2021- Summer Newsletter

Page 1


Youth Summer Camp for East Harlem Children (Page 7)


Board of Directors Amy Sherman, Chair Eli Gross, Vice Chair Dawn M. Zappetti, Vice Chair William Arnold, Treasurer Reginald E. Harwell, Secretary Ed Adler Jo-Ann Barrett David Castelblanco Susan Chapman Courtney Dankworth Jagdeep Dayal Kalaivani S. Duane Robert V. Edgar Elsie Encarnacion Erika Donovan Estades Brad A. Green Kate Hamill Mickie Kerson Saliq Khan Kevin Libby Lateefah Odedina Ruth E. Pachman Katia Pedraza Maxine L. Rockoff, Ph.D. Gina Rusch Robin Sparkman Kate B. Townsend Drew Warshaw Ariana Younai

Union Settlement is an on-the-ground resource for East Harlem residents of all ages, and a passionate advocate for the needs of underserved communities. Since opening our doors in 1895, we have brought education, wellness and community-building programs to our neighborhood, empowering New Yorkers with opportunities to better their lives. With a staff of over 450, and services that impact 10,000 people, Union Settlement is building the vitality and success of East Harlem.

Executive Director David Nocenti Union Settlement 237 East 104th Street New York, NY 10029 www.unionsettlement.org


After a long 18 months, New York City’s restaurants, bars, parks, and museums have started to reopen, but here in East Harlem we are constantly reminded of the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our community. As many privileged New Yorkers begin to take advantage of the indulgences of city life, most East Harlem residents find themselves still picking up the pieces. As long as COVID-19 continues to mutate, and the number of unvaccinated individuals remains relatively high, neighborhoods like ours will be the slowest to recover, despite an overall positive trajectory.

David Nocenti Executive Director


“As always, Union

Settlement remains committed to rising up and meeting the challenges of the moment. I am more confident in our ability to do so than ever before.”

Though so much about our collective reality changes on almost a daily basis, Union Settlement has remained a constant throughout this unprecedented era. All of our vital programs – Early Childhood Education, Senior Services, Youth Services, Mental Health Counseling, Adult Education and Small Business Development – continued throughout the pandemic, albeit at times through remote or blended modalities. And we continue to expand, adapt and innovate: • Through our new vaccine outreach program, we are educating East Harlem residents about the COVID-19 vaccines, helping them register for their inoculations, and hosting our own pop-up and mobile vaccination clinics

At left: Packing supplies to distribute at the General Store

At right: Youth Summer Camp participant


to facilitate increased access. (Read more on page 4.) • We are thrilled to have re-opened our Union Settlement General Store, which serves as a vital lifeline by providing food, toiletries and other necessities to hundreds of East Harlem families. (Read more on page 4.) • We held a one-week “summer camp” for seniors in June, to the great delight of dozens of seniors who had spent over a year mostly isolated in their apartments. (Read more on page 7.) We still have a long way to go, but I urge everyone to pause and reflect not only on the challenges, but also the triumphs of the past 18 months. And I am hopeful that our collective shift to normalcy will not simply be a reversion to our old ways, but rather an opportunity to apply the lessons learned during this harrowing era to the inevitable difficulties we will face in the future. As always, Union Settlement remains committed to rising up and meeting the challenges of the moment. I am more confident in our ability to do so than ever before. - David Nocenti


Union Settlement’s Community Outreach Program connects participants to vital resources

Ingrid Sotelo

Ingrid Sotelo joined Union Settlement in January 2020 and currently serves as our Director of Community Outreach and Operations. Before joining Union Settlement, she worked for over ten years in government and community relations. Ingrid was born and raised in East Harlem and has a strong passion for, and deep understanding of, the community. Being raised in a singleparent household, she understands firsthand the impact that a communitybased organization can have on a family. These life experiences motivate her in her role at Union Settlement every day. Before Ingrid became a part of Union Settlement, a Community Outreach department hadn’t existed. Ingrid has paved the way and created a department that educates the community about our services and ensures that our participants have access to vital resources and information.

