New Community Partner:
Walk With US NYC Donates New Shoes to LSSNY’s Community Services
The Community Services Division of LSSNY recently received a generous donation of 100 pairs of new shoes for children and adults, from a new partner—Walk with Us NYC, a nonprofit organization that puts shoes and socks on the feet of children, women and men living in poverty. Did you know that the most requested items in homeless shelters are socks and shoes? Walk with Us NYC understands that footwear is essential to promoting dignity and providing comfort to people struggling with homelessness and poverty.
The 100 pairs of shoes will be distributed to unaccompanied minors in our Safe Haven for Children program and to adults served by the Immigration Legal Program (ILP). Many of the immigrants served by LSSNY are alone when they come to this country, and need assistance obtaining the basic necessities of life, such as footwear and clothing. For Cecilia Aranzamendez, the Executive Director of Community Services, the donation of shoes to young children in her Safe Haven program means that the program can spend less money on these basic clothing items, and more on education, housing and social services. “This donation is an incredible benefit for the children we serve, and it allows us to focus our funds on providing the children we serve with a quality education and important social services, like counseling and medical care, which they so desperately need,” said Cecilia.
While most of the shoes will go to children in the Safe Haven program; some 20 pairs will be distributed to adult clients receiving immigration legal assistance in the Immigration Legal Program. “For ILP clients, getting a pair of shoes is like getting a Christmas gift. Many of them don’t have enough money to live on and are stretching every penny, so the shoes are a blessing,” said Cecilia. “It also strengthens our relationship with our clients because giving them a very personal item, like a pair of shoes, shows a level of caring and thoughtfulness that goes beyond the legal assistance we may provide. It allows us to care for the whole person and not just one aspect of their life.”
Walk with Us NYC was founded by Roberta Benzilio, Steve McArdle and Michael Goodstein, to change the lives of homeless individuals by helping them meet one basic human need—the need for shoes and socks. The trio, who work in the real estate industry, wanted to make an impact on their community and change the public’s image of homelessness, by focusing on a basic need all people share. When they discovered that many homeless individuals wanted shoes and socks, they decided to make that the focus of their organization. Roberta recalls the feeling she had when she was a kid and received a new pair of school shoes, and she believes that new shoes have a way of making for a great day and a fresh start. She likes to say, “Good shoes take you good places!”
In addition to donating to LSSNY, Walk with Us NYC has donated shoes to Women in Need, and is currently working with the Coalition for the Homeless. Walk with Us NYC also formed a partnership with the Bombas Sock Company and will be distributing over 1,000 pairs of socks this month, to various charities. Roberta says it’s important to reach out to others to offer reassurance and support. “We hope to provide comfort and pride to those in need, and in doing so, let them know that there are people who care about them and can assist in their ability to lead productive lives,” said Roberta.
We, at LSSNY, are so glad this dynamic, new organization has taken action, and we are excited to partner with them to provide comfort and relief to those in need.
It’s Time to Play: Children at our Marcus Garvey Early LIFE
Childhood Center Get a New Playground
On October 12th, the Early LIFE childhood education staff came together at their center on Marcus Garvey Blvd in Brooklyn to open a new playground during a ribbon-cutting celebration. As teachers and parents looked on, the young preschoolers took to play, sliding down slides, riding tricycles and playing games of tag around the large jungle gym maze.
More than 50 children and families joined LSSNY President & CEO Damyn Kelly as he welcomed them to the opening celebration. The center’s playground was renovated, thanks to funding from the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). Carol Merryshapiro, Director of ACS’ EarlyLearn facilities, attended the event, along with other ACD representatives. Ms. Merryshapiro accepted thank you cards from students who expressed their joy and gratitude for the new play space.
“This space gives teachers a chance to bring the curriculum outside—to help promote children’s physical growth and development for a healthy future,” said Mr. Kelly. The playground is part of a larger initiative at LSSNY to improve children’s health and reduce obesity rates among children served in its early childhood program. The Early LIFE Staff, including its nutritional support staff and the Early LIFE Executive Director, Khamele McLeod-Cato, are concerned about the epidemic of childhood obesity in New York, where 20% of kindergarten students and 25% of Head Start children are obese. “We offer nutritious meals paired with regular physical activity to educate our students, and their parents, about the importance of daily, healthy eating habits and exercise,” said Mrs. McLeod-Cato. “Our children need to spend time, every day, participating in recreational activity, and this new playground allows our kids to have more space for group play,” she added.
On this special fall afternoon, smiles were plentiful as children ran off to explore the new play space. The playground is sure to be a favorite space for many children, bringing them hours of joy and serving as a positive force in their future growth and development.
A New Home Opens the Door to New Opportunities
“I feel great. I open my eyes in the morning and I say thank you for everything.”
Luis C., a formerly homeless resident of St. John’s House I
For more than 10 years, Luis C. was homeless; at different times in his life, he lived in shelters, stayed over at friends’ houses and even lived in a spare room in a church. But in June, for the first time in his life, he moved into his own room at St. John’s House I, one of LSSNY’s supportive housing facilities in the Bronx. The 42-unit facility transforms lives by providing permanent, stable housing, plus supportive services, to help men and women achieve the dream of living in their own space. For Luis, this is the first time he has paid rent and has a stable place to call home. St. John’s House I is one of five housing facilities operated by LSSNY. In the 1990s, amid the growing homeless crisis in New York, LSSNY developed a group of supportive housing facilities in Brooklyn and the Bronx. The housing program offers not just a place to live, but helps residents build a future by providing a host of supportive services, including counseling, job training and wellness services.
