Expanding Summer Options for Teens 

Three young people stand in front of a mural of irregular blocks of peach pink blue and yellow

Beyoncé thumped out of the speakers. Staff and young people helped themselves to a full spread of barbecue, rice and beans and fried chicken. In the room next door, a lively pool game was underway. 

That’s how the Teen Expansion program at our Youth Center brought another summer of good times to a close.  

Teen Expansion is funded by the New York City Housing Authority to serve young people living in public housing at the Isaacs Houses and Holmes Towers. It runs on weekday evenings in the summer to provide a safe and enriching place to go. This year it offered a wide range of things to do, including cooking classes, a spelling bee, podcasting, a cupcake decorating contest, and a group project to paint a colorful, abstract mural on the wall. 

“The Spelling Bee was a highlight,” said Program Coordinator Yazmine Ortega. “Friendly competition is where the fun happens!” 

16-year-old Mikey came nearly every night. His highlights included field trips to the Wildwater Kingdom at Dorney Park and paintball at Area 53 in Brooklyn. He also liked playing games on the Youth Center’s Nintendo Switch.  

“They have a lot of activities,” he said. “It’s a really fun place to be at.” 

Soup’s Up—and So is Fresh Produce

Five people in aprons and hairnets pose in a commercial kitchen

It was a steamy day in East Harlem, but the heat didn’t slow down our Soup’s Up staff. They were chopping up piles of perfectly diced tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers at their usual blinding speed.  

Each week, Soup’s Up creates a heathy plant-based dish—in this case, a summery chickpea salad—and distributes it to older adults in the area along with a selection of fresh produce. It’s the most recent addition to our lineup of hunger-fighting programs, which includes a weekly food pantry and daily affordable lunches at our Older Adult Center.

Director Sarah Jackson said the program fills a key niche. While the pantry includes a lot of “shelf-stable goods — cans, boxes, bottles, things that will last a little longer,” she explained, Soup’s Up is all about fresh foods. 

The program also incorporates a second major goal of the Isaacs Center: helping young people become thriving adults. Soup’s Up gets its staff from our Culinary Arts training program, so it provides extra education and experience for young adults getting started in the food business. The staffers do everything from preparing the food to sorting the produce to distributing the finished product to participants. 

Jackson says this contact between staff and participants creates some powerful intergenerational moments. “The recipients will say, ‘Tell the chef I liked the soup last week’—and I tell them the chef is right here, they’re 21 years old and from the Bronx, and they not only delivered it to you but they made it!” she laughs. 

This spring. Soup’s Up has ramped up production to serve some 1250 households a month—an increase of about 40%. The program is not currently taking on new participants, but Jackson hopes to change that after building additional kitchen space at the Isaacs Center this fall. The new facilities will allow Soup’s Up to stop renting a commercial kitchen and spend that money on food instead.  

Isaacs Center member Eugenia Ortiz, known to all by her nickname, Margie, says Soup’s Up is a lifeline to healthy food: “Vegetables are very expensive now in supermarkets and farmers markets so the vegetables that Miss Sarah gives us help us stay nutritious and healthy. We have a lot of people who come for Soup’s Up and they are thankful to get these vegetables.” 

Isaacs Center Volunteer Among Good Neighbor Award Recipients

Six people stand holding lucite awards in front of a Good Neighbor Awards banner

A longtime Isaacs Center volunteer and three other Upper East Siders are among the six people honored with Good Neighbor Awards this year.

“This is a woman who constantly fights for her community. I want to say thank you for the constant work you do,” said Maribel Mejia, who runs one of the Isaacs Center Beacon programs, while introducing honoree Wilma Lorraine Johnson.

“My love for my community is a love for each and every person that I can help to smile or laugh,” said Johnson, who volunteers at our Older Adult Center and After School Program in addition to the Beacon. “Just think, if each one of us could give someone else some love, some joy and some peace, what a wonderful world this would be.”

Dorothy Reiss, a founding member of Friends of Webster Library, said the benefits of volunteering run in both directions. “I didn’t choose this life of volunteer work so much as it chose me,” she said. “It’s a gift to me.” 

The awards are presented by our partners at Goddard Riverside and honor people in Yorkville, East Harlem, Harlem and the Upper West Side who invest significant time and effort to build a stronger community.

