Meet the people and organizations being honored at St. Nicks Alliance’s 41st annual benefit.
St. Nicks Alliance will soon be celebrating its 41st year of growing opportunity in North Brooklyn at The Greenpoint Loft. They celebrate this year’s achievements and reveal developments in the works. Plus St. Nicks Alliance will shine a spotlight on local leaders and partners whose service to North Brooklyn enhances the community.
This year St. Nicks Alliance will honor Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the Huairou Commission.
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez has been representing the people of New York City in Congress for more than two decades. Her district, which covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens, as well as the Lower East Side of Manhattan, encompasses many diverse neighborhoods.
Throughout her distinguished career, Congresswoman Velázquez has fought for equal rights for the underrepresented and has promoted economic opportunity for the working class and poor. She has been a vocal advocate of American small business and entrepreneurship and has worked to encourage economic development, protect community health and the environment, combat crime and worker abuses, and secure access to affordable housing, quality education and health care for all New York City families. Within her district and on the national stage, Congresswoman Velázquez has been a key supporter for the grassroots movement that spawned St. Nicks Alliance, Los Sures, El Puente, Fifth Avenue Committee and Churches United for Fair Housing.
Her origins were as humble. Born in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico — a small town of sugar-cane fields — and one of nine children, Congresswoman Velázquez started school early, skipped several grades, and became the first person in her family to receive a college diploma. At 16, she entered the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras. She graduated magna cum laude in 1974 with a degree in political science and went on to earn a master’s degree from NYU. In 1983 a passion for politics led her to a position with Congressman Edolphus Towns, and one year later she became the first Latina to serve on the New York City Council. By 1986, Velázquez was serving as the Director of the Department of Puerto Rican Community Affairs in the United States and there she initiated one of the most successful Latino empowerment programs in the nation’s history – “Atrevete” (Dare to Go for It!).
In 1992 she made history by being the first Puerto Rican woman elected to Congress. In 1998, she was named Ranking Democratic Member of the House Small Business Committee, making her the first Hispanic woman to serve as Ranking Member of a full House committee. Just a decade ago she was named Chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, making her the first Latina to chair a full Congressional committee.
In spite of a heavy workload in Washington, D.C., Congresswoman Velázquez can often be found close to home, meeting with and working for the residents of her district.
Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)
Local Initiatives Support Corporation is the largest community development intermediary in the United States. The New York City office, one of 30 local sites around the country, brings capital and technical skill to community development champions of historically underinvested neighborhoods who, like LISC NYC, are committed to inclusion, creating opportunity and equitable development. St Nicks is one of these partners, who has worked with LISC a generation ago to bring North Brooklyn back from its period of decline and disinvestment, in partnership with government at all levels.
In the first generation of Community Development 1.0 (1975-1995), LISC financed hundreds of affordable housing units and pioneered with St Nicks Alliance and Los Sures to rebuild blighted abandoned housing therefore stemming the spread of physical blight and reversing years of decline.
As neighborhood decline was arrested, LISC again made a deep investment in St Nick’s Alliance to rebuild the fabric of community life enabling the organization to launch its Community Development 2.0 1995-2014 strategy, creating Youth and Education, Health care for the Elderly and Work Force activities now serving thousands of people.
Today investment and affluence is flowing back to neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Greenpoint as we face new challenges. LISC together with St. Nicks Alliance and other community development corporations pursue new 3.0 opportunities: Preserving affordable housing. Innovating and integrating how services are delivered. Ensuring that, as the neighborhood changes, critical neighborhood assets and services are able to thrive, particularly those low-income residents rely on.
Most notably LISC was an early supporter of JOE NYC, a new approach to affordable housing finance that will ensure sustainability of affordable housing assets and leverage new financial and organizational resources.
In February LISC NYC celebrated two of St. Nicks Alliance’s new housing developments: the preservation of the Kings Villas portfolio and the North Brooklyn Opportunities Project. One — the preservation of seven small buildings scattered across the neighborhood, the other — a combination of new construction and preservation. Both deals were highly complex with a high degree of difficulty. Both were financed through the investment of Low Income Housing Tax Credits, syndicated by LISC’s affiliate National Equity Fund. Like St. Nicks Alliance, LISC NYC understands that meeting neighborhood needs requires skill, patience, commitment, and fortitude. We are thrilled to recognize LISC NYC as a committed partner to St. Nicks Alliance.
Huairou Commission: Women, Homes and Community
The work of the Huairou Commission is headquartered right on Manhattan Avenue and Powers street in the heart of Williamsburg/Greenpoint. Grassroots organizations like St Nicks Alliance, Los Sures, Peoples Firehouse, Conselyea Street Block Association, and the Neighborhood Woman of Greenpoint/Williamsburg revitalize the community and empower residents to take direct leadership. Such ideas spread nationally and around the world.
This was evident in Beijing in 1995, during the 4th World Conference on Women convened by the United Nations. It was here that the Women, Homes and Community Super-Coalition came together to ensure issues facing grassroots women in poor communities were addressed — issues such as access to food, livelihoods, water, and sanitation. This super-coalition also wished to address their concerns that the global women’s movement viewed grassroots women as a “project” rather than agents of change and partners in development. In the Huairou (pronounced “why- row”) district, about an hour away from the U.N. proceedings in Beijng, the Super-Coalition convened in a tent. It was from this meeting that the Huairou Commission: Women, Homes and Community was born. It has since grown to become a global coalition of women’s networks, INGOs, and grassroots women’s organizations.
A thought leader of this local, national, and international grassroots movement is Jan Peterson, the commission’s founding Executive Director. She has also founded several other community organizations. Peterson steps down from her Executive Directorship role this year. For Jan and the Huairou Commission, the term “grassroots” refers to someone from an economically marginalized community. The Commission believes that development approaches aimed directly at empowering women lead to far-reaching changes in the lives of women, their households, and communities. Empowerment of grassroots women not only transforms women’s socioeconomic positions but also the relationships of community groups to governance structures, including institutions of local self-government.
The commission’s strategies to expand grassroots women’s abilities to exercise their collective power include connecting women to local authorities through “Local to Local Dialogues.” Local to Local Dialogues prepare women to negotiate with leaders on the policies, plans, and programs that address their priorities. The commission’s commitment to peer-to-peer learning creates opportunities for experienced grassroots leaders to mentor, train, and advise less experienced groups.
The Huairou Commission champions inclusive global development that places grassroots women center stage as decision-makers and gives them the resources and support to make changes in their communities. It supports grassroots women’s organizations with tools to expand their leadership capacity, as well as platforms to share their voices, strategies, and successes with other women around the world. The commission believes that when grassroots women leaders expand their participation and leadership in community development work local communities and the global development field enormously benefit.