greg) Morris will serve under Rod as Chief Program Officer (for both Isaacs Center and Goddard programs).
What stays the same?
Both organizations are maintaining our respective 501c3 designations, meaning that our programs and finances will be kept separate. Importantly, donors who wish to support Isaacs Center programs are welcome to continue to do so. Both donors and volunteers continue to be essential to the programs and services Isaacs Center provides in our community.
In joining forces with Goddard, we will continue our tremendous history of strengthening the communities we serve while we launch collaborative efforts that improve access to economic security and housing stability for New Yorkers in need. We invite you, our Isaacs Center family, to continue that long history with us.
During LGBTQIA+ Pride month, we commemorate the Stonewall Uprising of 1969 and the beginning of the modern Gay Rights movement. As we honor and celebrate those trailblazing individuals – from Marsha P. Johnson to Dr. Rachel Levine – whose passion and persistence have drawn us closer to full equality, we are called upon to stand in solidarity for the systemic change required to prevent all discrimination and injustice. “The Fight Continues,” the official theme of NYC Pride, reflects the extraordinary contributions of LGBTQ+ New Yorkers and the support of allies to achieve remarkable results since Stonewall- passing of workplace protections and hate crime legislation, and guaranteeing the right to marry to same-sex couples. Yet, only 21 states and the District of Columbia, protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations and a record number of state legislatures proposed anti-LGBTQ laws – many with a specific focus on reducing the rights of transgender people. [According to the Human Rights Campaign, 28 transgender or gender-nonconforming people have been killed in the United States so far this year, putting 2021 on pace to be one of the worst years on record for anti-trans violence. The victims were overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic trans women.]
As noted by our tremendous guest speaker at today’s Isaacs Center Pride event, David Rothenberg, the intersection of honesty and love makes it possible for each of us to be total human beings, and Pride month is a reminder of what is possible when each of us reaches this intersection and what we hold and what we share is embraced, protected, and celebrated.