This year’s winners are: 

Wilma Lorraine Johnson – for her volunteer work and community leadership. Lorraine has volunteered with the Stanley M. Isaacs Center at the Older Adult Center, After School Program, and Beacon for over 23 years. She is the President of the Stanley Isaacs Older Adult Center, and is currently serving on the advisory board of Metropolitan Hospital. At the Isaacs Center she regularly coordinates and leads free art events for all age groups, including art lessons, crochet activities, and making flowers out of recycled materials. She donates art materials, and has always been available to assist during community events. She is a community activist who continues to put her best foot forward and is involved in all aspects of the community.  

Emma Justus – for her commitment to helping families facing cancer. While in the sixth grade at Wagner Middle School, Emma cofounded the charity organization Club Care, after her father was diagnosed with terminal glioblastoma brain cancer. Club Care’s mission is to support children and families dealing with cancer, and Club Care has created care packages for pediatric oncology patients at a local hospital, hand delivered staff appreciation gifts for the oncology team, created room makeovers for pediatric cancer patients, and more. Emma has worked throughout her time in middle school and high school to expand Club Care, and is working to open chapters across the country. 

Melissa Elstein – for her volunteer work with housing, education and environmental advocacy on the Upper West Side. Melissa has been involved in community organizing for over 20 years, starting when she and several neighbors started the West 80s Neighborhood Association, which protected numerous historic brownstones and saved their tenants from eviction. In addition to serving as secretary of the West 80s Neighborhood Association, she is the cofounder/lead organizer of Love Your Street Tree Day and is the board chair and secretary of Stop the Chop NY/NJ, whose mission is to address the air and noise pollution caused by nonessential helicopters in the NY metropolitan area.  

Dorothy Reiss – for her work with New York libraries and bookstores. Dorothy is one of the founding members of the Friends of Webster Library, which worked to get the library designated landmark status. In 2004, the Friends opened the Book Cellar, a used bookstore in the basement of the Webster Library, which collects and sells donated books from community members. Dorothy has been there for over 19 years and can still be found behind the cash register. Through the Book Cellar, she helped to raise over $1 million for branch libraries of the NYPL. That money has funded special projects at the libraries, buying computers, books, and most recently a selection of books called the Harlem Collection. 

Carolyn Breidenback – for her longtime volunteer work with her local elementary school, PS 198. Carolyn has been volunteering at PS 198 for twenty years, coming in four days a week to serve as an assistant teacher, helper, and overall positive presence. She helps the PTA with fundraising and obtaining items for the school auction, encourages her friends and family to donate to the school, and, at 94 years old, she has seen four principals come and go during her time volunteering. Carolyn has a close relationship with the teachers, students, and school community, and is constantly trying to find ways to improve the school.  

Margarita Curet Osorio – for her work representing the residents of Amsterdam Houses. Margarita held the position of president of the Amsterdam Houses Residents Association for over 16 years, and went above and beyond while representing over 2000 tenants who live in the development. She advocated for maintaining safety and cleanliness of the facilities, and held monthly meetings with presentations from local organizations. She also facilitated family days which, in addition to barbecuing and entertainment, included tabling by cultural and health organizations that presented information and sign-ups for residents, making programs and services more accessible to residents, and organized educational activities such as computer classes for tenants. She has also served as a board member of the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center. 

Arts Blossom at Older Adult Centers 

Several people stand behind a crocheted banner reading I Heart Yarn while some hold up large crochet flowers

From a quilt inspired by quantum mechanics to a triumphant musical about the power of community—older adults at the Isaacs Center and our partner, Goddard Riverside, created and enjoyed amazing art this spring.  

Isaacs Center members joined professional actors to perform the original show “Geezers: The Musical” in front of a packed house in the Isaacs Center dining room. The script was inspired by “Scrooged” and told the story of the fictional “Stanley Isaacs Senior Home,” whose residents are threatened with eviction by miserly landlord Mr. Manson.  

Eight Older Adult Center members were in the cast.  “They came to practice twice a week for 3 months, and they really gave it all up there,” said Director and Co-Playwright John Ruiz-Miranda. “They showed up on time, always ready to work.” 

