Foundation’s $2.3M in Grants Support Needed Brooklyn Projects

The Brooklyn Community Foundation, the largest public foundation in the borough, has awarded its first round of 2011 grants totaling $2.3 million to 118 nonprofits.

According to Marilyn Gelber, this grant application period, which began in January, saw “more applications that we had ever seen before, even when we were the Independence Community Foundation [until 2009] and used to do grant-making in the all of New York City.”

The grants are divided into five areas of focus: Education and Youth Achievement, Arts for All, Caring Neighbors, Community Development and Green Communities.

The foundation’s slogan, “Do Good Right Here,” reflects the fact that many Brooklyn residents tend to give to nationally or internationally oriented charities, but don’t give to groups that address local needs.

Many Brooklynites, added Gelber, are aware of the borough’s largest nonprofits, such as the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden — all of which have received grants from the foundation — but may not be aware of smaller organizations performing needed services.

“Brooklyn is New York City’s largest borough, yet philanthropic giving to Brooklyn lags far behind giving to Manhattan-based organizations,” said Gelber, a former executive assistant to then-Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden. “Our role is to narrow that gap by attracting new donors to Brooklyn to help address the borough’s critical needs.”

Asked about Brooklyn’s greatest needs, Gelber, who also served as the city’s commissioner of environmental protection, said the two populations with the greatest needs are seniors and youth. “More than a quarter of the seniors in the borough live in poverty, have problems getting adequate healthcare, and often don’t have enough food. The growing senior population makes this a real concern.”

At the “other end of the spectrum,” she says, are many young people who are not graduating from high school and not working, “not being productive, getting into trouble.” In particular, she says, many teens in housing projects don’t have nearby access to facilities that provide a wide variety of activities.

Donors are able to specify which of the five overall areas they want to contribute to. The foundation has also been doing outreach at events like the Smorgasburg food fest in Williamsburg, and has a presence on Facebook and Twitter.

“We would never tell donors not to give to [the big institutions], but many people want to get involved in issues like education, after-school programs and emergency food pantries. It’s hard for donors in a big place like Brooklyn to know exactly how their giving can be most effective, and that’s how community foundations can help,” she says.

As far as neighborhoods are concerned, the grants tend to be concentrated in inner-city, high-poverty areas such as Red Hook, East New York, Bed-Stuy, Brownsville and Sunset Park because those are where the greatest needs are. However, the foundation gives money to other communities as well. An example is the “Chai Lifeline” program that brings Orthodox Jewish children suffering from cancer to Manhattan for treatment free of charge.

Gelber described some of the projects that received the largest grants in the latest grant cycle: • $50,000 to the Red Hook Initiative to help residents of the Red Hook Houses, the city’s largest public housing project. The organization originally started as one that helped young women with health issues, but over time has become a larger social service organization, focusing on young people who aren’t in school and seeking to create opportunities for them.

• $40,000 to Partnership With Children, Inc. to promote social and emotional learning for at-risk middle school students in Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene. Partnership With Children is not an after-school organization; it operates within the schools, helping kids who are struggling or those with emotional or behavioral problems. Gelber says that in today’s schools, funds for guidance counselors have been cut back, and the counselors often don’t have enough time to help individual students. “This program helps substitute for that.”

• $50,000 to the Weeksville Heritage Center for programs at its new Education and Cultural Arts Building. Weeksville is the site of the state’s first free African-American community, and the center will have classrooms, exhibitions and outdoor activities. Weeksville is also across the street from the Kingsborough housing project, another high-needs community.

• $30,000 to the Myrtle Avenue Commercial Revitalization and Development Project (MARP) Local Development Corporation to support an initiative to improve Park Avenue and the area under the BQE. “We were one of the first funders for Myrtle Avenue [in Fort Greene], and one of the ways we became involved is through focusing on food and on creating open space where people could grow vegetables and support some of the food needs of the community,” says Gelber.

• $50,000 to the Partnership To Preserve Affordable Housing. This is a partnership between several organizations that got together because of a concern that the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was foreclosing on large apartment houses and reselling them to “people with less than sterling reputations.” Since then, the partnership has also been active in combating the problem of “predatory equity,” or buyers paying large amounts for apartment houses on the assumption that they would be able to kick out the tenants, replace them with higher-paying tenants, and thus make a profit.

• $40,000 to the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative to support the completion of a master plan for the creation of a 14-mile greenway, or bike and walking path, along the Brooklyn waterfront from Williamsburg to Sunset Park. Parts of the greenway have already been built, such as the path through Brooklyn Bridge Park, but others are still in the planning stages. Gelber says the foundation was one of the earliest supporters of the greenway.

• $35,000 to United Community Centers to support ESL, after-school, GED, and job-readiness programs in East New York. The organization was originally started to help residents of public housing project in the area, but eventually expanded to help the area in general. One of its projects is a large community garden in an area that was once characterized by vacant lots.

The Brooklyn Community Foundation was started as the Independence Community Foundation with a grant of $56 million from the Independence Community Bank. The bank closed its doors in 2006, merging with other financial institutions. Afterward, the foundation reconstituted itself as the Brooklyn Community Foundation, a public charity and the only community foundation exclusively dedicated to Brooklyn.

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