Shortly after Ingrid joined Union Settlement, COVID-19 hit New York City, and the needs of our community were suddenly greater than ever before. Ingrid was aware of the challenges the neighborhood faced during normal times, and knew that these would only worsen as a result of the pandemic. Food insecurity has always loomed over East Harlem, and Union Settlement knew we needed to respond immediately with so many people losing their jobs and unsure how to pay for essential items. Under Ingrid’s leadership in June 2020, Union Settlement launched our General Store, which provides free food and essential items to local community members. Ingrid connected with East Harlem residents to ensure the products offered at the store were relevant and met current needs. After a brief pause, the General Store has reopened for the summer and will run through the fall. In addition to the General Store, Ingrid has been working on several other exciting programs. Last fall, she led our Census outreach to educate our participants about the importance of completing the Census, to ensure East Harlem would receive appropriate federal funding. During the mayoral primary elections, Ingrid led a “Get Out the Vote” initiative that educated members of the community about ranked-choice voting. Ingrid is also currently managing our vaccine outreach efforts. In East Harlem, only 54% of individuals are vaccinated for COVID-19, which is lower than the rate in Manhattan and NYC as a whole. Through a grant, she will manage three vaccination outreach workers who will go into the community and encourage vaccination through education and showing individuals how to sign up for vaccine appointments. Our vaccine outreach team has English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, and ASL language 4

capacity, which ensures we will also be able to reach a broad array of people in the community. Union Settlement recently received funding from New York’s Excluded Workers Fund. The fund was designed to distribute payments to workers who did not receive stimulus money or other COVID-19 aid from the federal government’s relief funds in 2020 and early 2021. Workers who are undocumented, lack stable housing, or subsist through the cash economy were ineligible for prior payments. East Harlem has high instances of workers who fall under these categories and in the coming months, Ingrid will be taking the lead on this project and ensuring that we are able to provide relief funds to these individuals. During her time at Union Settlement, Ingrid has proven that Community Outreach is essential to Union Settlement’s mission. “I’m proud of the way all of the departments at Union Settlement have embraced the Community Outreach department. At the end of the day, we are all trying to use outreach as a way to improve our programs and the East Harlem community.”

To learn more about the vaccine process in NYC, talk to your health care provider, call 311, or visit nyc.gov/covidvaccine. You can also call 877-VAX-4NYC (877-829-4692) to make an appointment at NYC sites.


Senior Services When our senior centers closed on March 16, the Senior Services department quickly adapted its operations to ensure the safety of our seniors and staff while continuing to serve as a lifeline. Our focus immediately shifted to ensuring that East Harlem seniors would continue to receive essential services, including meals, case assistance and socialization. During the initial weeks and months of the pandemic, we provided “grab-andgo” meals at our senior centers, which temporarily served as a distribution hub for the city’s emergency food program, and helped register our seniors to receive food boxes. The initiatives were in addition to our Meals-on-Wheels program, which continued as before with a modified meal delivery schedule and appropriate safety protocols. Over the past 18 months, program staff continued to provide case assistance, particularly recertification for NYCHA housing and SNAP benefits, assistance with completing tax forms and applications for other benefits, such as reduced-cost internet services. Seniors received intensive support and instruction (via phone, FaceTime and Zoom) to learn how to access and navigate online application systems. Seniors learned how to take photos of documents to send to program staff.

They also had the option of dropping off documents (application forms and mail) at our senior centers and picking them up later after program staff completed or reviewed them. Meeting the social services needs of our seniors remotely has been challenging (particularly for seniors who do not have smartphones). Reducing isolation and helping our seniors stay connected have been top priorities throughout the pandemic. Thanks to generous funding from several donors, we were able to distribute 34 web-enabled computer tablets to seniors to help them stay connected to friends and family. We launched our virtual programming in April 2020 with a meditation class to facilitate stress relief and provide an opportunity for our seniors to see one another, albeit remotely. We have since built up a robust and varied calendar of online activities, which includes recreational activities (virtual bingo, painting, arts and crafts), health and wellness (elder abuse prevention, self-defense, meditation), exercise (Zumba, yoga), cultural activities (monthly concerts with Vocal Ease, and our Theater Club), discussion groups and virtual parties. We also partnered with Blooming Health so our seniors would receive text messages with Zoom links to remind them of upcoming events, along with weather alerts and holiday text messages.

Our senior center directors and program staff maintained regular phone contact with all of our seniors to monitor their physical and emotional well-being, and ensure that their basic needs were met. Luz Lara, Director of Senior Services, recalls that a senior, who had no phone service, came to Corsi Senior Center for help during the early days of the pandemic. “I was so worried and wanted to make sure our seniors were safe and did not feel that they were being abandoned.” she said. Her personal mission became that of ensuring that Union Settlement would continue to be a lifeline for East Harlem seniors. As our centers gradually reopen, we are absorbing the many lessons learned during the pandemic. We are also incredibly grateful for the dedication, tenacity and creativity of our center directors and program staff who have been able to meet the needs of our seniors during these unprecedented times.