Member Marsha France had always wanted to try acting. She said she got alot out of the experience. “I learned about projecting—and being present in the moment, because sometimes things happen and you have to just cover it up,” she said with a laugh. 

Isaacs Center members also met throughout the spring to do creative crochet.  

“I hated crocheting,” said class member Raquel Cimino. “Now I’m in love. I’m like an addict. I have to crochet.” Cimino showed off pictures of a big orange shoulder bag she made with the words BE KIND in white, along with a sweater she made of colorful squares. “I didn’t know I could crochet BE KIND,” she added. “I didn’t know that existed!” 

Older adults at Goddard Riverside’s Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center enjoyed a weekly exploration of Latin music with “Songs Across America,” a series of performances organized by the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance. “It was very soothing and relaxing and fun. We were thrilled to have them here,” said Program Coordinator Alan Mehl. 

At Goddard’s Older Adult Center on Columbus Avenue, participants created a colorful quilt based on a seemingly unlikely inspiration: quantum mechanics. Artist Sika Foyer said her starting point for the design was the concept that every being and object on Earth is made up of particles.  

“Every one of us, we are electrons. All of us, the table, the chair, the floor,” she explained. “That’s all we are.” She put dots on a piece of paper to represent these particles. Then, members of the class connected the dots into shapes, which they cut out of fabric and ultimately stitched into a quilt. 

All these artistic endeavors were made possible by the city’s SU-CASA program, which partners with local organizations and elected officials to place artists at older adult centers across the city. We’re grateful to City Council Members Julie Menin and Gale Brewer for their support of these programs, as well as the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, and NYC Department for the Aging.

Join us for Summer Fun at the Isaacs Center Community Fair!

Isaacs Center Community Fair Food games fun and much more. June 26, 2023 from 3-7 pm, Asphalt Green, 555 East 90th St. RSVPs encouraged isaacsfair2023.eventbrite.com

Our celebration of summer is back! The Community Fair will feature a giant slide, games, snow cones and other treats, and lots of opportunities to celebrate the season.

“The last three years have been challenging for all of us,” said Isaacs Center President Roderick L. Jones. “This is a chance to gather as a community and just have fun and appreciate everything we’ve accomplished together.”

Please let us know you’re coming by getting your FREE ticket at isaacsfair2023.eventbrite.com.

Getting a GED—with Style

Five young men stand in front of a store in a mall holding shopping bags

Our GED program is currently accepting new students—for more information please fill out this form! 

“Is that the same size? Is it slim or regular fit? Do they have other colors?” 

A young man in business slacks and a button-down shirt checked his look in a full-length mirror while Justin Melis, Business Developer at our Education and Workforce program, peppered him with questions.  

“I think they’ve got blue,” the student replied. “Let me go see.” He disappeared back into the racks, searching for just the right look to give him confidence in a job interview. 

These GED and pre-GED students were buying business clothes—with a little help from E&W staff. Polo shirts or collared shirts with nice pants were the order of the day. “You don’t need a suit for a lot of interviews these days,” Melis explained. “And these guys are still growing. You don’t want to drop a lot of money on a suit you can’t wear in a year.” 

Another student approached the dressing room, arms laden with clothes. “My ‘fit is 80 dollars but we gotta figure out the pants,” he said. 

“Dude, the grey looked dope with this. The black is gonna look basic!” Melis said, sorting through the pants. 

The students had $150 each in gift cards, supplied by the program’s professional development budget. They all came over to the giant Newport Centre mall in Jersey City on NJ transit together, along with Education and Workforce staff. The young men and women shopped separately, then gathered to have lunch in the food court together. 

“Today is a business trip but to be taken out of state for it is amazing,” said student Joey Candelaria. “I got myself some nice button downs. I enjoyed it.” 

Candelaria followed his older brother to the GED program at the Isaacs Center to get his high school degree. “I was in school, I kinda enjoyed it but I didn’t really like it so I decided hey, I’m gonna give this program a chance,” he recalled. He found he really liked both the staff and the opportunity to do paid internships: “I was able to buy so many cool things, like a skateboard; I got my mom so many gifts and then I got stuff for my grandma and my cousins. And all the teachers are nice to me.” 