Even as he struggled with homelessness, Luis found support and friendship at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Manhattan. Over the years, he built a strong relationship with clergy members at the church, where he worked doing odd jobs and maintenance work in exchange for a temporary place to stay. In 2017, when it was no longer possible for him to live at Immanuel, the church’s pastor, Rev. Gregory Fryer, helped Luis find permanent housing as a new resident of St. John’s House I. “Pastor Fryer helped me get many things. He said to me: ‘I want to find something better for you.’ And he did. I owe everything to him. He helped me get an apartment, get social security benefits and food stamps,” says Luis. “He’s somebody special to me, and I’ll never forget what he does for me.”
When Luis moved into St. John’s House I, he says it changed everything. Referring to his room, he said, “This is mine. I can come and go as I want. For the first time, I’m paying rent.” Luis still works at Immanuel Lutheran Church, receiving a small stipend in exchange for helping the church host Coffee Hours for its congregants. For the first time in his life, he has a sense of stability. For many years, Luis had little stability in his life. He drank and smoked too much, and went from place to place without a real home. Sober for nearly 11 years, he attends AA meetings now and is closer to his sister. “My sister gave me the power to stop drinking. I had to choose between my sister and the bottle. I knew that if I wanted my family, I had to focus on getting better,” he says.
Luis now looks to the future with a sense of security and hope. “I’m free. I pay my rent. I get my check. Everything changed when I came here.” Luis says the St. John’s House I staff, including his Case Manager, Blanca, have done an amazing job. “They all do a great job with the building. Everyone in the building is helping us,” says Luis. For the first time in his life, he maintains a regular routine—he works, does laundry, goes to the supermarket and enjoys shopping for sneakers. He’s even managing his finances by sticking to a budget and saving a little money each week. With each passing month, Luis is beginning to seek out new opportunities as he develops a sense of belonging as a new member of the St. John’s House I community.
Thanksgiving Blessings at the New LIFE Center—Long Island Food Pantry
For most of us, Thanksgiving is the start of the “giving” season, when we reach out to others to give thanks, give presents, give time and celebrate the joy in our lives with those we care most about. But, the holiday season can be an especially difficult time for families who don’t have enough food to eat and lack the money to purchase holiday foods. The staff at LSSNY’s New LIFE Center—Long Island (TNLC) work hard to ensure that food pantry clients can have something joyful to celebrate during the holidays. Right now, the staff is busy preparing and distributing Thanksgiving holiday food packages for clients in need.
Beginning in the first week of November, the food pantry staff distributes some 300 Thanksgiving packages. Each package has enough food to feed a family of four, and includes: a turkey, canned vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, cookies, juice and coffee/tea. Smaller families (1-2 people) receive small hams or chickens, along with fixings.
Who helps make this possible? Nearly all the 45 area congregations that support the food pantry provide donations for this special program. Individuals and organizations, like Island Harvest, contribute, as well. Corporate sponsors, such as the Yorkshire Food Company in New Hyde Park, donate food. New this year, Adelphi University is hosting a special food drive (which began in late October) to collect Thanksgiving food items to donate to the food pantry holiday program.
It is with much gratitude that we thank our church and community partners for continuing to support this ministry, so that we may bring blessings and contentment to Long Islanders in need.
LSSNY’s Final Gathering in Honor of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation
On Thursday, November 16, friends and supporters of LSSNY will gather in fellowship and to hear special guest speaker, Rev. Dr. John Nunes, President of Concordia College of New York, deliver Reflections: A Year of Celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. All gathered are then invited to join in fellowship at a cocktail reception immediately following Rev. Nunes’ Reflections.
Changes are a Coming: Recent Improvements in the Agency’s Information Technology Infrastructure
We are excited to announce that in January 2017, the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York awarded LSSNY $223,272 through its Nonprofit Infrastructure Capital Investment Program. The grant funds, which we received last month, will allow us to upgrade the technology infrastructure at seven of our locations (including foster care and Early LIFE sites). Of the entire State of New York, LSSNY was one of only eight organizations funded at this level. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us at LSSNY. Our work and our clients are far too valuable to be hindered by the lack of appropriate access to technology. Nonprofits have the same technology requirements as for-profits but are vastly underfunded, causing staff to not have the tools they need to get the job done”, said Tom Dewar, LSSNY’s Executive Director for Information Technology.
This award is part of Project Cornerstone, a technology upgrade plan that Tom designed to replace the agency’s entire IT infrastructure. With the release of the funds, the LSSNY IT Department is now working hard to implement the technology enhancements, including the addition of new cloud-managed networking equipment, virtual servers, increased IT security features and greater network connectivity for improved communication among staff. “This funding moves us much closer to our goal of replacing aging technology, which hinders our work, with state-of-the-art technology that can enhance the excellence of our service delivery,” said Tom.
The Safe Haven for Children Program Talks to the Community About the Challenges Faced by Unaccompanied Minors
On Monday, October 23rd, Sarah Strole, the Director of the Safe Haven for Children program, gave a talk about the program to congregants and the community of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine (New York). Cecilia Aranzamendez, the Executive Director for Community Services, and Stephanie Maspons, the Assistant Director of Safe Haven, attended as well. Sarah presented an overview of the program, and explained the services it provides to unaccompanied minors, including shelter and temporary foster care, social services and educational support.
The program works to achieve a safe and timely release of the minors to sponsor families here in the U.S., and provides access to legal counsel for immigration court proceedings. Unaccompanied minors, who come from various countries, including Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, face many challenges when they come to this country; Sarah discussed some of the challenges they deal with, including the effects of racism, stereotypes and fear, as well as their struggles to adapt to a new culture and language. She ended the talk by discussing the importance of education and awareness to stop the perpetuation of negative stereotypes about this vulnerable group of children.