Atran Foundation When the COVID-19 pandemic brought so many aspects of our lives to a screeching halt in March 2020, there was a lot to worry about. Would we or our families or friends get sick? Would the economic slowdown affect our employment or housing? As an agency, Union Settlement worried not only on behalf of the individuals and families we serve, but also our funding streams. If our funding dropped, how could we continue to provide vital services to the families of East Harlem? As the pandemic wore on, we were grateful and relieved to receive increased and unanticipated gifts from many of our longtime supporters, and new donors who wanted to support agencies like Union Settlement that are doing the frontline work to support the families of New York.

our participants, including our free Union Settlement General Store. In early 2021, the foundation provided a grant of $5,000 to support Union Settlement’s long-running College Readiness program, which guides and supports high school seniors as they prepare for, apply to, select and enter college, many as the first in their families to do so. In April of this year, the foundation provided $20,000 as part of another round of special grants to support organizations that were engaged in COVID vaccine education and outreach. These funds supported a 10-week project where a team of three part-time multi-lingual vaccine outreach workers performed vaccinerelated outreach, education and access services for our participants and for the East Harlem community at large.

One such donor is the Atran Foundation, which made three separate grants to Union Settlement during the pandemic.

According to Judah Fischer, Executive Director of the Atran Foundation, “Seeing the devastation caused by the COVID pandemic all around us, the members of the Atran Foundation wanted to quickly find and help support the organizations that were on the ground helping those most affected, so we reached out to Union Settlement, who were helping the hardest-hit communities. Within a week, we were able to give them a grant to continue the important work they were doing. We are so pleased to partner with such an outstanding organization and are thankful that they continue to help the hardest-hit communities.”

When the pandemic hit, the Atran Foundation sought to make an immediate positive impact on those who were being affected most adversely, and they provided an initial grant of $36,000 to Union Settlement, as part of a special round of $250,000 in funding outside of their regular grants. These funds supported emergency supplies and services for

The Atran Foundation was founded in 1945 by Frank Atran (pictured at right). Atran was an immigrant from Russia who owned textile companies 6

in Europe, then invested in real estate when he came to New York. Towards the end of his life, Atran became interested in philanthropy, and wanted to support local Jewish and other organizations. Unfortunately, he died just seven years after launching his foundation, but not before funding a research laboratory at Mount Sinai, which still exists and has produced Nobel Prize-winning work. Over the years, the foundation’s giving program has expanded to include medical research, human rights, Yiddish culture, preservation of Jewish identity, labor rights, education, arts, culture and more throughout New York. We are so grateful to the Atran Foundation, and to other like-minded supporters, who stepped up during the global pandemic to make sure that we could continue to provide crucial services without interruption.


Union Settlement offers summer programming

Throughout the summer, Union Settlement was pleased to offer summer programming for our youth and senior participants who were isolated from socializing with their peers during the pandemic. Union Settlement hosted a weeklong summer camp for our senior participants. The goal of the program was to help our seniors, the most vulnerable population impacted by the pandemic, reconnect with their friends after more than a year of isolation. A total of 50 seniors participated in the summer camp, which was split into morning and afternoon sessions. Throughout the week, the seniors enjoyed a variety of activities including arts and crafts, aerobics, and learning more about heart health. The camp ended with a special celebration for participants featuring music, food, gifts, and a certificate ceremony. We look forward to offering more opportunities for our seniors to continue to gather safely. The last year and a half has also been challenging for children who were not able to learn, socialize, and play with their friends at school. Union Settlement was pleased to once again offer free summer camps for youth ages five – 12 years old.


Throughout July and August, Union Settlement offered four camps that served over 300 children. The camp theme of “Around the World in 40 Days” allowed the students to learn more about different countries and cultures. Parents benefit from camp too, knowing that while they work or seek employment, their children are learning in a fun and safe setting. During the summer, we were also able to reopen our “General Store” which provides free food and essential supplies three times a week to participants. The General Store was started during the pandemic to help ensure families had access to food, cleaning supplies, PPE, and other necessities due to job losses. The General Store operated throughout the fall of 2020, and thanks to new funding, we were able to begin operation again in June. We were thrilled to offer programming for youth and seniors, as well as continuing to provide families access to food and other necessities.


Toasting Union Settlement