William Arthur Ward said “Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.” Wow, have we experienced adversity this past year! Although we saw both the best and the worst of humanity, I think we saw more of the best.
The community came together and supported Commonpoint Queens. Hundreds donated their time to ensure homebound seniors and people in need received food. Hundreds more donated their dollars to help us provide the programs and resources our program participants depend on.
I believe it is because of the support of the community that our incredible staff was able to break records in this most challenging year. From food support to mental health services, from jobs for high school students to early childhood education, from people looking for work to parents needing childcare, from emergency cash assistance to exercise classes, Commonpoint Queens was called on by our community and we answered the call when and where needed.
As CEO of this amazing agency, I am proud of the truly inspiring women and men who work here. I cannot name them all here but you know them. They are the social workers providing mental health and supportive services. They are the voice on the phone ready to listen and to help. They are keeping our buildings clean and safe. They are mentors, coaches, and advisors.
Over the past 12-months, we experienced a world-wide pandemic with death rates that astound and overwhelm, but I am comforted by the knowledge that we have a vaccination that will hopefully put the pandemic behind us.
In this newsletter, you will read about the many ways our team is ready to provide our community with the services and resources they need. Please share the information and resources found here. We look forward to seeing you.
Dale: My Double Chair Anniversary
It’s hard to believe that I’m celebrating my double-chai anniversary this year. I joined the Central Queens YM-YWHA in 1984. It was an exciting time. The building was brand new, our community was very supportive and wanted to participate in all types of programs. I began teaching programs for infants through adults in the swimming pool, body shop, and in the gymnasium. On New Year’s Eve, 1989, I was asked to be the Director of the Health & Wellness Department.
As expected, so much has changed over the decades. Our community has grown and our program offerings have reflected that. I am so proud to see the positive impact that our health and wellness programs have on our community members of all ages, which we have truly felt during this pandemic. So many people rely on our exercise offerings for more than physical health, it’s also about socialization and a great reason to leave the house. Our team has found a way to maintain this tight-knit community despite one key element, we haven’t been able to congregate in person.
In order to stay connected with our members, our team created a virtual exercise platform. Our group exercise instructors and personal trainers learned the new system quickly so that our members had no disruption in fitness classes during the stay-at-home orders. We had Zumba, Silver Sneakers, basketball lessons, and dance school (to name just a few programs) in the virtual world the same week that schools were closed, and we even grew our community, logging 10,000 participants by the end of the Spring!
Over the past four decades, I’ve experienced a lot of incredible moments as a part of this community. I can say proudly that nothing compares to the resilience and togetherness that our agency presented during this critical time. Each staff member, volunteer, and board member joined together in strength and passion to serve our community in whichever way necessary.
Our Second Home: The Alexander Family
“When we were moving to Forest Hills almost 15 years ago, we knew that we wanted to be close to the local community center. Looking back, becoming a Central Queens family has surpassed any expectation that we could have had, as this place has become a second home for all of us.
Moving into the area with a toddler, our first experience was with Robin and the Parenting Center. We immediately made new friends in Mommy and Me Classes, and we quickly enrolled in every program we could attend. Sam (and later his younger brother Jacob), grew from early childhood programs into sports programs and then sports leagues, not to mention having the best summers of their lives and making so many friends at camp (they have attended both Explorer Day Camp and Summer of Arts and Sports). My husband and I joined the fitness center, and Danny even got involved as a volunteer coach with the basketball team!
The Health and Wellness programs have been so important to Danny and the boys, and they’ve also helped me in so many ways, especially through the pandemic. The virtual classes have kept me healthy physically and emotionally, providing a grounding to my day. I’m grateful for the exercise, but the personal touchpoint of seeing Adam or Jessica each day, and them personally checking in on me and our other classmates during a workout, makes us feel a stronger sense of connectivity.
This sense of community has even been felt by our children, who are learning about being a part of something bigger than themselves. For their Bar Mitzvah projects, Sam volunteered with children with special needs and Jacob supported the food pantry, actively learning about the concept of Tikkun Olam and repairing the world. Central Queens repairs the world every day with your programs and reminds us of the importance of connecting to community.