As he looks forward to graduation, he’s still trying to pin down what comes next: Firefighting? Law school? Health care? “It’s the picture of what I’m able to learn that inspires me to keep going,” he said. “If I didn’t have this program and I was somewhere else, I probably wouldn’t be as energetic as I am here.” 

At the next table over, Jashica Morrison, who goes by Jayda, was having lunch with some program staff. Morrison is 23, with a seven-year-old son. She came here after scheduling difficulties made high school impossible. 

“My son kept getting sick and I couldn’t bring him to daycare and I couldn’t leave him in the house by himself,” she explained. “I kept staying home and staying home and staying home. Eventually I just stayed home all the way and I couldn’t go back to school. They told me to go to a program or an alternative school.” 

Morrison said it took a while to find the right place to finish her degree, but the Isaacs Center was it: “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. I actually care for their opinions. I care for their guidance.” 
When she graduates, she’d like to join the Education and Workforce staff and help other young people like her. 

“I stuck here, and they stuck beside me. I’m a little handful!” she laughed. “They stuck beside me. I really do see them as my family.” 

Ready to “Adult”

Getting a high school education isn’t just about reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s also about “adulting”: learning how to do things like handle your finances and cultivate professional networks. That’s what our Isaacs Center GED students and the Learning to Work students at our partner, Goddard Riverside, did at twin events one day in late April.

It started in the morning with financial literacy training at the Isaacs Center. GED and pre-GED students paid close attention as young volunteers from Citi Financial Group walked them through the basics of handling money.

“How many of you know the general process for opening a checking or savings account?” asked Citi’s Emmanuel Ngbemeneh. Hands shot up around the room and students chimed in with answers like “ID” and “proof of address.” Ngbemeneh and fellow Citi volunteer Lacroix Scott went on to explore topics like interest and fees and FDIC backing. They tackled questions from the students like “How do you get a credit card?” And “How can you improve your credit score?”

“That’s the first step in your financial literacy journey,” Director of Engagement and Success Justina Sharrock of the Isaacs Center Education and Workforce program told the students as they wrapped up the session and headed to their regular classes.

That afternoon, staff at Goddard’s Learning to Work program hosted volunteers from Rockefeller Capital Management in a speed-networking event. Volunteers sat at individual tables while the students rotated, introducing themselves to a new person every 5 minutes. It took a little while for the students to get comfortable, but soon the room was buzzing with conversation, questions, and laughter.  

LTW student Quentin Arthur said he’d talked to the volunteers about their careers, professional advice, and his uncertainties about his plans. “One woman told me about how she changed her mind about going to law school,” he said. “We can change our paths anytime, but we have to make sure that we do it right.”

Learning to Work is embedded at Edward A. Reynolds West Side High, a transfer school for students who have faced challenges at other schools. The program helps young people reengage with school, overcome barriers to attendance and get their diplomas. Program Aide Ashley Vargas Ball helps the LTW students with job readiness through events like these. She enjoyed watching them gain confidence as they interacted with working adults.  

“These kids are special,” Vargas Ball explained. “They have inspirations and passions, and you can see it in them when they speak.”  

We’re grateful to the excellent volunteers at both events from Rockefeller Capital Management and Citi Financial Group!

Nominate a Neighbor for the Good Neighbor Awards!

A banner image with colorful portraits of diverse people and the headline Goddard Riverside's Good Neighbor Awards

Goddard Riverside’s Good Neighbor Awards celebrate uncompensated community members’ outstanding efforts to help improve the community. The purpose of the Good Neighbor Award is to recognize people who voluntarily build a better community.

Thank you for sending in your nominations for the 2022 Good Neighbor Awards. Congratulations to last year’s winners!

Nominations for 2023 awards must be submitted by April 30, 2023. The committee will meet and decide the award recipients in May with a celebratory event in June.

Celebrating Social Workers

March is National Social Work Month—and we’re celebrating by profiling some of the amazing social workers at the Isaacs Center and our strategic partner, Goddard Riverside.

Lowe, Argueta, Amarante

Jeanne Lowe is the clinical director for our Education and Workforce Development program at the Isaacs Center. She grew up in Philadelphia and was inspired to get into social work by a therapist she had in high school. But she realized she wanted to go into community work, not one-on-one therapy, when she did a month-long program in college with a nonprofit agency on the island of Jamaica. “We were doing whatever they needed us to do. We dug a ditch, we helped at the local clinic, we hung out with kids,” she recalled. “So I ended up applying for a role with that nonprofit after graduating and spent 9 months there.

