Community centers form alliance

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A little more than a mile separates the Riverdale Neighborhood House and the Riverdale Community Center. But by year’s end, both of these long-time community pillars will be a lot closer.

Although they stopped short of calling it an outright merger, the neighborhood house and community center are set to combine some resources — particularly on the administrative end — both hope will not only keep both programs viable in the future, but growing as well.

“It’s very important for people to know that nothing is really changing,” said Dan Eudine, executive director of the neighborhood house. “You are going to see the exact same Riverdale Neighborhood House and the exact same Riverdale Community Center that you have now. Most of the changes are going to happen behind the scenes.”

Both centers started informing employees, volunteers and the community about the pending strategic partnership last week. Talks between the neighborhood house and community center started weeks ago, with an eye toward having a full plan in place by the end of the year.

That date’s significant because Kathy Gilson, who has spent the last 35 years at the community center, will retire as its executive director.

“Working in the non-profit area, you wear so many different hats,” Gilson said. “We are not these huge agencies, so there is so much that Dan and I and everyone else we work with have to do. But we have the same goals in the end, and we’re very excited about this.”

The community center has been based out of what is now the Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy on West 237th Street since its very beginning in the early 1970s. Parent and community activist Ferne LaDue thought it was silly that a school that cost millions of dollars to build was only open several hours a day, a few days a week.

LaDue worked out a deal with both the school’s principal and parents’ association to open the doors to young people after hours, according to the group’s website, creating what would become the Riverdale Community Center.

The community center employs three full-time and 70 part-time employees, Gilson said, as well as a good contingent of volunteers. But no one is expected to have their position eliminated under the new partnership.

The Riverdale Neighborhood House is a century older and works with a broader spectrum of the population with everything from pre-school programs to a focus on homebound senior citizens. It employs 28 people full-time, and 46 part-time, Eudene said.

 

Public support

While both organizations charge fees for some services, that revenue is nowhere near what’s needed to keep the neighborhood house and community center funded, Eudene said. Instead, both depend on donations and government support as well — two sources of revenue that aren’t always consistent.

“For big-scale programs, you need public support,” Eudene said. “There’s just no other way.”

There is very little, if any, overlap between many of the programs between the neighborhood house and community center, Gilson said, which means no one should lose their job once the dust settles. The only major position that might go away is hers when she retires.

“These are the areas that the consultants we’re bringing in are helping us to work out,” she said. “Will there be a need for another executive director? Probably not. But would there be a need for somebody else similar to this, probably yes.”

 

‘Exciting time’

State Sen. Jeffrey Klein, who has helped funnel public money into both organizations — including $325,000 in 2014 to help renovate the neighborhood house’s Mosholu Avenue location — called the news of the two organizations working together an “exciting time.”

“Independently, Riverdale Neighborhood House and Riverdale Community Center are both invaluable institutions with long histories addressing community needs,” Klein said, in a statement. “RNH and RCC have similar values and missions, and both have a solid focus on helping youth strive for success. By joining forces, these organizations will only grow stronger and even better suited to serve the people of the north Bronx.”

City councilman Andrew Cohen, who has had similar success in finding public support for both the neighborhood house and community center, expressed his gratitude to Gilson and the plans she’s putting in place to make sure her organization thrives while she enjoys retirement.

 

Assuring continuity

“The executive director of the Riverdale Community Center is retiring, and I think this is a very smart way to make sure there is continuity in programming,” Cohen said. “Ultimately, I think it will lead to an expansion of programming, probably at both institutions, and both of them will benefit from this alliance. So I’m very excited.”

For now, however, it will remain business as usual for both the Riverdale Neighborhood House and the Riverdale Community Center.

“We’re working out the details, and we’re committed to continuing the services we both already provide,” Eudene said. “Both Kathy and I have been doing this for a long time, so we’re basically going to keep doing what we’ve already been doing. We’ll just be working on it together.”

Staff writer Lisa Herndon contributed to this report.

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GBD10463

This alliance will hopefully strengthen these much-needed community institutions. Although autonomy is usually desirable, today’s political and financial realities may require the RNH and RCC to cooperate and combine some functions.

I was a student at then-JHS 141 in 1972 when the RCC began its after-school and evening centers. It was quite thrilling, as a teenager, to “graduate” from a volunteer to a paid position there. Likewise, it was inspiring to see the center grow, and to work with visionary founders like Ferne LaDue, Norman Kaufman, and numerous Parents Association members – even if only in a minor role.

The RCC & RNH alliance is interesting in another way: The RNH’s dates to 1872, when the far-seeing Dodge family founded a free lending library for workers in the neighborhood. The RCC arrived 100 years later, in a much-changed north Bronx – but one with needs like those of the Gilded Age.

Here’s hoping that this association will strengthen each organization, and allow both to serve even more residents in an era of uncertain donations and government aid.

Tuesday, June 20 | Report this