We cannot say enough about the people who work there and the mission you stand for. We plan to live here for many years to come—Sam’s excited to participate in the Summer Youth Employment Program (already!) this summer— and Central Queens will always be a part of our lives.”
Youth Workforce: Giving Young Adults and Teens the Opportunity to Succeed
One of the first lessons that you learn as a child is that it takes hard work to achieve your goals. My four years with the Ladders for Leaders and Summer Youth Employment (SYEP) programs have given me valuable insight into the meaning of hard work, enabling me to navigate my career path.
As a High School freshman, I started volunteering at the Central Queens Y in the City Project program through UJA-Federation of NY. Volunteering helped me build networking skills and allowed me to give back and learn more about my community. Through this program, I was introduced to Ladders where I received work-readiness training. Ladders provided a solid foundation for career exploration; I was unaware of the breadth of potential careers that were available to me. Through Ladders, I was able to learn what I wanted to pursue and what I didn’t.
I interned at the Department of Youth & Community Development and then at Dr. Helen Na-Chuang’s OB/GYN clinic. It was through this clinical experience that I learned how to communicate with both colleagues and patients, and I stayed on board with the office for three years!
Throughout college, I continued exploring my interest in healthcare. My Ladders opportunity opened doors for me to volunteer at other medical facilities. These experiences helped shed light on the technical aspect of medicine: the inner workings of the healthcare system and what a career as a healthcare worker would truly entail.
Without question, my experiences and training from both Ladders and SYEP have been invaluable in my journey to medicine. After graduating from Princeton last June, I joined the Simon Lab Personalized Virology Initiative at Mount Sinai. My research focus is COVID-19, and I hope to be able to help the medical field and our society get through this pandemic.
I have been with Central Queens and Commonpoint for more than 10 years. I started as a member of the swim team, worked as a counselor at Explorer Day Camp, was a participant of the Ladders for Leaders program for two summers, and then worked for the program for three years.
Each of these experiences helped me build the foundation to get me to where I am today. While working at Explorer Day Camp, Melissa knew I was interested in finance and suggested that I apply for the Ladders for Leaders program. I took her advice and had two great summer internships, first with JP Morgan and then at Lane Office Furniture. I enjoyed my experiences so much that I worked recruiting Ladders participants for three years.
The skills that Ladders participants learn follow us well into our careers. It can be very difficult to break into a career without any connections and Ladders is a feeder into all kinds of programs. Ladders helped me make professional connections and learn essential skills such as networking, interviewing, and communication. Since graduating from college, I have had amazing experiences with Credit Suisse, RBC Capital Markets, and I recently started a position at Apollo Global Management.
Commonpoint didn’t just support me as I moved into my career but it is also where I met my boyfriend. We both worked at Explorer Day Camp and were a part of Ladders for Leaders together. You get it all with Commonpoint!
I wanted to make an impact in the world by helping children who grew up the way I did. I just didn’t know how to do it. I was 19, I didn’t graduate from high school, I didn’t have a job, but I heard about the Young Adult Literacy Program and then the pieces started to fall into place. OK, it wasn’t as easy as I just made it sound. Having bounced around 60 different foster homes before I turned 16 and having Cystic Fibrosis, “easy” isn’t a word I use a lot. But when I met Danielle and Brynn, the world began to open up for me.
It took me a few years, and more downs than ups, but Danielle took me under her wing and helped me get my GED, apply—and get in!—to college, and ultimately wind up pursuing my masters at Stony Brook, where I always wanted to be! Commonpoint Queens didn’t give up on me, so I couldn’t give up on me. Now I’m working two jobs where I’m able to help at-risk youth the way I needed help when I was a child, and thinking about continuing my education and going for my Ph.D.! I didn’t do the things I was supposed to do when I was younger, but now that I’m getting the opportunities I just want to keep advancing.
I thought I knew what I wanted to do for my career, law enforcement. I went to the right college, got the right experience, and set the right process to ensure that I would be successful. Except the closer I got to my dream job, the less certain I felt about it.
