BY EILEEN STUKANE | The West Side Community Fund (WSCF) held its 2023 Grantee Celebration on October 25, and the mood could not have been more uplifting. This is the Fund’s Five-Year Anniversary of awarding grants avergaing $5,000 each to sprung-from-the-heart, local initiatives that are attuned to the needs of neighborhood people. The event, held at Hudson Guild Fulton Center (119 Ninth Ave.), honored two cycles in 2023—Spring and Fall—distributing $200,000 among 42 microgrants. All told, there were 32 recipients, with 10 receiving grants for both cycles (Chelsea Community News was among that group).
Local elected officials, community leaders, staffers from Hudson Guild (which administers the grants), WSCF board members, and grantees gathered to connect with each other and share stories about goals that, thanks to the WSCF, can now be more easily achieved. With guidance from Hudson Guild, the WSCF selects worthy groups, organizations, businesses, and individuals within the geographic boundaries of Manhattan Community Board 4 (i.e. Chelsea, Hudson Yards, Hell’s Kitchen). The grants are awarded in four categories: Food Insecurity; Education and Economic Empowerment; Community Improvement; and Health, Wellness, and Recreation.
The event and indeed the longevity of the WSCF would have pleased its founder, the late Jay Kriegel, Senior Advisor to The Related Companies. In 2018, with the arrival of Hudson Yards, Kriegel introduced the concept of sharing the economic growth of the West Side with the community that existed in the area before there ever was a Hudson Yards. He promoted bringing in, as donors, the newly arrived multinational corporations, and creating a fund to help support essential community groups. The WSCF was born.
Ken Jockers, Executive Director of Hudson Guild, remarked from the podium, “WSCF is run by and promoted by companies here on the West Side to make sure that there is space and support for new ideas in the neighborhood. We were very lucky to be the benefactor of an idea from Jay Kriegel of Related. From his idea a group of committed companies have continued Jay’s terrific, terrific concept.” Speaking to Chelsea Community News before his remarks from the podium, Jockers said, “There is a board of the organization that is doing incredible fundraising and reaching out to new companies to help support the effort, to get involved, and to build the number of donations that allow us to then turn around and fund more projects.” This year there were 14 active donors that supported the two grant cycles (Amazon, Brookfield Properties, Cooley, Google, Jamestown, KKR, Pfizer, Promethean Builders, Related, RXR, S9 Architecture, Tapestry Foundation, Third Point, and Turner Construction).
Over its five years, WSCF has awarded $925,000 in grants (click here and here to read CCNews’ coverage). Each year, more and different community organizations have benefited. Speaking at the event, Mark Levine, Manhattan Borough President, acknowledged that from Hudson Yards to Hell‘s Kitchen, neighborhoods are economically, racially, and demographically diverse, and they need the local nonprofits that spring up to provide assistance. “These nonprofits are small,” he said, “and some do not have full-time fundraising staff or grant writers. It is very, very hard to run a nonprofit in New York City like that.” He further noted, “The amount of paperwork in the bureaucracy it takes to get a $5,000 grant through New York City is probably more work than the $5,000. So to have a source of funding like this which is free of all that bureaucracy, moves quickly, and goes right into small nonprofits is just incredible. A different kind of corporate community would just ignore that.”
The President of the WSCF Board today is Michael Phillips, who is also President of Jamestown. He was unable to attend the Grantee Celebration but his enthusiasm for the WSCF’s commitment to community shines through a statement he shared with CCNews: “The longer-term plan for WSCF is centered around our goal to make a lasting and meaningful impact in the West Side community. Building upon our success to date, we are committed to scaling the Fund further over time and deepening our partnerships with—and between—donors, community leaders, local electeds, and grantees. The Fund’s microgrants program has proved to be an innovative way to reach hyperlocal, grassroots organizations and provides an important layer of funding to the ecosystem of organizations serving under-resourced residents in Chelsea, Hudson Yards, and Hell’s Kitchen. The program reaches organizations generally not supported by large philanthropic foundations. The model also enables companies with a presence in the West Side to demonstrate their continued commitment to lifting up all members of the community.”
How does an WSCF grant impact the work of a local organization and lift up community? Here, seven Grantees answer that question.
Alicia Hansen, Founder and CEO of NYC Salt | Founder Alicia Hansen had been a professional photographer for 24 years when she started an after-school photography class in Washington Heights in 2008. This became the inspiration for NYC Salt, which received its first WSCF grant in the Spring cycle. Today 58 high schoolers from underserved communities are in the NYC Salt program to learn, as noted on its website: “empowerment through the lens of a camera.” Says Hansen, “We think of photography as a foundation skill for the creative visual arts. It’s all digital photography. Our program is between two and four years and students are learning how to use lights, continuous strobe, equipment, c-stands, grip equipment, light modifiers, and they’re doing portraiture and still life. The grant allows us to keep our programs running. We have 58 students and when each student is using a camera that’s a $2,500 piece of equipment. Also, the grant enables us to pay our rent, our teachers, who are all professional photographers or photo editors or creative directors. It allows us to have amazing equipment.” NYC Salt also offers college preparation and “100 percent of our students are accepted to college,” says Hansen.