Lowe says she likes working with young people because “They teach you things every day.” And she says the Isaacs Center is a great place to do it: “Honestly this has been the best nonprofit I’ve ever worked for. It’s a very healthy place where everyone is supported. Even when there’s some struggles we work to come back together and that’s all you can ask for.” 

Ruben Argueta is part of our social work team for Older Adults at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center (LSNC). When Ruben was 11, he moved to the United States from Honduras; he is a DACA recipient. He attended school in Brooklyn and got accepted to CUNY Lehman College, where he earned a Bachelors of Psychology and is currently pursuing his Masters of Social Work. At first, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do straight out of college, but he knew he wanted to find work that served his community: “Unbeknownst to me, I feel that social work is the field that I was always meant to be in.”  

Argueta’s work involves helping seniors navigate the benefits and resources available for them so they may live richer and more fulfilling lives. “My job goes beyond helping individuals obtain benefits, I believe I am making a significant impact by upholding the dignity of my clients and treating them with respect,” he said.   

“Like Goddard’s mission statement states, we want to create possibilities where people are able to make dignified choices for themselves and their families,” he added. “This is why I enjoy what I do so much—I know that I’m making the world a better place, and I love it.”  

Kimberly Amarante works as a case manager and family mentor at our Resource Center in Harlem. Amarante grew up in the Bronx but for a portion of her life lived in the Dominican Republic. She obtained a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from SUNY Oneonta but decided to pursue social work after college: “I felt that my community needed someone like me that was empathetic, compassionate, and willing to help no matter the circumstances.” 

The Resource Center offers support with a wide variety of issues, from getting food stamps and disability benefits, to help with housing and legal problems. “Each individual comes to me with their own histories and struggles, and it’s all about being a listening ear,” she said. Amarante enjoys the challenges social work brings: “I thought I would be doing the same thing every day, assisting the clients the same way, but it ranges based on the case.”  

“I want kids to start thinking about their future now”

A young man stands in front of an Isaacs Center sign holding a copy of ME AND MY AFRO
A young man stands in front of an Isaacs Center sign holding a copy of ME AND MY AFRO

Author? Actor? Model? Beacon After School alum Aiden Taylor has done it all—and he’s still in middle school. 

Taylor attended our Beacon program for first- through fifth-graders at PS 198. “Me and my best friend, we were in Beacon since we were little kids,” he said during a recent interview at the Isaacs Center. “I did a lot of writing there.  During homework time I would sit and write about my day. It’s crazy how it all added up to me writing a book.” 

Two books, actually—with a third on the way.  

Taylor was inspired to write the first book during the early part of the COVID pandemic. “I was just bored one day and looking on social media at how I could, like, make an impact on the community,” he recalled. He liked the suggestion of writing a book. “My mom said to write down three topics and one was self-love, so I just took it from there.” 

That book is called ME AND MY AFRO. It begins: “Hi, my name is Aiden and I have a really BIG Afro.” In colorful drawings, it shows Aiden and his Afro going everywhere: the park, the beach, the museum, the library, the basketball court. It ends with Aiden explaining why he loves his signature style.  

ME AND MY AFRO took off. “I didn’t think it would be that big, but three months later it became a trend,” Taylor recalled. He was invited to speak at schools and even got profiled in People Magazine. So he wrote a sequel. 

In ME AND MY AFRO: When I Grow Up, Taylor imagines all the careers he could have one day—veterinarian, construction worker, bus driver, teacher. “I want kids to start thinking about their future now,” he told CBS New York. Both books are published by Lightswitch Learning.

These days Aiden is working on a third book—a cookbook with his grandmother—while building his resume as an actor and model. He’s already appeared on an H&M billboard in Times Square, in West Side Story on Broadway, and in a video ad for Montblanc pens with Spike Lee.  

He’s done a lot, and he wants other young people to know they can too. Asked what message he wants to convey to his peers, he says: “Any dream you want to accomplish, you can accomplish it. You just have to put your mind to it and put hard work into what you want to do.”