“I was impressed. They had a better chemistry lab than I had,” says LSSNY board member Rebecca Johnson of her tour of The New Life School — a therapeutic learning environment where the classroom fits the child and not the other way around. Seeing the classrooms, murals, gym, and barbershop firsthand was the perfect cap to our culinary fundraiser with Chef JJ.
Says Johnson, a relatively new board member, “This event was the first time I had met people in person. Aside from discovering how tall some people are, events like these are a starting point in engagement across multiple constituencies. The parents of the kids, the kids, board members, donors, staff, volunteers, and people like Chef JJ who didn’t know such programs existed. It can take a few years to build that kind of engagement into raising big dollars, but the process builds such community and care for each other if done thoughtfully.”
Given her background with grassroots and donor fundraising, Johnson encouraged LSSNY to hold the event. She says that as part of Roadmap Social Justice Consulting, she knows organizations cannot be dependent on one funding stream.
Acknowledging that the essential work of the organization is funded by state and city money, which isn’t the case for her work in the South, she says that some social justice goals that are part of LSSNY’s strategic plan are “outside the box opportunities that can’t be done as effectively without unrestricted money.” Individual funding, event, or corporate sponsorships can help pursue emergent ideas and create needed reserves.
Johnson is excited about the future work LSSNY will do to focus on “the poorest part of the poorest borough in the city…the Morrisania neighborhood of the South Bronx.”
For as long as she can remember, Johnson has been an organizer. “I started very young as a community organizer and I’ve always done grassroots and community work and that’s women’s work,” she says.
She never had to look for a job, instead getting offers and creating organizations. In the 80s, Johnson was on the first allocations committee for the Boston Women’s Fund. At that time, most of the grantees didn’t have computers. They’d call in and Johnson and her colleagues would type their proposals for them. By the 90s, these women’s organizations had sprung up all over the country.
Of her work as an LSSNY board member, Johnson says, “I am proud to be on the board. I have done housing organizing since my Cincinnati years when I was 21. We helped create the first women’s shelter when there was nothing in the late 70s / early 80s. This is why the work that was most apparent to me and spoke to me was and is the work LSSNY is doing around providing real housing opportunities for unsheltered people who are struggling with emotional and mental illness. That’s the most difficult population to get into housing and for people to feel empathy towards.”