Paul Keoni Chun, Founder & President of Keoni Movement Arts | Paul Keoni Chun was celebrating his third WSCF grant. “As a person who has done yoga, dance, and gymnastics to a pretty high and serious degree in my life, I really wanted to share these movement arts with people who don’t have access to them,” says Keoni Chun. KMA was incorporated in 2008 and since has brought Keoni Chun’s Yo-Dan-Nastics program of yoga, dance and gymnastics to all ages, from children as young as three years old, all the way up to seniors, including people with disabilities and special needs. Strengthening as many bodies, minds and spirits as possible is a goal of KMA. “This grant is for our proposed free community yoga project,” says Keoni Chun, “We are offering free classes to Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea communities on Saturday mornings up at Cameo Studios (307 West 43rd Street). The grant offers us the opportunity to provide yoga for people who wouldn’t otherwise have access.”
Reshard Riggins, Co-Executive Director and CEO of Art Start | Art Start has been in existence for 31 years but this year’s Spring cycle grant is its first. The organization works with marginalized youth from public schools, youth organizations, alternative sentencing programs, and transitional housing. Through creative workshops, mentorships, and projects, Art Start allows teens and young adults to explore their creativity, from visual to digital to media to sculpture, and offers a look at a future that they may not have considered. “The grant helps us with providing layered services for employment, and also socioemotional learning, mental health resources and support, and gives us the ability to flush out those pieces that present barriers to art creativity,” says Riggins, “The creative economy in New York City represents about $110 billion worth of economic resource. What we want to do is help marginalized young people get inroad access to that.” Art Start offers help with college applications and is currently involved in an apprenticeship pilot program with Phillips art auction house.
Carl Schmehl, Artistic Director, Manhattan Plaza Theatre Project | Most residents at Manhattan Plaza are in the performing arts, and as Carl Schmehl explains about the Project, “It was born out of the idea that people of a certain age, over 60, who have been in the careers of theatre, film, TV, commercials, etc., are not getting jobs anymore, not being employed. So we came up with the idea of a start, getting back in the business, start doing and creating projects for ourselves. It’s letting you hone your craft still at a senior citizen age.” The Project came into being just before the pandemic, is still relatively new, and has been recognized with a first grant from WSCF during its Fall cycle. “As a group we talked about how to use the grant and we would like to become a 501c3 nonprofit group,” says Schmehl, “so hiring a lawyer for that, but we would also like to use the grant for rehearsal space, costumes, props, growing the organization. Nobody gets a salary. We’re all volunteers.”
Dr. Danielle Beam, Executive Director, Food Education Foundation | The Food Education Foundation was created in 2009 in conjunction with a charter for Food and Finance High School (525 W. 50th St.). “It’s the only culinary high school in New York City serving public high schools,” notes Dr. Beam. Students earn Career and Technical Education (CTE) certification upon graduation, and benefit from internship programs and culinary summer camps. This first Fall cycle WSCF grant for the Foundation “allows us to provide stipends to students to get into restaurants, experience what the back of house or front of the house actually is, and helps us provide support to the industry partners as well,” says Dr. Beam, adding, “From our internships four out of five students walk away with an offer from those sites to maintain their employment which is really, really cool.”
Maxim Ibadov, National Coordinator, RUSA LBGTQ Corp. | “We’ve been working with the community for 15 years, says Ibadov, “We’re the only nonprofit in America to work for the Russian speaking LBGTQ+ community (immigrants from Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and other countries of the former Soviet Union). We work with a lot of asylum seekers and refugees who live in shelters in this area,” says Ibadov. This first Fall cycle WSCF grant, as Ibadov explains, “is for a project called Rainbow Connections, connecting newly arrived immigrants with a mentorship program so they can practice English, learn the culture of the United States, have professional development. We hear from our folks that the big need is to understand how America works, the culture, how do you do certain things here. With Rainbow Connections they can have American friends.”
Michael Walsh, Co-Founder, PS11 Friends of Asylum Seekers/PS11 Aid Foundation | “A year ago at PS11 (320 W. 21st St.), children from 70 migrant families arrived at the school,” says Walsh, “Jeffrey Gardner, my partner in the PS11 Aid Foundation, set up a donation center so people could donate clothes, coats, shoes. Most of these families arrived with very little. Some of them were in sandals in October with winter coming.” After that Gardner was able to enlist other organizations to help, like the Helen Keller Foundation, which conducted eye tests and gave prescription glasses to children and adults who had glasses confiscated at the border. Meals were also donated by Support and Feed. The Foundation has now received Spring and Fall WSCF grants. “On the last day of school the Spring grant allowed us to give all the families in shelters in the community, not just the migrants, but other families in shelter who attend PS11, every family, a gift card to allow them to go to the store and purchase food.” (Gift cards were in the amount of $30 for the neighborhood Gristedes.) “We are going to do another gift card round now,” says Walsh, thanks to the Fall WSCF grant.
In 2023, WSCF distributed 42 microgrants totaling $200,000 across two grant cycles. The grant recipients’ projects span food security, health & wellness, art & education, economic empowerment, and community improvement. The grantees are:
The West Side Community Fund will announce the application proccess for their next round of grants in January of 2024. Click here to visit their website at that time–or any time!
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