I was so happy when I was accepted into the Reconnect Internship Program (part of Commonpoint Queens’ Youth Workforce Special Initiatives programs), and while I started to wonder about different opportunities, it was the structure and guidance of this program that helped me realize I wasn’t on the right path. Through the program, I interned at a local food pantry where I felt empowered because my work had such a positive impact on the people that we were serving. I loved the job that I was doing, being a part of this new team, and meeting so many new people from so many different backgrounds.
While the job meant so much to me, it was the experiences through the program that truly changed my life. Working with so many caring coaches and mentors taught me how to not just be a better professional, but how to be a leader and take charge of my career AND my life. I was never really a morning person, but we had daily meetings before going to work which included trainings, workshops, and other opportunities to develop our skills. I would gladly wake up to learn something new each day, and at the same time, by getting a jump start on the morning I was being more productive in my life. This program made me realize the importance of having a career with purpose, and thanks to my experience I now—truly—know my path in life.
I really cherish my accomplishments from my previous professional life, and I’m grateful to have a new mindset to help me approach this exciting time in my life.
Mrs. Harrison sat me down one day and told me that I wasn’t living up to my potential. I was one of the counselors that she supervised, and at that moment I realized that she must have cared about me—a lot—to take such an interest in my future. She saw something in me that I don’t think I saw in myself, and after that conversation, I knew I was part of something special.
It’s easy to look at an after school program as a daycare, or “school part two,” but the family atmosphere at Commonpoint Queens’ after school programs is unlike anything I have experienced in my life. As a junior at Queens High School of Teaching, I enrolled in the In-School Youth program (now Learn and Earn) because I could get free Regents and SAT prep courses, and I was also given an opportunity to be a counselor at P.S./I.S. 266 which was literally next door. I was a shy teenager and this was my first job, but it had an incredible impact on me. I worked at the program for the next five years, helping in community-wide events like a fashion show and the annual Awards Show where our families joined us for a red-carpet evening with dinner, performances, and fun awards.
Spending quality time with students, colleagues, and amazing mentors helped me grow as an individual. When I left the program to pursue a career with a law firm, I came back to visit so frequently that the children would say “I thought you left!” I’ve learned that you never actually leave, so much so that I came back to the program to be a coordinator just two years later until I was promoted to become the director of Commonpoint Queens’ after school program at P.S. 165! I’m thrilled for the opportunity and finding another “home away from home.”
High School Partnership
Martin Van Buren
My name is Tracy and I am the principal at Martin Van Buren High School. I call Commonpoint Queens our healer. As educators, we work not only with students but with their families and the community. I am so grateful that Martin Van Buren High School (MVB) and Commonpoint truly share that mission, and I am constantly amazed by the many ways that Commonpoint uplifts all of us.
Most recently, when we shifted from in-person learning, we reorganized and created new norms. We all know that remote learning isn’t easy for young people, and Commonpoint’s Success Mentoring students struggled to stay motivated. They were challenged in their home learning environment as well as by outside distractions. Like they always do, the Commonpoint professionals provided the supportive anchor and positive encouragement that our students so desperately needed to succeed.
On top of the engaging daily curriculum for students last spring, when we came back to school this fall it was the Commonpoint team that helped us reacclimate to our environment, as they instituted a Friday cheer. Each Friday the whole team came out to welcome our teachers and students as they came into the building, making our entire school community feel appreciated and looked after. It brought a sense of warmth and caring during a time of anxiety and fear.
Heather and her team make us feel supported at MVB even when we aren’t at school. A great example of this is R., a young mother who was unable to balance school and life as the pandemic began to overwhelm so many of us. She stopped attending remote classes and she started failing her classes, expressing that her priority now was to be able to buy the basic necessities for her baby. I spoke with R.’s mother, who very much wanted her daughter to finish school, but as a single mother herself, she saw no alternative. Commonpoint was able to give R. the assistance she needed to provide for her and her baby’s basic needs. Within days she was back in class and now she’s flourishing academically and on her way to graduate. She’s also enrolled in a Commonpoint Queens-run paid internship program program where she’ll also learn critical career-readiness skills.
With Heather and Commonpoint we have a great partner for whom there is always a solution to every challenge.
To support Commonpoint Queens, visit commonpointqueens.org/donate.